Clouds in Motion & Petrichor
Having a birthday during a pandemic is a bummer. Sure, I was able to spend time with friends on Zoom. It was lovely, but certainly not the same as going to brunch or dinner with friends. The next day I took solace by looking up into the sky. Since 2017, after enduring wildfire smoke seasons that turn the skies orange, I have learned to deeply appreciate clear blue skies. Since the iPhone has this cool time lapse function, I have been fond of capturing blue skies with pillowy clouds gliding across the sky. I want to remind people, especially in the American West that you should never take clean and clear skies for granted, because climate change is inch by inch taking those clear skies away from us.
A happy side effect of the pandemic when everyone was sheltering-in-place was that hardly anyone was driving and you started noticing the air was fresh and reflected in the skies. It is like when a power outage reveals the starry skies that light pollution normally obscures. These are the silver linings of natural and man made disasters. Will we learn to live lightly on this planet because we are so attached to these gorgeous skies?
These skies and clouds often come before and after a rain storm. One thing about me is I am a pluviophile.
(n.) a lover of rain; someone who finds joy and peace of mind during rainy days
Not only do I love what the rain does to the air and to my garden, but it energizes and/or calms me. Throughout my life, I have taken opportunities to dance and play in the rain. When I lived in Boston when I was 23-ish or 24-ish, there used to be these epic squalls in Summer. Usually, they would come when I had to haul laundry down the street to the local laundry-mat. One time, a friend from College came over to visit from the West Coast when one of these Summer squalls hit. We rushed out of my apartment on Hemenway Street and danced in the rain until we were completely soaked. The air was warm and wet, but being soaked fully through gave relief from the humidity. It was one of those moments that I realized was a wonderful memory in real time. I miss those Summer squalls and wish I had them in my garden.
One of the causes of my pluviophilia is what is called petrichor. The music from this video is called Petrichor, which is defined by Oxford as, "a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather. "other than the petrichor emanating from the rapidly drying grass, there was not a trace of evidence that it had rained at all"
The smell from a first rain is divine and there is real science behind the smell.
The phenomenon was first scientifically described in a March 1964 paper by Australian researchers Isabel Bear and Dick Thomas, published in the journal Nature. Thomas coined the term "petrichor" to refer to what had previously been known as "argillaceous odour". In the article, the authors describe how the smell derives from an oil exuded by certain plants during dry periods, whereupon it is absorbed by clay-based soils and rocks. During rain, the oil is released into the air along with another compound, geosmin, a metabolic by-product of certain actinobacteria, which is emitted by wet soil, producing the distinctive scent; ozone may also be present if there is lightning. In a follow-up paper, Bear and Thomas (1965) showed that the oil slows seed germination and early plant growth.
Long before this phenomenon received its name in 1964, it had been noticed and discussed in scientific circles. In May 1891 a brief note by TL Phipson appeared in The Scientific American refers to the subject. He wrote, "This subject, with which I was occupied more than twenty-five years ago, appears from a paragraph in a late number of the Chemical News to have recently attracted the attention of Professor Berthelot and M. Andre." No doubt, Phipson was referring to a short paper read by Berthelot and André at the meeting of the French Académie des Sciences on 23 April 1891, and printed in Volume 112 (1891) of Comptes Rendus, entitled "Sur l'Odeur propre de la Terre".
Phipson continues, "I find, on referring to my old notes, which are dated 1865, that it is doubtful whether I ever published the results of these observations; and as the distinguished chemists I have just named have not quite solved the problem, I hasten to give the results I obtained so long ago." He then theorizes that the odour "... was due to the presence of organic substances closely related to the essential oils of plants ..." and that these substances consist of "... the fragrance emitted by thousands of flowers ..." absorbed into the pores of the soil, and only released when displaced by rain. After attempts to isolate it, he found that it "... appeared to be very similar to, if not identical with, bromo-cedren,[clarification needed] derived from essence of cedar."
It has been my tradition to go outside in the first rain of the season and smell and feel the rain. One of the best parts of having a cottage is that is in the garden is that I get to witness beautiful skies and rain storms. As I write this, I see fluffy clouds floating across the sky in my peripheral vision. I have to make my way from our house to the cottage walking on wet cement and grass. The walk is infused with petrichor of wet plants and pavement. When it is raining, I enjoy getting wet from the rains and have my clothes smell like rainwater.
I do not take rain for granted in a world that is in the throes of climate change.
The very birth of this cottage was due to the first storm of the year and the rituals around having that storm come through before a Super Wolf Moon Full Eclipse. I collected rain water from this storm and let the water bathe in the moonlight of that Super Wolf Moon Full Eclipse and used that to water my roses and garden on the night of the next full moon which was a Rose Moon or Strawberry Moon. I am still of the opinion that ritual had something to do with having this space in the garden. It is as if the intention was heard by the universe. Good things happen when you speak to the universe through thoughtful respect to the planets, minerals, water, and plant life.
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In a Zone 9 garden, north of the Golden Gate Bridge.