Rain & Memories
What is it about the rain that make the world feel so fresh? It rained this morning. I could see it coming while out on a run. And yet, when it started it surprised me all the same.
Over Memorial Day, I was out walking with my girlfriend. We had gotten brunch earlier, & while we were inside eating, a downpour came . We watched it all from the full height windows facing the street. The rain ended just as quick, & left its indelible mark across the ground. The sky didn’t clear for the rest of the day, a reminder hanging over our heads.
It’s drizzling right now, as I write this. The mist that clung to the air began to fall, & it has stayed that way since. I listen to the thunder crackle & rip across the sky, look through my window to see the city shrouded in fog & mist. No clear delineation between the ground & air. It’s all wet anyways.
What is it about rain that makes the world smell so intense? Bite so hard in our nostrils & on our tongues? Something natural, I’m sure.
Rain itself has a smell. A deep tang that betrays the coming storm. It’s not just sailors that can pick up on this new sense. There’s nothing so sublime as the smell of a Spring day in the drizzle. There’s a word for the smell after the rain: petrichor. It’s a construction of two greek words: petra, meaning “stone”, & ichor, the blood of the Gods.
Smell is one of our most powerful senses, far more so than it’s given credit for. It conveys taste & triggers emotions. Through smells we store safety, & danger, know to read people, & know when we don’t have to.
Smells can hold our most base memories. Proust’s Madeleine is not limited to the pages of a book. The sorts of primal thoughts that our ancestors staked their lives on. Smelling something can send us back to a time long past. A time when something buried into our psyche, with the smell as the key. This potential makes storms even more powerful than on a natural level.
Next to me on my desk is a stack of books. The pile is overflow from my bookcase, both read & unread. Reference & input. Among them are a few of the books by Kazuo Ishiguro. “Remains of the Day”, “Never Let Me Go”, & “The Buried Giant”.
I took “Never Let Me Go” from a free library box on the street. It’s full of annotations in different handwritings & pen colors. The thoughts & ideas of several people crammed into the margins. Someone else’s memories.
I’d lent my Mom “The Buried Giant” after I finished it. We often trade books to discuss. She liked it so much, that she bought “Remains of the Day”, which she in turn lent me.
When I was reading “Buried Giant”, I wasn’t tremendously moved. It had its moments: great scenes, beautiful lines, & interesting characters. I finished it & liked it, & passed it to my Mom.
But thinking back on the book, I found my memory of it incredibly compelling. The minimal prose had lodged itself in my brain, & I found myself thinking about its misty landscapes & dark nights more & more often. My own nostalgia & memory of the book had grown around the sparse writing, like moss through ruins. I had filled in gaps in my memories, which made the pull all the more powerful.
The book itself deals with memories, of an elderly couple’s inability to remember their son. They set off on an adventure to find the boy, or the man he’s become. This journey takes them across the untilled land, through storms & caves, to the edge of their small world.
What is it about certain events that seem insignificant in the moment, but upon reflection have such powerful impact? What is it that endears them to us, what compels the memory back from the deep?
The sound of a siren builds then falls outside my window, from a passing vehicle. Sirens during the rain. When I was little, I played baseball. I was never very good. My mom tells a story about me trying to stuff my back pocket full of sand during a stint at second base. It was rare that I wanted to go. Still, I played.
We had finished a game as the drizzle began. It was one of those Saturdays where rain is the only thing on the horizon. The impending weather can shape your whole day. Something out of your control. That Saturday there had been nothing else to do besides go to my baseball game. Even then, the storm almost prevented me from going. Still, I went.
During the walk back to the car, my parents following several steps behind, the Thor Guard went off. (Thor Guard is a lightning detection system common in the Chicago suburbs. One long blast, seek cover fast. Three short sounds, safe to be around. This was the former.) The storm had started.
We got home as it started to pour. I changed into regular clothes, & hunkered in for my favorite pastime back then, Nintendo 64. It had been a gift from my Mom, no occasion, when I had been in first grade. It was a big gift, & took me by surprise. This sense of importance has stuck with me, & started a lifelong passion of mine.
I’d dried myself with a towel, & it sat next to me in a pile. My mom came in from the kitchen, carrying a big bowl of clam chowder, still my favorite soup. She sat next to me, & we took turns playing Super Mario 64.
I didn’t try very hard to collect the stars, the main goal. Instead was more interested in exploring the landscape the designers had created. We ran around Bob-omb Battlefield, sharing secrets & wandering. This is one of my most vivid & cherished memories.
Within the last few months, another moment became lodged in my brain, tied to the rain. My girlfriend & I had gone to bed before the rain had begun. While we were asleep it must have picked up. She was the first to wake up, at a tremendously loud thunderclap. So loud that I looked through the window next to my bed, thinking it might be some sort of explosion, a sign of peril.
I looked through the window screen, through the downpour, & saw nothing. It’s the rain, I said, turning back to face her, but she already knew. With her eyes full of wonder she ran to the window in the bathroom like a child, to get a better view. There I found her, her face inches from the net blocking us from the world. I wrapped my arms around her & looked out too. Her hair smelled sweet, & she felt warm under my embrace. Like a scene from a dream. We stood there for a long time, listening to the patter on the building, watching for cracks in the sky.
As we emerged from the diner that Memorial Day, the changes that had occurred were obvious. It was as if we were new settlers on a strange & distant world. A world had been as ordinary to us that morning. You could feel the new air, smell the dirt & soil, the rocks & roots, the flowers & leaves with a sense of beginning.
The world in technicolor. With new passion, & new memories. Just waiting to be made.