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Balsam Coast - Esprit de la Nature

Densely Balsamic with Caramel, Spicy, and Rosey aspects

A bio-regional, scent-scape incense of ancient Meso-America. Recalling the perfumed voyaging rafts that sailed the Pacific coast, filled with fragrant cargoes, piloted by characters from the Popol Vuh.

Ingredients:  Peru Balsam from the Balsam Mountains, Palo Santo from the dry forest below the Balsam mountains, rosewood from up the coast, sweetgrass recalling Tonka beans, Puxuri seeds from the Amazonia

   I use to think of the ancient Meso-American scent-scape as being filled only with the bright, sharp scents of Copal resins.  I discovered that there is far warmer scent-scape that also accompanied the ancestors of the Olmec, Maya, and Aztecs.  Stories of these ancestors are found in the “Popol Vuh”.  The Pop Vuh is a foundational sacred narrative that encompasses a range of subjects that includes creation, ancestry, history, and cosmology.

  When these ancestors arrived to the Balsam Coast of El Salvador, 9000 years ago on rafts from Peru, they found a sensuous, balsamic, sweet and slightly animalistic scent hidden in the mists of the Mountains.  The scent came from giant trees that oozed a dark, thick “blood” when cut.  A resin whose fragrance opened the heart and whose touch had extraordinary medicinal properties.  Characteristics that would certainly have been noticed especially since blood and hearts have such an important part in the Meso-American creation myths and ceremonies. The resin made an extraordinary incense especially when mixed with the wood of the Palo Santo trees growing on the dry plains below the Cloud Forests.  Standing in the mists, among the fragrant trees, would have been the first place that the ancestors saw the rare and resplendent Quetzal bird.  From whom Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent God, takes part of his name.  The long, snakelike, tail-feathers of the male Quetzal bird can shine from green, cobalt, lime, and yellow to ultramarine. For thousands of years, these feathers were a very important part of religious regalia. The pyramid at Chichen Izta, Mexico, was constructed in such a manner that sharp sounds made inside it produce an echo of a handclap that mimics the call of the Quetzal bird.  Surely this cloud forest would have been a sacred place with the scent of the trees mingling with the memories of the sacred bird.


  But there is more, the balsam trees provided one of the best woods in the world for making voyaging rafts.  There are indigenous place names throughout the territory that indicate the transport of the trees off the mountains.  Such as, Tecoluca which means "beginning of the sacred log transport".  The trees grew straight and up to 40 meters tall. The resin-laden wood,  makes it extremely resistant to water, including salt water.  The wood was also exceptionally buoyant. The fragrant rafts would have enabled the people of the Balsam Coast to travel up and down the Pacific Coast of the Americas visiting and trading.  Perhaps even, they traveled back across the ocean to the islands of their own ancestors.  When I read the creation story of the Popol Vuh, it evokes thoughts and feelings of my time spent at sea.

“THIS IS THE ACCOUNT of when all is still silent and placid. All is silent and calm. Hushed and empty is the womb of the sky.

THESE, then, are the first words, the first speech. There is not yet one person, one animal, bird, fish, crab, tree, rock, hollow, canyon, meadow, or forest. All alone the sky exists. The face of the earth has not yet appeared. Alone lies the expanse of the sea, along with the womb of all the sky. There is not yet anything gathered together. All is at rest. Nothing stirs. All is languid, at rest in the sky. There is not yet anything standing erect. Only the expanse of the water, only the tranquil sea lies alone. There is not yet anything that might exist. All lies placid and silent in the darkness, in the night.

All alone are the Framer and the Shaper, Sovereign, and Quetzal Serpent, They Who Have Borne Children and They Who Have Begotten Sons. Luminous they are in the water, wrapped in quetzal feathers and cotinga feathers (Popol Vuh, pp. 67–68).”


The idyll on the Balsam Coast was not to last for the ancestor. The most important event in the ancient history of Mesoamerica was the tsunami which occurred in about 7220 BCE, caused by the bursting of a massive post-ice age lake in Canada.  There were at least six groups that were washed out to sea and then floated and paddled from El Salvador to Mexico, following the water currents, after the tsunami.  All of these cultures describe the tragic story of the tsunami. These groups took the memories of the Balsam Coast with them and had a major impact on the history of Mexico.

  Some of the people must have returned though after the waters receded.  There is a modern account that describes the descendants of these people:

“The trees from which the balsam is taken will not grow well anywhere but in one particular district, inhabited by Indians. They consider it their own, and make a handsome profit by preparing and selling it. They are known as the BALSIMOS, and they practice a kind of socialism based on the principle: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." The heads of the community are old men, who act as both governors and priests. To them all earnings are handed over, and at intervals distributed to families in proportion of their requirements. Little is known for certain about their system. It is supposed that they have vast sums of money buried in the forest, and that every year they add to these with strange religious ceremonies. They are darker, taller, less communicative than the people of Salvador […] They are as much a mystery to Europeans as those of the Chinese.  Those who have been longest in the country say they know the people least.” Hamilton Fyfe


  The name of the resin taken from the trees we know as “Balsam of Peru”.  This name is considered a misnomer.  In the early period of the Spanish invasion in Central and South America, the balsam was collected in Central America and shipped to Callao (the port of Lima) in Peru, then shipped onward to Europe where the resin was thought to be a panacea.  The resin acquired the name "Peru" because it was shipped there.  Yet, as in the cyclical view of the world described in the Popol Vuh, perhaps there is some mysterious connection between the resin’s modern name the sacred trees, and the ancient people from Peru, who would have loved and held ceremonies for these perfumed trees, 9000 years ago.

Be-en-Foret (Bonnie Kerr)   




This price is for 8 pellets in a golden tin, nested in Tagetes Lucida


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