The Smell of Green

By Susan Underkoffler – our Pennsylvania, USA correspondent.

I met someone during my first experience away from home at university. His name was Marco and he was from Iceland. Stocky and a bit physically imposing, his outward appearance belied his true inner nature – sensitivity and a deep thoughtfulness – as if he possessed a true understanding of life that few of us ever obtain. We took walks together and talked of existential ideas and beatnik philosophies. I never told him of my crippling anxiety and loneliness, although I suspect he knew. He told me he loved to walk in the rain; that he would just wander aimlessly enjoying the experience. I wondered at that. And I never forgot it.

Yesterday I sat outside watching a summer storm roll in – something I’ve loved since I was a child – the broiling heat and breath-stealing humidity pressing down around me; dark, ponderous, heavy clouds creeping over the trees. The stillness before the leaves on the trees start flittering and showing their pale undersides. Distant rumbles that I can feel in my chest. And the smell. The smell of approaching rain.

And that glorious smell, not distant now but right there, filling my senses – I couldn’t inhale deep enough to take it all in.

That rain came suddenly… fat drops pelting my skin. I didn’t run for shelter; just stood in it, raising my face to the sky. Then sheet after sheet of tiny droplets in a whoosh pelting my face and arms; the air instantly cooler, like someone lifting off a blanket. And that glorious smell, not distant now but right there, filling my senses – I couldn’t inhale deep enough to take it all in.

And just like a summer rain can clear the air even for a brief spell, it can clear a mind as well. The pensiveness of my thoughts and the oppressiveness of an overburdened schedule and my fear and sadness over not getting enough done, not being good enough, not measuring up to innumerable imaginary standards… it all eased a bit. My brain slowed. I smiled. I danced with the rain. I walked aimlessly, not heeding my dripping hair, the clothes clinging to my skin. It only lasted a short time. But it was enough.

When the rain slowed and then stopped, and the sun inched its way back out, everything had turned the most glorious shades of green. Brilliant, glowing greens of even the darkest grasses and leaves. Even the droplets of water that clung briefly to the leaves reflected their emerald tones.

That amazing, fresh smell that only follows on the heels of a summer rain, as if all the plants wake up slowly and languorously after a long rest and spray new life into the air.

I sat and watched puffs of steam rise from the pavement and felt the dense heat return. And I breathed the smell of all that green into my lungs. That amazing, fresh smell that only follows on the heels of a summer rain, as if all the plants wake up slowly and languorously after a long rest and spray new life into the air. Mossy, earthy tree smells. Bark and wet earth and wormy smells. Long dead leaves pressed into the ground and returning to new life smells. It was as if an artist took a brush thick with jade-colored paint and swooshed it across the earth, painting it in fresh life. I was refreshed for a brief spell, just like the earth. I had stood and walked and danced in the rain. And I understood.

I’ve often thought of Marco. And I hope he is still walking in the rain, too.

By Susan Underkoffler – our Pennsylvania, USA correspondent

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