How Rain Smelled After 1964

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‘Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns…
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.’ Odyssey

Learning is a heady pleasure. Rainy days, when viewed in this context, can bestow hours of ripe deliciousness. A rainy day, a book, a warm fire (or knitted coverlet, or crazy quilt, or bunny slippers, whatever floats your boat); these components, when combined, are like bundled atoms of compressed energy. Fuel for another day, perhaps. Or ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’, as the poet Wordsworth once wrote.

‘I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.

‘In this mood successful composition generally begins, and in a mood similar to this it is carried on; but the emotion, of whatever kind, and in whatever degree, from various causes, is qualified by various pleasures, so that in describing any passions whatsoever, which are voluntarily described, the mind will, upon the whole, be in a state of enjoyment.’

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, we webfoots know a thing or two about rain. Yet today, while the morning rains began to fall, and the switch was flipped on the gas fireplace, I learned some things about rain I didn’t know.

Plus it dove-tailed nicely with the fact that I love awesome word coinages.

The fast answer is: ‘petrichor’ is how rain smelled after 1964. But don’t let me spoil all the fun. Head over to Mark Aldrich’s blog to learn more. Any time you start an article with ‘nature of argillaceous odor’ in the sentence, you have my attention.

My reading this morning took me from how rain smells; first scientifically defined in 1964, as something to do with rocks and ‘ichor’…this takes us to ancient Greek lore…so off we go to the delightful word tasting blog Sesquiotica (you see how we’re keeping with the theme of deliciousness here?) for some curiously unknown details of Homer and his hero Odysseus where I learned of a ‘millihelen’, which is defined as ‘beauty sufficient to launch one ship’….(I can’t believe how brilliant that is!!)…from there we go on a search for Robert Fagle’s translation of Homer, a part of which is quoted in the heading above.

Even my love for Thirkellian long sentences has its limits, so I decided to create a new paragraph….off we go back to Mark’s blog with his mention of argilleus–another new word coinage–creating the time warp effect of sending me back to ancient Greece, again, because the Argo, as we know, was a ship set afloat by rain. Oh, and maybe launched by a wee bit of millihelen.

Rain, yes, rain.

This was all in the space of one cup of coffee.

I like rain.

Rain, for now, is giving me time to write, and think, and read and reflect. So–

I like rain.

I hope you visit these other posts, that enriched my morning. They won’t mind your bunny slippers.

Blue Stockings and Muddy Petticoats

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“The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Henry David Thoreau was a great walker. His walking was directly linked to his ability to think. Directly linked to his philosophy. If Thoreau did not walk, Thoreau could not write.

Thinking about this made me realize why I have been unable to finish up this post from my series that has been given the quizzical name ‘Perambulations.’ A post that was beginning to drag on as long as Ben Jonson’s epic walk to Edinburgh in 1618.

I have not been walking. The ground has been as frozen and inhospitable as a Bronte moor, and the wind has been bitter cold. There are, in this house, enough knitted and crocheted hats and scarves to clothe an army, but I am a fair weather walker.

“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “my thoughts begin to flow.”

Yesterday the sun returned with brilliant apologies and warm entreaties. The earth was still frozen, our porch and stairs still a solid pool of ice, yet something of an ambient flow was beginning to stir.

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Encouraged by the dazzling rays of light we immediately ventured out to experience the truth of writer Rebecca Solnit’s observation

‘…walking articulates both physical and mental freedom.”

What she said. And what Thoreau said. I began to think about perambulations, pedestrianism, peregrinations; all those lovely, fascinating words relating to the philosophy and exercise of walking. Like sweetmeats to the wordsmith, they animate the curiosity, savor of possibility, and my eager thoughts begin to rise like puffs of steam in warm sunlight.

“The distance is nothing when one has a motive.” Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)

This is the magic of walking; though our steps may be regular, our chosen path familiar, linear or even slightly curved, our thoughts are left free to wander far away from our feet. The same tree on our customary path looks different in all types of light, and radiates new possibilities. In elliptical, soaring patterns, our imagination makes great loops of thought in the sky, connecting philosophical dots, shooting across eons of space to create galaxies of fantastic dimensions and people it with drama, conflict, resolution. Perhaps our thoughts take us back to the past or weave us ever more tightly to the dizzying matrix of the present.

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Our eye catches sight of a beautiful bird, spiraling upward, or a flock of birds forming V patterns etched in thin silhouette, and our thoughts travel with them in after image, chasing similar shapes and spirals, or arcs in fractal waves like starlings.

Wherever we go in our mind, the beauty of it is that our feet are still on solid ground. There is comfort in that; we drop to earth with a soft thud to match our pedestrian gait and soon enough we are back to the warmth of the fireside and the well-rooted chair. Time enough to think about blue stockings and muddy petticoats, and wonder if anyone else would find such a subject interesting? And as to that, have you ever thought about the inherent contradiction in a word like pedestrianism?

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Writer Margaret Lane alluded to this dichotomy of preference. In the foreword to her lovely collection of essays Purely for Pleasure *, she writes:

‘There is no unifying theme to be found in this handful of essays. They are personal excursions indulged in purely for pleasure—perambulations, so to speak, in chosen company.’

A happy life often consists of many small moments like this—curious bursts of pleasure that no one else might understand, let alone anticipate. I was thrilled to see that she thought of ‘perambulations’ in the same way I did. [for more on the wordsmith aspect of this, I refer you to The Curious Word]

In recent months, via this blog we have strolled through several gardens with several writers, taken brisk walks with poets, pondered John Muir’s epic mountain ramblings, and explored why Mary N. Murphree didn’t walk the heights and depths of the Blue Mountains but cleverly wrote as if she did.

Most of the famous walkers from history that come to mind are usually men. But have you met The Bluestockings? As a group, they fascinate. One particular Bluestocking, however, relates more specifically to my recent perambulations. Continue reading