Wednesday, September 18, 2013

like rocks long for rain

Is it possible I learned the word petrichor from Tumblr? I believe I can thank Tumblr for both leading me to believe the lovely word referred to the scent of any and all earth after rain, and for teaching me that it's, more specifically, the smell of rain on dry earth. Petrichor, according to Wikipedia, is "the scent of rain on dry earth, or the scent of dust after rain. The word is constructed from Greek, petros, meaning stone + ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. It is defined as 'the distinctive scent which accompanies the first rain after a long warm dry spell.'" According to Scientific American, "Petrichor was first described in 1964 by mineralogists Isabel Joy Bear and R. G. Thomas...As they defined it, it occurs when airborne molecules from decomposing plant or animal matter become attached to mineral or clay surfaces. During a dry spell, these molecules chemically recombine with other elements on a rock's surface. Then when the rains came, the redolent combination of fatty acids, alcohols and hydrocarbons is released."

Our street corner (before the rains) in Kigali 

Petrichor is on my mind and in the air so much lately, here in Kigali. When we arrived it was so dry and dusty that the insides of my nostrils, when I tried to blow them clean at night, would be sometimes clogged with the same red dirt from the roads. Now the rainy season is beginning, and the wet fresh smell rising from all those stones and clay after rain is one of the very best things about being here. If you've gotten an e-mail from me lately, it's likely contained a lament about how much I'll miss fall, my favorite season, all those smoky, caramelly, woolly, crunchy-leaf smells. Petrichor may prove to be my consolation. Though it's not salty, it has the same calming effect as sea air I've smelled and loved in New England and the Pacific Northwest. Everything in the air here changes after these heavy rains--the light, the weight, the sounds. Things turn dark green and then golden and the smell is close to chlorinated, but with none of the burn. I will long for autumn as I’ve always known it, but feel lucky for the chance to fall in love with this new (to me) season’s smell also, all that wet clean rock, all that dark rushing road. 

4 comments:

LilMizGalaxy said...
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Preets said...

So beautiful, nosygirl. I am thinking of the smell of rain in me hometown. Different smells for different rains: gentle morning drizzles (grey greeny muddy smell) and ferocious afternoon downpours (hot steamy smell). Maybe someday you'll get to smell these rains, and describe them properly to me!

Preets said...

(I wasn't trying to sound like a character out of My Fair Lady. *My* hometown!)

Anonymous said...

incredible! i never thought to research the scientific explanation for this favorite smell of mine. (NARST alert!) really fascinating, about the airborne molecules from decomposing organic matter become attached to inorganic matter and then being released with the rainfall. what a world!
also, did i tell you how, when chrisly was visiting this summer and we visited Franklin Park Zoo, he kept pestering me about where the sprinklers were, and i was dismissing him, saying, "there are no sprinklers here." he insisted, saying he smelled it, and i thought he will full of bologna, given that alli could smell were the zebras. and then sure enough, we turned a corner, and they had a giant fan blowing water from a hose with punctures in it. he was like, "SEE?! i told you i smelled it!" he clearly has a nose for petrichor (and its iterations).

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