It rained on Thursday night. After a brittle-dry six months that cracked the earth and desiccated the surrounding bush, that cracked our lips and turned our skin to scales; after a climbing temperature that threatened to suck the life out of every living thing, it rained. Last October I wrote the post below about “the distinctive scent which accompanies the first rain after a long, warm, dry spell.” In celebration of seeing thousands of reanimated ants scurrying across the sand on my morning walk again, of hearing the euphony of redoubled birdsong, and to feel the cool, damp sand squish between my bare toes, instead of burning them, here it is again.
I was sitting at my desk in our tin box, corrugated walls all wide open in a futile stab 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 tok-tokkie 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.
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 tok-tokkies 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.”
“Because this smell has its own word, but I can’t remember what it is.”
“It’s own word?”
To Google we turned and there it was. Petrichor. Petrichor? If I’d heard this word before reading its meaning, I’d 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.
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.
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.
So evocative and it makes me terribly homesick. I will not forget the “Word”.
Thank you for stopping by my blog, Maryon, and thank you for your kind comment. I will never forget that ‘word’ either! All the best to you, Annabel
I can only imagine how wonderful the first rain must be and the accompanying smell. As we hit autumn the smell that I love is of freshly turned earth mixed with the dampness of fallen leaves and ripe apples. If only we could capture the smells in a bottle!
Oh, Anne! I LOVED the smell of fall when I lived in Virginia: as you say, the damp turned earth yielding to the weight of the rotting leaves. I have never lived among apple trees, but can just imagine it! All the best to you … and enjoy! Annabel
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