One of the most delightful scents that I know is that of chaparral after a rain. It is no surprise to anyone that California has been going through a drought…something that happens every decade or so. (While the average annual rainfall for Ojai is supposed to be 16 inches that just means that some years we get >40 and others we get <5.) I sit here writing during storm number two of the week: the first a light system that swept through to everyone’s relief and appreciation; the current storm more significant, leaving some to regret what they wished for. But in between systems, Doc and I took the opportunity to get up on the local hillsides. While I was drawn to get a view of the cloud covered hills and the newly greened valley…yes, it happens that fast…I surprised myself that I forgot how wonderful, how pungent, how absolutely heady the chaparral is after a rain. It is as if all of that sage and buckwheat and ceanothus had been holding its breath since last spring. Suddenly the subtle colors of the local landscape show themselves in a palate of greens, reds, purples, yellows, and blue.
My friend, Lanny, regularly leads local herb walks and I went on one or two in years past, but I am afraid that such things go in one ear and out the other, as Mom would say. The names of most plants are lost in there along with the names of most of the birds I have learned, the capitals of countries, and a lot of algebra. Of course, poison oak was not forgotten, nor its antidote, mugwart. And plants like sticky-monkey flower or pearly everlasting stuck (no pun) because of their names. While I have no urge to revisit algebra, I should join Lanny for a refresher course. He not only knows the names of what he sees, he can tell you a half-dozen things, medicinal and otherwise, for which they can be used. But I don’t have to know the names of things to breathe deeply and appreciate them. The jasmine in my yard is intoxicating all spring. There are full months of the year that visitors to Ojai nearly swoon to the scent of orange blossoms. Yet, while one can get a whiff of hillside plants by rubbing them between thumb and forefinger (Lanny taught me that), the scent of chaparral comes as an ephemeral gift after a rain..it is here and gone, but few scents are more joyful, as if the very landscape is rejoicing for the rain.
For you urbanites, I also like the sound of tires and the glow of stoplights on wet roads, but I can’t say that any positive urban scents stay with me after a rain other than those of sudden freshness of air. But this piece is in praise of chaparral, the original instant aphrodisiac…just add water.