Waiting for rain

Photo by Peter Carroll

I returned to Alice almost five months ago. Today we had the first real rain since I’ve been home. I’ve smelled it, god how I’ve smelled it, breathed it in deep through my nose and filled my lungs with it, but today is the first day I’ve felt it.

On September 27 it rained at my brother’s wedding reception, breaking Alice’s longest dry spell on record of 157 days. A fine mist refracted the red lights on Soma rooftop. We threw our arms in the air, spun around and cheered when the tiny cool drops drifted down. We rain danced, in raptures the heavens had finally opened on Hugh and Kelly’s wedding day. It was a surreal pleasure to rejoice in rain at a wedding. Three millilitres fell that night and the longest dry spell was broken, but it wasn’t real rain. The real rain came today.

Is the smell before rain the same the world over?

A couple of weeks ago when storm clouds were building but only taunting and teasing, I sniffed a cool breeze coming through the bathroom window. It made my head spin. Never before had the smell before rain been so strong! Today I learned from Wiki that this smell has a name: Petrichor. It’s a combination of petra, the Greek word for stone, and ichor, the fluid that flows through the veins of gods in Greek mythology. Coooool. A couple of Aussie scientists coined the term in 1964 for an article in Nature. The smell is also a combination of two things; oil exuded by plants during dry spells which is absorbed by soil and rocks and released when it rains, and a bacteria called geosmin which is exuded by damp soil. So perhaps the smell before rain is not the same the world over, as there aren’t many plants exuding oil in the Simpson Desert or the Sahara.

When I went outside to jump on my bike and head to work this morning I was shocked to feel rain, even if it had been forecast. I reckon rain’s been forecast for Alice at least ten times in the past couple of months but the clouds only taunted and teased. Cruel clouds. In Canberra I would’ve pulled on my gummies, opened my umbrella and wandered to work, but here the prospect of riding to work in the rain was thrilling! I wrapped my gear in a plastic bag and Dad tucked in a little towel. I set off wishing it was heavier. When I was halfway to work it had stopped. But when I was tearing down the final stretch on Lovegrove Drive big fat drops were soaking my skin. It’s raining! Finally, it’s raining.

I’ve a mottled history with rain. I’ve never hated it more than when I was checking bom.gov.au every few hours during the week before my 22nd birthday. I turned 21 overseas so I made my 22nd my 21st birthday bash. I’d organised a festival in my backyard, but what was Canberra’s forecast for Saturday Feb 13, 2010? Flash floods. I hardly slept the night before for fear I’d have to pull the whole thing. It turned out to be Canberra’s wettest weekend on record. But some dear old friends covered the yard in tarpaulins and I had the best day of my life. The relentless rain made it much more special, and the patch of grass danced into a mud pit regrew. Yet I’m still often on bom.gov.au before big events in fear of rain. Even a week out from this year’s Art, Not Apart in Canberra I was checking BOM daily, and I wasn’t even going. My last boss would shake his head every time he saw me staring with furrowed brow at the Courier New forecasts. ‘There’s nothing you can do about it,’ he’d laugh.

‘I know, but I’m a Winterflood,’ I’d say defiantly. ‘Everywhere I go, I always take the weather with me.’

There’s a gusty storm forecast for tonight, and storms for the next three days, but I’m staring out the window at blue sky.

Local hip hop crew Catch the Fly have a magic track about waiting for rain in Alice Springs. Listen to it here.

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