Imagine the smell

Camellia after rain superpink 2011

One of my all-time favorite books is The Desert Smells Like Rain,* by nature-writer Gary Paul Nabhan. Originally from the Lake Michigan shore in Indiana, Midwesterner Nabhan has lived for years in the arid Southwest.

He’s an ethnobiologist, which means he’s interested in how people use plants. Nabhan has worked with the Native American peoples near his Phoenix area home for years. He tells the story from which he got the name of his 1982 book:

Once I asked a Papago youngster what the desert smelled like to him. He answered with little hesitation:

“The desert smells like rain.”

I’m with the kid; dry dry lands don’t smell much when they’re desiccated. The rain changes the plants and soil, releasing lovely smells.

I suppose that’s a tenuous peg for this photo of the camellia today. The rain came down hard for quite a while. I presume the water accumulated to break some of the blooms away from the plant, as several dotted the ground around the plant. This flower, however, weathered…the weather.

* There’re two editions of Nabhan’s book. The subtitle of the 1982 original (the one I have) was A Naturalist in Papago Indian Country. The 2002 edition is mostly the same, but the “tribe’s” name has been updated, so the subtitle is A Naturalist in O’odham Country. The Tohono O’odham, formerly called the Papago, are desert peoples whose territory used to be the Sonoran desert, where today they have a reservation in Arizona. Read more about the Tohono O’odham Nation here. I mentioned another Nabhan book, Cultures in Habitat: On Nature, Culture, and Story (1998) back in fall 2007 when we visited the Indiana dunes where he roamed as a youth—on another rainy day. What’s that mean? Two rainy days; two days with GPN thoughts….

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