Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Storm Is Coming

The clouds are dark and heavy, the sun dimmed. Visually, it looks like it's about to rain. But the windows are open in the house and even if I were blind, I would be able to tell you that a storm is coming.

The wind tells me. The air tells me. I want to use the phrase, "it smells like a storm" because there is something in the air that my nose picks up on. The wind changes, right before a storm, and, for some reason, humans can pick up on this.

But how to describe it? If there were a person standing next to me who had never seen nor felt a storm before, I would not know how to tell that person that there's a storm coming soon. I would say, "There! As that breeze wafts in from the window! Do you smell that?" And the person would say, "No, I smell nothing," because, of course, the difference isn't really a smell in the everyday sense of the word. So I would say, "As the wind comes in, can you feel how it's different from wind on a sunny day?" And the person would say, "No, it feels the same to me. What's the difference?" And I would not be able to say anything, because I don't really know what the difference is, only that there is a difference. I could say that it "just feels fresher," but "freshness" isn't very tangible either. It's not something that can be measured, only felt subjectively. And so this "smell before the storm" is something I can sense, it's something I know from experience.
But words elude me.

Living out here in the country has made me deeply aware of the weather. Farmers, after all, depend on the weather a lot more than most people. It seems to me that every cloud has a message, and the wind can often reveal things that go unnoticed by most people. I've even been more aware of how the weather can affect my mood. However all of this knowledge can't really be described. It's knowledge that can only be observed by living close to nature and by observing, or "listening" to the world around me. I'm the sort of person who often misses little details in my surroundings. I can pass my car keys sitting on the table 4 or 5 times without noticing they're there, but I am often keenly aware of subtle, intangible, changes in the environment. I don't think these changes are consciously noted, but simply picked up by my brain as somehow important.

And noting these subtle changes are a form of intuitive awareness without thought. It's a good exercise for meditation- silencing your inner monologue and just simply taking note of what IS. I don't know how many people "listen" to clouds or the wind or detect changes in the environment based on how the plants smell on a certain day, but honestly I think it's a valuable exercise. It also helps me appreciate the subtlety of nature, and some days it can feel as though I'm discovering or re-discovering a secret language, a language not of words but of smells and skin.

(BTW, I would love to know what this "smell before the storm" is, scientifically. I've heard it's ozone, plant spores, or bacteria. Let me know if you have any input.)


  1. Hi
    Oh yes, I too smell the weather, most especially snow - I can smell when it is going to snow. And I can smell a storm as well - and feel it too - just like you said - I could be blind and I would know that snow is coming or a storm. Scientific reasons? Oh I hope to not ever know - I love that I just know, just like you just know, and that is pure enough for me. :-)

    Love to you

  2. I always think that the language you describe here- words to describe instinct, observation, creation, nature- were the primary (and sorrowfully) lost keys to our original language. The words that described those, and linked those "spiritual" experiences were lost at some point in time, when they were abused. Now we are left with fragmented ideas that cannot be solidly expressed because we uttered too freely their contents. We tried to use the secrets for our own power and glory.

    Yes, I listen. I used to sit on our front step, or at a window, day after day, listening and feeling (which are not truly sepperate). But I am not so attuned to nature as I am to people. When we are at social events, I sit still and quiet to do this same thing- listen and feel their subtle but important changes. I don't catch it all. No one ever can- and sometimes it is very exhausting- but that is what I do.

    I wish I could tell the subtle differences between weather- between a friendly storm and a vengeful one. But I can't really. Maybe that's why I'm so terrified of them...