Years ago, someone gave me the book Dakota by Kathleen Norris. “You’ll like it I’m sure – it’s about living in small town rural Midwest.” It was someone who had read it as part of her book club and admitted pretty openly it was hard for her to relate to it.
In short, it is a non-fiction account of a woman’s journey back to her family home in South Dakota – small town, middle of nowhere South Dakota. She and her husband inherited the house, decided as writers they could write anywhere, and left NYC for it. She was an insider but not one. A concept that unless you grow up in small town Midwest, you may not understand. She talks about her journey back home – what she learns from being in Dakota again – and her own spiritual journey.
There were parts of this book that had me grinning. As I was walking into work, one of those parts smacked me in the face – even though it has been a good nearly 20 years since I read this book.
Each chapter has kind of a snippet of observation – or conversation that sort of summarizes the area and its people. Once chapter opened with a farmer talking about the smell of rain – the smell before rain – and rain having different effects. There is the fresh smell you get before and after a rain that is truly clearing the air – clearing the dust from it, settling the dirt, and refreshing everything. There is the still and the ominous smell you get in the air before a huge thunderstorm blows through – the feeling that makes you batten down the hatches even before you hear a weather report. There is the rain that is nurturing – it is the water needed for crops – needed for life to thrive in the rural area of the Midwest. It is steady like the heavens turned on their sprinklers to irrigate the plants. Each rain has a smell. Each rain has a purpose – even if destructive is a purpose.
When I read that snippet, I grinned. Only a Midwesterner would truly understand that – understand the smell factor of rain and how it translates.
Walking the five blocks from the parking lot to the office today, I smelled on of my favorite rain smells in Oregon – the smell of the rain coming straight from the ocean. It smells salty – and pungent the way the air does when you stand next to the ocean on the beach as the breeze blows in. It is like the system bringing us rain paused at the coast, reloaded with some of that ocean water, and brought it 90 miles to the city, giving us a bit of the sea.
I love that smell – mainly because I associate it with the ocean.
We have had one the driest winters I can remember in my 19 years here. So when it started raining yesterday – the first time in a month, I think – it smelled good – it felt like it was there to clean up the air, water the plants, and give us a reprieve from the cold weird weather we have been having. I walked through the light shower not with my hood up as I would melt but with it down – enjoying the shower.
Maybe it’s because I was raised in a place where rain had purpose – rain was necessary – rain was the difference between a good harvest and a horrible one – between thriving as a farmer or failing as one. Rain wasn’t something you hid from. Rain wasn’t bad. (Lightning and tornados were.) Rain was something you celebrated unless there was too much of it.
Regardless, I’ll enjoy that sea smell in the rain today. And smile to myself as someone who notices it.