Friday, April 26, 2013

The smell of rain

I enjoy finding connections between things that don't appear related.  This includes making associations between two of this month's prompts.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Do you like the rain?
Friday, April 26, 2013
Margaret Atwood said: "In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt." Agree or disagree?
The assocation between the two is the smell of rain.

Smithsonian Magazine: What Makes Rain Smell So Good?
Joseph Stromberg
April 2, 2013
Step outside after the first storm after a dry spell and it invariably hits you: the sweet, fresh, powerfully evocative smell of fresh rain.

If you've ever noticed this mysterious scent and wondered what's responsible for it, you're not alone.
Two of the answers to this question are chemicals produced by living things during dry spells that accumulate in the soil and are released into the air during rain.  Plants secrete oils and bacteria manufacture a substance called geosmin.  Combined, they create the smell of wet soil characteristic of rain.

As for how rain makes people feel, I'll let Stromberg explain for me.
But apart from the specific chemicals responsible, there’s also the deeper question of why we find the smell of rain pleasant in the first place. Some scientists have speculated that it’s a product of evolution.

Anthropologist Diana Young of the University of Queensland in Australia, for example, who studied the culture of Western Australia’s Pitjantjatjara people, has observed that they associate the smell of rain with the color green, hinting at the deep-seated link between a season’s first rain and the expectation of growth and associated game animals, both crucial for their diet. She calls this “cultural synesthesia”—the blending of different sensory experiences on a society-wide scale due to evolutionary history.

It’s not a major leap to imagine how other cultures might similarly have positive associations of rain embedded in their collective consciousness—humans around the world, after all, require either plants or animals to eat, and both are more plentiful in rainy times than during drought. If this hypothesis is correct, then the next time you relish the scent of fresh rain, think of it as a cultural imprint, derived from your ancestors.
Growing up in southern California, I associated rain with the color green as well, which is one of the reasons I liked rain there.  Even here in Michigan, where rain and green are not as precious, I still enjoy the smell of rain.

As for Atwood's assertion, I don't think everyone should smell like they've been working the soil, but it would do a world of good if more people did.  I'll do my part by working in the yard this weekend.  I've been looking forward to it all month.

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