Petrichor—An Ode to New Mexico Rain

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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.Siler_pincushion_cactus_(6002291928)

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Waltzing to “New Mexico Rain”

In my years of being happily single I’ve never minded going places on my own—in fact, I love the freedom of going alone, and the openness to meeting new people that I have when I do this. Last summer, when Michael Hearne played at Santa Fe Bandstand, I struck up an acquaintance with a fellow Hearne fan. The music was a little late starting and we were early, so we sat together on the base of the monument in the Plaza for quite a while. The funny thing is that for as long as we talked, I couldn’t remember his name or what he did for work, only that he was from Albuquerque and loved music and dancing. We danced together for much of the evening. He switched partners occasionally, dancing with women he knew from Albuquerque, and then coming back to me. He had to catch the Rail Runner before the song, the one everyone wants to hear and dance to most of all, “New Mexico Rain.”* If this were fiction, the Cinderella-esque departure of the dancing partner whose name I’d forgotten would lead to something. It didn’t. I ended up dancing to that song with a stunningly attractive and much younger man who could lead a waltz with energy and grace.

This year, I arrived early again, and found a huge crowd waiting for Bill Hearne and Michael Hearne**. I sat on the base on the monument between two slim, fit, middle-aged women with brilliant (and definitely natural) red hair of the same length and with the same kind of rippling curls. The one on my left was local, and the one on my right was reading a tourist brochure in French, oblivious to her Santa Fe twin—who assured me they were not in any way connected. If this were fiction, the coincidence of their resemblance would go somewhere. It didn’t. I just happened to be between two oddly similar members of that particular one-percent.

I looked up and saw a tall, slender man with a youthful face and gray hair under a faded pink ball cap—the same man from Albuquerque in the same hat. He was saying to the woman with him, “I don’t see any of the regulars.” I spoke up, and he remembered me—though not my name. He introduced me to his friend, and I easily learned her name, and that she was a massage therapist visiting from North Carolina. I forgot his name and occupation again. But I did dance with him. He flowed back and forth between partners. I liked having breaks to watch the sea of dancers before being re-immersed in its waves.

When he left last August, I said, “see you next year.” He told me he’d wondered if “that lady” would be here again. All either of us could remember about each other was how we danced, with a connection that was perfectly of the moment. If this were fiction, there would be more to this story, but there isn’t. He is my Bandstand Michael Hearne concert dance partner. In its own way, that story is magical enough.

This year, we did get a chance to waltz to those lovely lines about waltzing in New Mexico rain. Maybe we’ll dance again next year. If we’re lucky, perhaps it will rain. (If this were fiction, it would.)

*“New Mexico Rain” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96UkbM6cII4

**New Mexico’s adopted sons—Americana with a touch of Western Swing

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