There’s a word for the smell of fresh rain, an aroma that evokes memories of my childhood better than any other. The word is petrichor, derived from the Greek words petra (stone) and ichor (the blood of the gods), coined by two Australian research scientists in 1964. Other scientists surmise that, when rain drops fall on long-dry earth, the bubbles formed by the impact release aerosols into the air, giving us the distinct odor of newly-fallen rain. I remember talking about that scent in years past; I was told it was ozone brought to earth by the rain drops.

I learned about the word by doing a Google search on “the smell of rain.” I am not sure what prompted me to do that search. Maybe the sound that started a few minutes ago, the sound of raindrops pounding on the roof , triggered memories of rain’s perfume. Or maybe something else sparked my recollection of the heady feeling I got as a child when a scent I can now identify as petrichor filled my nostrils.

Coincidentally, petrichor was Wordsmith’s word of the day a couple of weeks ago. I wonder how I missed it? Well, truth be told, I no longer subscribe to the word of the day because my email box overflows with unnecessary messages. But is learning the beauty of language unnecesssary? That’s a topic for another day; today, I am attuned to the fragrance of rain.

The online dictionary I rely on to validate the legitimacy of words does not include an entry for petrichor. I don’t need the dictionary’s validation, though, because I know that smell as well as I know myself, perhaps even better. Smelling petrichor is like witnessing the arrival of spring; it lifts my spirits and promises good things to come.

Today, though, the rain is falling too hard and the wind is too strong for the essence of raindrops to gently waft through the air. Outside my window, lighting flashes across the dark morning sky and claps of thunder shake the house, trailing off with deep, guttural growls. Nature is spectacular, even in the absence of petrichor.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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