I can never seem to resist going down to the lake in a storm. I know I am not the only one. I see the odd car or two pulled in at the parking lot of Vinyard Beach , aggressive windshield wipers working hard to afford a view.
I encounter less human company out on the beach itself. Secretly (or maybe not so much) I revel in a first hand experience. There is something primal in that energy; wind and water, and electricity. It resonates in, and sometimes chills, the bones.
Usually placid or gently undulating, Utah Lake stirred by the invisible whisk of a forceful wind, roils and rolls. Because it is a shallow lake, waves peak and drop at an astonishing pace spilling the turbulence onto the shore in great ladles of froth.
Thunders kettle drums rumble and tumble through the canyons along the Wasatch Front, punctuated at last by the whip crack of lightening splitting the slate sky with its zig-zag flail.
Gathering clouds line up to dip and drop their heavy skirts in this meteorological dance. They release sheets of rain that wax and wane as they waltz across the lake.
A cavalry of swallows follows in each wake. The whoosh of their scything wings audible even through the storms cacophony. They catch a feast of insects that have been ungraciously toppled from their thermal rise by the sinking of barometric pressures. To read about a little more about the casualties of shifting barometric pressures link to my post “Lady Bug Wash Up” here.
The old adage Swallows high – staying dry does hold some validity.
Then, there is that moment when the brow of the storm, a formidable furrow of bruised cumulonimbus, begins to ease giving way to shafts of sunlight. Like the “eureka” after a troubled brood, it is a startling, sudden, relief: Illumination.
Overhead a variegated circlet, the rainbow, apparates. Sometimes mirrored, reversed and doubled, light, through water’s lens reveals a brief window into its invisible workings. Magic in the purest form.
“Why are there so many, songs about rainbows? And what’s on the other side”.
Being of a certain generation, this little verse, so nostalgically belted out by a little green Muppet almost always comes to mind. Yet, rainbows have ever been alive in the myths and lore of cultures and peoples.
Nature speaks to the senses of the sentient. Her whispers reaching beyond the obvious five to the five thousand secret senses that transcend human vocabulary. Her language is universal and without attachment to clan or tribe or classification of being.
Take the smell of rain. You know it. I know you do!
It is one of the most ubiquitously recognized and admired aromas. And one of the reasons I can’t resist being out of doors in stormy weather.
Though it hard to describe in a simple word, and perhaps has gone by many names, today we call it Petrichor. Petr for rock and ichor, for the sweet essence that runs through the veins of the Gods.
Austrailian scientist first to documented the process of it’s formation, in 1964. A further investigation took place at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 2010s. This study gave an ingredient list of sorts, delineating three distinct processes that when combined create the ‘smell of rain’ or Petrichor.
Below is the recipe; home style. Not that anyone can simply whip this up. But for the sake of this blog let’s just pretend. For the fun of it, of course!
For optimal results gather in the following order.
1 Part Ozone: Split ditomic molecules of oxygen and nitrogen to create nitric oxide and ozone. This can be done by hurtling bolts of lightening through gathering storm clouds. You might have to make an offering to Zeus or Thor or beat a drum to call in the Cloud Peoples in order to accomplish this task. Whichever method you choose, the ozone molecules will attach themselves nicely to mist and rain which will eventually fall to the earth in a place near you.
1 Part Geosmin: Allow the ozone filled raindrops strike the soil forcefully. (Honestly, I don’t know how you might dis- allow this, but you could try yelling a firm “NO!”towards the heavens. However, as we want this to occur there is no need to test this out). Alerted by raindrops kindly knocking at their door, colonies of Actinomycetes, a bacteria living in the soil will begin secrete this this fascinating compound.
Just as a side note: Geosmin can be detected by human noses at less than 5 parts per trillion. It packs some pungent! Perfumers make use of its earthy tones in perfumes and in scented oils such as sandalwood, because of it’s powerful and popular appeal.
1 Part Volatile Plant Oils: During hot and dry weather, vegetation such as trees and shrubs, release oils that accumulate in dirt, rocks, concrete and dry wood. So just let the plants do their thing! Similar to geosmin, these aromatics are just waiting for rains percussive invitation to come out and play
Here in the Great Basin, sages, rabbit brush, wild rose, juniper, gamble oak, maples, and false mahogany among other high desert flora create a scent that is basically the aroma of heaven. In case you are wondering. But I digress…
That’s it! Mix the above together and you’ve got a delicious stew of petrichor to enjoy. At least through the olfactory orifices.
The scent of rain has been informing and delighting the children of earth, however, long before the word petrichor was invented or the ability to describe it’s process existed.
Natures lexicon is one that our grandmothers and grandmother’s grandmothers readily acknowledged. These are the innate wisdoms that have become obscured through the years as populations moved away from working in and with the land to put on the cloak of industry and progress. Yet they are not wholly lost to us.
Like the metaphorical pea hidden under a pile of mattresses, we still still feel their presence: When we sit in stillness out under the stars, or wander through a meadow blooming with wildflowers, or catch the first winter snow on our tongues.
Or when we are drawn out of our cozy houses at the sound of thunder to smell the rain and experience the raw power of a storm.
It is part of our inheritance ( just like the princess in ‘The Princess and the Pea’) revealing who we truly are.
I feel like the earth, astonished at fragrance borne in the air, made pregnant with mystery, from a drop of rain.
Feel free to tell me about your stormy experiences or to leave a question or comment , by filling out the comment box under Leave a Reply, below.
Until next time, happy storm chasing and wandering!