On Dust and Rain

Nothing smells clean. Outside my window, the willow struggles into a fragile green sheen; the redbud is millimetering into tiny sharp arrow tips.

In the storms racing through Missouri this week, we missed being in a tornado, tornadoes being lazy creatures, all in all, in spite of their fierceness, and don’t like battling through a city for the most part. Their preference is for flat land. We did get a half inch of rain, which brings our grand total of moisture since the beginning of the year to about an inch and a half. We’ve had one mild snowfall.

Last evening, I cleaned the back porch, screened on two sides, buttressed into the house on two sides. We carried out the leftover firewood and stacked it back outside. I began sweeping up shovelfuls of dust and dry leaves, nose twitching at the reminder of drought creeping in from the west. Everything has a powdery coat.

I feel like one of the women Gordon Parks photographed during the dust bowl days: hand shading eyes, watching for locust or a rolling dust storm. But I’m probably being over-dramatic. It’s not quite that dry although dry enough.

When I lived in Hawaii at Kalani Honua down by Volcano, my job, in exchange for free room and board, was garden work (once the memoir is published, you can read all about it). In the nights, rain often pocked through the jungle and across the compound. I’d wake briefly, glance out the screened window beside my bed, think I won’t have to water the garden, and fall asleep in the soft green scent of jungle, leaves rejoicing, earth wafting its gratitude. I wondered, from time to time, how you’d explain the smell of dirt to someone who hadn’t stuck their hands in it: loamy, yes, but that presupposes knowing what loam smells like.

There is a word to explain the smell of rain, petrichor, a combination of bacterial spores and plant oils, but about as useful in terms of scent as describing loam.

We have city water and hoses. I water the yard, taking care to soak the ground close to the house so the old rock basement doesn’t shift and crack walls. You’d think a house this old, built in 1924, with a rock basement, would have gone through all the shifting it was going to do in its close to hundred years. You’d think.

I thought the same thing a few years ago when we had a summer drought. The ceiling in a dining room corner dropped nearly two inches and the stairway wall cracked. We found a company who restores old houses. They restored.

Hence, a pricey lesson in old home management. I learned to no longer think that way. I water the house.


15 thoughts on “On Dust and Rain

  1. It is healing to read all about your dust and water. Good down to earth stuff. I love the smell of dirt pulling weeds. I marvel that there is a smell that rises from potting soil when watering house plants

  2. The cycles of expansion and contraction in our clay soils can be so dramatic that house watering is a fairly standard procedure. In fact, soaker hoses are the preferred method, People ring their foundations with them and keep the soil moist without so much evaporation. As a bonus, you don’t have to stand there and water.

    I didn’t realize it had been so dry up there until the fires broke out in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles the past few days. I hope you get some relief soon. Down here, we pray for “rain without a name.”

    1. Rain without a name. I like that. Any rain of any kind. I turned over burning the prairie off to the fire dept. with a bribe of a generous donation. Snow is predicted for this weekend. God willing and all that.

      The problem with soaker hoses is you need outdoor spigots, of which we have one, on a tough to get at spot. They did not consider lawn care much in 1924 I guess. But we do have a soaker hose on that side.

  3. Watering the house? Interesting. Will it grow additional floors and rooms?
    And petrichor (though a weird name) does remind me of the smell of the earth in Africa after a heavy rain.
    Be good.

      1. Ah, sad to say, I’m fresh out of magic dust. But I’m glad not to grown the house, none-the-less. Thanks for your good wishes. Good weekend to you, too.

  4. The .gif attachment really cements the images conjured up by your words. A very powerful post today and a nice glimpse into your life on the farm.

  5. I never knew about watering the house. The whole post is lovely to read, Janet, as is everything you write. I grew up in Nebraska, where soil was black and rich. When we lived in Ohio, there were clumps of clay everywhere, making gardening/lawn life much more difficult. I worry about our loss of topsoil. Have you read Joel Salatin? He’s one of my favorite philosopher farmers and has taken Polyface Farm in Virginia from decimated soil to rich and productive.


    1. Thank you, Janet. That’s kind of you to say. And thanks for the heads up about Joel Salatin. I’ll look him up. I was up on the farm a couple of weeks ago, farmers already out in the fields, dust rolling up from tractor and car wheels. And this is the month for burning off CRP. I turned that task over to the local fire department thankfully.

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