The southwest United States is burning up. According to my math the fires in West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado have burned more than 900,000 acres as of this afternoon. The relative humidity outside the room where I write this is three per cent. That’s right, three per cent. (3%)
It is so dry here that I saw a Great-tailed Grackle fly to one of our little circulating fountains yesterday and dip a dead lizard in the water before flying off to eat the lizard. Apparently, even the lizards are too dry to eat without moistening first. (Either that or the grackle was pretending to be a raccoon.) Our chickens stand around their water dishes panting between drinks. Our hummingbird visitors are barely active during the day, it’s so hot and dry.
To paraphrase the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, the prairies slice the big sky at evening and the smoke crusts the sight of the sunsets.
And that explains why I’ve been thinking today of a marvelous word: petrichor. (PET-ri-kuhr)It is a noun describing the wonderful smell of dry desert ground right after a rain. Coined by researchers I.J. Bear and R.G. Thomas it combines “petro” (rock) with “ichor” (the fluid that flowed through the veins of the Greek gods.)The science holds that the rain releases oils from vegetation, resulting in the odor. The more romantic explanation is that the dry, sere, parched earth is rejoicing.
I don’t care; I just want to smell it again. So do the birds.
Thanks to Larry Glover of Wild Resiliency for permission to use the photograph of the fire burning in the Sangre de Cristo mountains outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. Weather Bureau radar confirmed that the smoke plume in that photo was 27,000 feet above the surface or 34,000 feet above sea level.