We had a wonderful teaser of spring weather about a week ago. Temperatures climbing up to 70 F. and clear, bright sunshine. I made the most of it by doing some pruning. Unfortunately the pile of brush I set aside for the shredder was hit by rain and a couple of snow squalls, when the weather did an about face on us. Now I have to wait for the pile to dry out – I’m thinking sometime in June.
While I was out walking on those halcyon days, I noticed the worms were out. More precisely, they were all over the road. I’m always puzzled why they do that and feel very guilty for walking past their squirming struggles without moving them back to soft ground. But there are just so many of them and I don’t want people questioning my sanity, any more than usual.
However worms on the road mean the ground is seriously thawing and warming, a definite sign of spring. Warm soil gives rise to the first scent of spring that I’m aware of – MUD. Who would think the smell of mud would be so exciting? Maybe you have to be a gardener to appreciate it.
We had some rain, too, and it was followed by a very common metallic smell. I had always thought this smell was from the worms, but thinking on it, I have no explanation for why that should be. Worms don’t smell metallic in the garden. So I did some digging.
It turns out there are a number of post-rain scents. They depend partly on where it has rained – forest or pavement – and on the person doing the inhaling.
Rain is acidic and when it falls on surfaces, it causes chemical reactions. On soil, it can release the trapped minerals, which is probably what I’ve been experiencing. It’s not an unpleasant smell, but it is distinct. However rain can react with all kinds of things, like the gas on roads and chemicals in fertilizer. Usually these smells are most pungent when it rains following a dry spell, since the substance mixing with the rain has not been disturbed or diluted for awhile.
There are more pleasant scents in forested areas. In there, the rain reacts with a type of bacteria, Actinomycetes, that grow in warm, damp soil. These bacteria produce spores that are tossed into the air by the power of the pelleting rain drops. They float through the air and we breath them in as a warm, earthy, and very pleasant scent of a rain-freshened breeze.
These scents are interesting, but they aren’t exactly a breath of spring. Mud may be the first resounding clue that things are changing, but there is something more subtle in the air. I suspect it is a combination of things, including finally being back outside after a cloistered winter.
Even before the leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear and the grass is ready to be mowed, there is a change in the air. You can smell the soil sighing. Tiny sprouts are testing out conditions and those wondrously hardy, tiny spring bulbs are sending out a scented signal to the earliest pollinators that an exchange of favors is available.
What truly makes it a breath of spring air for me is that subtleness. It won’t be long before the air will be saturated with the heady scents of flowers and trees. There’s a softness and freshness to early spring air that is lost when nature becomes fully alert and awake. Watch for it and savor it.