The smell of rain in the desert is so special it has a name: petrichor. As moisture touches rocks and soil that have been hot and dry, they release a scent of minerals and plant oils and something else I can’t place. It’s the smell of life, I think.
When I crossed the state line from Texas into New Mexico last week it was pouring, with lightning so intense it flashed pale purple. At the same time, the last faint light of evening shifted through rain on the horizon like a pale gray aurora borealis. I parked at the rest area at Glen Rio and got out and danced in a backward spin, softly singing Michael Hearn’s lovely sweet song “New Mexico Rain,” not caring or noticing if anyone saw or heard me. It was that good to be back and to have my homecoming blessed with a storm.
Today we had a long, gentle rain, the kind the Navajos call female rain. I went running in it, on a favorite trail at Elephant Butte Lake State Park. Quails peeped, crickets chirped, and there were no other sounds but the rain, my steps and my breath. The sand was firm under my feet, the lake glowed silver-blue, and low puffs of clouds floated across the flat cone-top of an extinct volcano, making it look as if it had come back to life. The subtle greens of plants whose names I don’t know—feathery and blue-tinged, needle-like and yellow-green—glowed in the diffuse light. Wet lava rocks shone black or red as their pores soaked up the water. At each curve in the trail, the rain scent varied, mingling with juniper at times, stronger when the rain increased, fainter when it faded. Normally, I work on plot problems, writing scenes in my head as I run, but today my mind was quiet, my attention captured by sounds, textures colors and petrichor.
There’s not one special memory linked to this scent, just a sense of place. Of the earth itself within the borders that delineate New Mexico, a place where the Pueblo people are dancing for the rain. When that rain touches me, I feel as though something is released in me as well from the rocks. My heart knows who I am.