With all the rain this summer, it’s ironic that I’ve yet to be rained on during either a bike ride or a run. Maybe the rain has come over night and that explains how I’ve missed it. But a few evenings ago, a rainstorm came just after we finished dinner — it was the tail end of the July heat wave, and we opened our back door to the porch wide to bring the cooler air into the house. We also pulled our chairs up and enjoyed the smell and feel of that wonderful summer rain. Monkey Man and Gorilla Girl ran back and forth, screaming in delight with each new thunderous peal. Ed and I talked about how much we both like running in the summer rain. I’ve missed it, and I suppose because I am no longer a daily runner, my chances of experiencing the suddenness of a summer rainstorm are minimal.
One of my favorite memories of running in the summer rain happened more than 25 years ago, when I ran in the Chicago Distance Classic while I was home from my freshman year of college. My mom ordered a photo taken of me somewhere along the race course, and I haven’t seen it in years, but I do remember that I was smiling. That tells you something — smiling during a road race is not something I do until the finish line! It was early and that wet summer grass smell pervaded the whole race, making it feel less sticky and sweaty, despite it being mid-July.
While I was home from college that summer, I missed intensely the smell of Grinnell — I didn’t know then, but the smell was soybeans. I am still not sure if it was the harvest smell, or just the earth and soybeans reacting as they grew, but the nutty aroma is one that always reminds me of college, and late night campus walks, or early morning cornfield runs.
It must be a late summer smell, those soybeans, since I only recently noticed it on my bike rides. When I turned a corner on Mill Road the other night, the smell hit me full in the face. It transported me, and as I breathed deeply, I found myself wishing I could bring it back with me, but also thanking the farmers for giving me this gift of the smell of a summer past to go with my present.
They say that smell is our most primitive sense, located in the most primal part of our brain. Scent memories feel almost urgent, somehow connected to survival. It’s amazing and wonderful that the memory was there for you to identify 25 years later. By the way, the photo at the top of this post is fabulous, like an impressionist painting.