Beauty Word of the Day: Petrichor

When I was a child, it rained every afternoon in the summer. You could count on it. Right around 3 p.m., the skies would open up and the rain would fall down in heavy, big, hard drops. After the rain stopped, we would go back outside and play. The rain didn’t cool down the 95 degree heat. But, for a little while, it felt more comfortable. I can remember that I liked the feel of the wet sidewalk under my bare feet but hated walking on the wet grass. 

I also remember the smell of the air after the rain. Maybe it smelled of clean, or freshness, or relief – heat calmed down by water. Little did I know then that there is a specific word for the pleasant smell after the rain. It is PETRICHOR.

Petrichor is the earthy fragrance we smell when rain hits dry soil. The word is constructed from Greek petra meaning "stone", and īchōr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. While the Greek meaning is romantic, the truth is a bit less so. The good smell is produced by geosmin, a molecule that is made up of the bacteria Streptomyces. These bacteria are found in healthy soil. When the rain hits the soil, the geosmin are released into the air.

You can read more about the science behind the smell at Petrichor: why does rain smell so good?

I just recently learned the word, petrichor, at the Heal the Man in order to Heal the Land exhibit at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island. Tattfoo Tan, a Staten Island based artist, explores how spirituality manifests itself out of the connections between internal experience and the material world. How can we connect with nature when society give priority to disposability and mass-consumption? How do we move away from a mindset of scarcity to one of collaboration? How can we be transformed from the egocentric “i” to the love supreme “I AM”?

In the exhibit, Tan uses participatory prompts, games, and affirmations to engage people in the interwoven nature of the universe. One of those prompts was the word “Petrichor.” Fascinated by the word, I took a photo.

Then, didn’t give it a second thought. Until a few weeks ago.

The last two weeks of July were hot and dry. The sidewalk was on fire and plants were shriveling up. I guess you could call it a scorcher (by Northeastern standards).

Then, on July 31, it happened. The rain fell at long last. There is such beauty in rain - the dark sky, the sound it makes when it hits the roof, the wind it creates, how it quenches the thirst of plants, animals, and insects. 

I was with a friend and we walked out on the terrace and he said – “I love that smell.” I took a deep breath and it hit me – PETRICHOR - that earthy fragrance of and dry soil. Breathe in deeply. Can you smell it?

Can the smell of a molecule be beauty? According the Beauty Manifesto, I think so.
  • Beauty exists in all forms - created, curated, and natural.
  • Beauty can be found in the ordinary; look beyond the precious and rare.
  • Beauty fosters connections between individuals, others and greater society; share your thoughts and experiences with others.
There was brief moment, when my friend and I stood on the terrace, breathing in the petrichor, that time was still and we connected. Nothing monumental, crazy – just ordinary, natural, and shared.

I think that I have taken petrichor for granted. No longer! Next time it rains, I will open the door, step outside, and breathe in deeply. I invite to do the same!

What beauty is around you that you have taken for granted? Let me know. 


Now, a rainy day song from my youth.  



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