It isn't raining right now so this isn't super relevant, but who cares, because this is my new favorite word.
I've stolen, uh...reappropriated the definition and idea from lovely Shannon's amazing blog.
is the scent of rain on dry earth (according to Wikipedia). It comes from the Greek word petros which means “stone” + ichor, or the blood that flows through the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.
I am so happy there is a name for this smell. And in less than week I’ll be in the Kenyan highlands, inhaling as much of it as I can! I like to think of rain flowing through God’s veins and out to us, especially in a place like Kenya where rain is so essential; it’s like thunderstorms are roaring reminders of his original life-giving act, when his veins really did empty themselves for my sake."
Shannon spent most of her life in Africa and although I spent much less time there, and in Nigeria rather than Kenya/Tanzania, the word is still nostalgically African for me. I associate the smell most with the transition between the dry and rainy season in Ogbomosho. The harmatan had at that point past--that time of the year when dust blew in from the Sahara and fogged the sky--softly and instantly covered every pledge-wiped surface--was smelled, breathed, ground between the teeth and tasted.
With these dust clouds blown away there were weeks of brilliantly clear sky and brilliantly hot sun. My siblings and I wound down, just a little, during this time each year. We paused in front of fans when we passed them in the house (if NEPA, electricity was on) and stuck to mango tree shade, sorting bottle caps in the dirt or eating shishkabobs in the tree house. We planned, schemed, waited. We dug out our "swimming pool" (a few cubic feet) with blood, sweat and tears in the early mornings and anticipated the monsoon rains that would fill it.
Finally one morning would arrive, thicker and heavier than the rest, with a palpable kind of air. We stripped down to bathing suits, walked up and down, up and down the dirt compacted driveway, swung restlessly on the squeaky porch swing. Gradually the sky would darken. The palm trees would shiver, begin to sway. All our senses seemed to sharpen and we sat or sprinted from spot to spot in nail biting edge. Then the sky would really blacken. The mango trees swayed and rocked, deeply, angrily. We would hear the rain before we felt it, a rushing white-noise masked by the wind. A few heavy drops would strike the dry, hard dirt at our feet.
The storm though, the whole rushing front would sweep down our driveway towards us, we could see it coming, the dense silver streaks. Our parents stood together, protected, smiling, on the covered porch while the four of us raced toward the rain with flailing arms and drowned out happy screams like madmen. The sheets of rain struck our faces, our outstretched hands, instantly drenched us, ran the dust off our bodies in rivulets. We stretched back and caught water in our mouths. Then--back to the house as quickly as possible, to mom and dad, to the waterfall gutters and the thunder of drops on the tin roof.
We yelled because it was so much fun to yell, not because anything could be heard or understood. Water swelled the ditches, filled our "swimming pool" to the brink with opaquely red-brown water. It flowed in muddy rivers down the driveway, catching and sweeping down leaves, twigs, and other makeshift "boats" for races. We raced the "boats", raced each other, lay belly down in the streams and the mud and pretended to swim.
As quickly as the storm had swept in though, it began to pull away. The raindrops slowed. Trees swayed, but more gently. A lighter sky reflected and sparkled in the puddles and streams. We retreated then, with hair plastered to our heads and faces, to parents and towels on the porch.
The next day the sun would rise to bake the thirsty, soaking ground. The rich, heavy, rusty-clean smell of the earth and vegetation would rise with it, move through the open windows of our house and be inhaled deeply, this smell now known to me as PETRICHOR.