REPOST – The Throbbing Earth

I am reposting this story, one that comes to mind every October, because last night as I stepped into the ink-black water of our horizon pool to cool off, I smelt petrichor for the first time. Petrichor, that elixir to reinvigorate a stifled spirit. Petrichor, that precursor to renewal and new beginnings. Then it rained. Briefly. I am grateful.

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.

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.”
“Why not?”
“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. PetrichorPetrichor? 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.

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