Fragrance of the Earth by Hamilton W. Mabie


Summer Showers


The Fragrance of the Earth.
BY HAMILTON W. MAB1E.
There is something peculiarly pungent and delicious in the smell of the earth when the first dash of the summer shower falls on it; that penetrating fragrance which seems to issue out of the places where the flowers and the grasses are rooted, and to bring with it infinite suggestiveness of freshness and vitality. This smell of the earth comes so suddenly, especially after dry weather, that it fairly smites the sense, and gives one the same sudden joy which a deep breath of fresh air brings when one has been released from a crowded and overheated room. It is an odor compounded of many things; of leaves, grasses, the roots of trees; but, above everything else, it is the odor of the soil, the sudden escape from the earth of a fragrance which seems to lie just below its surface, slowly accumulating, waiting for the touch of the rain to release it.
The earth responds only to influences from the sky: it is dead, inert and unexpressive until it is assailed by something which either searches it, like heat, or evokes its hidden life, like rain. The leaves wait for the call of the sun, the flowers hold back until the warm air dissolves their reluctance, and the earth is hard and lifeless until the rain falls upon it; but, between shine and shower, all the secret potencies of life are stirred into action, and the earth becomes beautiful, not only to the eye, but to the sense of smell; which, in its sensitiveness to associations, psychologists tell us, is one of the most subtle of the senses. One hears the birds at nightfall in these late spring twilights, and takes them almost as a matter of co'irse; as if the mellow tones of the brown thrush and the sweet little song of the song-sparrow were part of the general order of things, and to be accepted as we accept a host of beautiful and helpful influences, without conscious gratitude; simply because they are so familiar to us.
But the smell of the earth, smitten out of the very dust by the dash of the rain, arrests us at once with a sense of something mysteriously sweet and refreshing. It is as if we had suddenly overheard the breathing of the earth; as if we had caught the sigh of nature, expressive of infinite relief after a long period of thirst. It Is one of the mysteries of our life, In which the roots of poetry are sunk deeply, that our associations with the world about us are so manifold, so rich and so uncommunicable. There is a race memory which antedates and in a certain sense enfolds our individual memories; and that race memory preserves, below our consciousness, the impress of multitudinous contacts between nature and the men and women who went before us in the long procession of race-life. There is no one of us who has not, in ancestral experience, stood in almost every active and passive relation to nature. At some period In our long racial life we have been
sailors hunters, trappers, explorers, tillers of the soil, dwellers in woods. We have pitched our tents in the deserts, and built our huts in the unbroken forests; we have heard the roar of the sea in all manner of frail and fantastic craft; we have exhausted the whole gamut of the experiences which may happen in the intercourse of man with nature. These things have gone out of our conscious recollection, but they have left their deposit in us; and we are largely what we are because of this long-sustained and marvellous companionship with the world of God's making. Nature has taught us more science, art and skill of every sort than any other teacher. She has ministered to more moods, stirred the imagination more deeply, trained the senses more keenly and worked her way into the very life of the soul more thoroughly, than any other single agency in the education of the race.
All this in its details we have forgotten, but it has left a rich deposit, a mass of hidden ties, of mysterious associations and of vague recollections; the results of the companionship of centuries of living together; and when the rain falls and the hidden life in the soil is suddenly transmuted into fragrance, and, exhaling like the perfume of a flower, assails our senses, it is not only the smell of the earth which comes to us, it is a sudden revival of some old association; some forgotten chord in our souls is smitten and set vibrating. In these mysterious ways, through the senses no less than through the imagination, the world without us is continually ministering to the world within us, refreshing, revitalizing and renewing forever the springs of life.