Dirt in My Veins

Turns out, it’s a literal thing that “You can take the man out of the garden, but you can’t take the garden out of the man.”

My spot-on sweetheart has commented many times about how this “mucky pup” of hers loves little more than just digging in the dirt. Not necessarily planting anything, just… digging. Truth is, I have a nearly atavistic urge to turn soil over and over, beyond the expected satisfactions: it’s part of me, from how through decades of gardening I’ve slurped tons of unwashed berries, forgetfully chewed garden grime-crusted fingernails, and inhaled enough dust to start a raised bed.

Good enough to eat?

In W H Auden’s In Praise of Limestone, the poet suggests that the physical characteristics of a place shape the essence of people who live there, often without their noticing the subtle sways. Having grown up during the innovative 1960s musical melting pot of Blues, Country, Rock & Roll and military bands, I have to tip my hat to Auden’s description of music as an encompassing influence which “can be made anywhere, is invisible, and does not smell.”

But unlike my beloved Mississippi Delta’s signature Blues music, the alluvial soil of my region, kicked up by ag machinery and blown by dust storms, can be sensed physically. It clogs our fingernails, stains our britches knees, billows and swirls up to create amazing sunsets and moonrises. And, right before approaching thunderstorms, we can easily smell its peculiar pong – that fresh rain’s coming fragrance.

One of the common smells produced ahead of thunderstorms is from ozone being released by lightening and other molecular schisms, which really is a thing. But ozone has a sharp smell, almost like chlorine, or an electrical fire, not the damp, earthy smell I’m thinking about.

The faintly sweet, earthy smell is caused by bacteria and fungi that create an oily substance called geosmin, which has a distinct musty odor most people can easily smell at low concentrations. It’s what gives plowed fields, compost, mushrooms, catfish, and warm lake water their faint earthy scents. And when big raindrops hit exposed dirt, or a low-pressure front ahead of a summer storm “degasses” the soil and pulls geosmin into the air, we inhale a compound of it called petrichor.

So, I’m thinking, if George Harrison’s (from Savoy Truffle) phrase “of what we eat, we are” can also apply to what we smell, then, yeah – in a way, my garden is not only in my heart and mind, but also coursing through my veins.  

Gotta go. Dirt is in my hungry blood, and it’s calling me back to the garden.

Of what you eat – and smell – you are

Worth reading: Maverick Gardeners – New Book by Felder Rushing – Felder Rushing’s Blog

13 Replies to “Dirt in My Veins”

  1. Thank for explaining what’s behind I “smell rain coming”. Always enjoy reading your posts. One of the earliest things I learned decades ago from your newspaper column is still with me, “cut your grass high”. I gave you credit a few weeks ago when a visitor commented on my lush lawn.


  2. Great observations. I usually knock on the cypress tree (with a bee hive in it) on my way down our dock…just to say good morning. I think something happens to the tree and me (and maybe the bees) when I respond to nature this way. We are all one.


  3. We’re to learn something new everyday…. Besides being great information, this post is a “Happy” and made my morning! Thank you!!


  4. Geosmin. Thanks. Have always wondered what caused that special fragrance. Dirt road in a rare summer rainstorm. Always learn from you.


    1. glad you enjoy my musings about oft-overlooked garden tidbits… but there are already over 100,000 people in line for tickets to loll around on a nice big lawn and gawk at pristine flower borders which are “bog standard” across the entire island (they are nearly ALL very nice). cheers!


      1. Sadly, I discovered how quickly the tickets left when I tried to book a trip. Sat in Bay St Louis today and smelled the inbound rain while listening to your great show. Be well.


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