The Throbbing Earth

I was sitting at my desk in our tin house, corrugated iron walls all wide open in a futile attempt at tempering the 43-degree afternoon heat, when a gust of wind whipped through. I heard it before I felt it. The wind sounded like a fanfare of tapping toktokkie beetles foretelling a sudden change. Then I was wrapped in it, briefly. The wind coated me in a film of powdered gold, and scattered offerings of seedpods and leaves all over the furniture and floor. Then it was gone.

A foretelling wind ...
A foretelling wind …

Except for what it left in its wake: a smell. A smell the wind carried north across the valley, over the river, through the farm, up the hill, and into the house. A smell that woke up the toktokkies in its path. A smell so life-affirming yet so impossible to describe that when Chris came home after work, I asked him for help to articulate it.

“I can’t. There’s no descriptor for this smell.”
“Come on, Chris! Of course there is.”
“No, there isn’t.”
“Why not?”
“Because this smell has its own word, but I can’t remember what it is.”
“Its own word?”

To Google we turned and there it was. Petrichor. Petrichor? If I had heard this word before reading its meaning, I would have thought it the name of a Russian petroleum plant. As it turns out, petrichor — the distinctive scent which accompanies the first rain after a long warm dry spell– is a gift from the Gods.

The rain last November, seen from inside my kitchen.
The rain last November, seen from inside my kitchen.

Even though the word “petrichor” was coined by two Australian researchers as a scientific explanation for THAT smell, its derivation is Greek: petros meaning ‘stone’ + ichor, which is the ethereal fluid that flows through the veins of Greek Gods. You see? A gift from the Gods. A gift because what it brings with it is a miracle. Rain. Relief. Renewal. Euphoria. And after? Bugs. Frogs. Smelly wet dogs.

Happy feet.
Happy feet.

Nigerian poet, Niyi Osundare, captures the start of the wet season so well in his poem, ‘Raindrum‘, below. Osundare said in an interview once that the rain was a constant metaphor in his poetic universe: “It is the ink in the fountain of my pen. What else do you expect from one that is farmer-born, peasant-bred?”


The roofs sizzle at the waking touch,
talkative like kettledrums
tightened by the iron fingers of drought

Streets break into liquid dance
gathering legs in the orchestra of the road
Streets break into liquid dance
gliding eloquently down the apron of the sky

A stray drop saunters down the thatch
of my remembrance
waking memories long dormant
under the dry leaves of time:

of caked riverbeds
and browned pastures
of baking noons
and grilling nights
of earless cornfields
and tired tubers

Lightning strikes its match of rain
Barefoot, we tread the throbbing earth.

Evening light on the horizon pool after it rained.
Evening light on the horizon pool after it rained.

Annabel Hughes Aston is a writer and an award-winning chef in Livingstone, Zambia. She is the creator of "bush gourmet" cuisine.


  • I can smell it!! It is a glorious scent – you are right. Another lovely blog and not even an edible one!

  • Thank you, Louise. When THAT smell arrives it’s intoxicating! Sadly, it was only a teaser … we’re still waiting for our first downpour. xo

  • Mother Africa … you got it in ONE, Bella! Her heart throbs with sadness and with joy … but it never stops the gentle, sometimes tachycardic throb! Beautifully written, well done!! xxx

    • Thank you so much, Roxy. What a thoughtful, bittersweet comment … xo

  • Beautifully done Annabel, wish I was there to share it!

    • We wish that wind carried you here, too, Louise. Much love to you … xo

  • Oh Bel I’m so glad I found you again!

    • Oh Caro … I’m so glad you found me again, too. 🙂 So, so, so glad … xo

  • Wow – that smell is the best in the world – first rain ! Thanks for sharing. Didn’t know it had a name!!

    • Nor did I, Chitaiti … it was new to me, too. It really is quite the best smell, isn’t it? Thank you for stopping by again. All the best, Annabel

  • Absolutely loving your posts Annabel.
    As far as I personally know, the smell of the first rains on the ground in Africa is not the same anywhere else that I know of. That and the delicious smell of newly mown lawn !
    Thank you for bringing the “petricho ” back to my memory.

    • Thank you for your kind comment, Eva. The first rains after the dry, dry winter … and newly-mown grass after the first rains are both smells which are completely unique. Thank you for taking the time to stop by my blog. All the best, Annabel

  • Bravo!! Can smell it, feel it, want it from here. Georgie

  • Annabel seriously?? is this where you live? a touch of prayer-flag whimsy. a charming corrugated abode and seamless access to africa… I’m soooo jealous! Love your blog xx

    • Hello Margie! So lovely to hear from you after all these years. This is indeed where I live now, and I’ve never been happier (or luckier). Thank you for your kind comment. I hope this finds you very well, too. Lots of love … xo

  • So happy for you …. we are exactly where you left us, but (happily) my mid life crisis brought a change of direction so I am imparting a little of what I know about English to testosterone-charged 17 year olds. Could use some of your skills to show them what writing is! lots of love to you too P.S Permission to use your blog to demonstrate??

    • Hi Margie … Lucky 17-year-olds is all I can say! And yes, for what it’s worth, please use my blog in whatever way you like. Thank you for your kind comments. Lots of love to you … xo

  • […] a wind delivered the first smell of rain to me about which I wrote in my post, The Throbbing Earth, it also brought to me a voice. A voice so familiar with nature’s cycles and its rhythms, […]

  • […] in the warm, soft flesh of the first ripe mango you bite into in summer. It’s in the petrichor, swept in on the winds ahead of the first […]

  • […] the driest. Suicide month, as some people call it. Here, right now, we long to smell THAT smell, petrichor. We long for our first drenching of rain. We long to wake up to a cool, wet […]

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