petrichor (n.)

They say that smell is the sense most closely tied to memory. Something to do with the olfactory bulb, apparently. Whatever the biological explanation, my own experience suggests that the two are absolutely, irrevocably intertwined.

Some medicinal smells take me right back to getting stitches on my head when I was seven. Certain colognes are strongly tied to certain ex-boyfriends. If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can call to mind the smell of my grandparents’ beloved, long-gone home or my parents’ old Volvo station wagon. For a second, I can actually smell it, twenty years later.

And petrichor — the scent of rain hitting earth — has a more general association: summer. During a Vancouver winter, rain is too commonplace to really notice or appreciate the smell. But in summer, after a long hot stretch, those first drops of rain hitting dry earth smell a bit like magic. In my early life living on the Prairies, the smell promised a thunderstorm (something all too rare in Vancouver). During my Okanagan years, it meant potential relief from wild fires. And in Vancouver, it gives permission to take cover for a bit — to give myself a short break from hiking, biking, and adventuring, and to spend an evening indoors, windows wide open, with a good book.

A smell so wonderful should have a lovelier name, don’t you think?

– Chelsea