The Heron's Nest

Volume XXI, Number 1: March 2019

Editors' Choices

inside a prayer the scent of rain

Victor Ortiz
Bellingham, Washington

attempting to fold
a fitted sheet—
winter solstice

Alan S. Bridges
Littleton, Massachusetts

moving through
a fog of breath...
snowy buffalo

Chad Lee Robinson
Pierre, South Dakota

The Heron's Nest Award

inside a prayer the scent of rain

Victor Ortiz

According to an article published in the journal Science in 2014, humans can detect upwards of one trillion different odors. Smell, like taste, is a chemical-based sense. Molecules in the air attach to receptors in the nose, which relay messages directly to the limbic system in the brain. As a result, smells leave long-lasting impressions and are strongly linked to emotions and memories.

There are three prominent odors that we've come to associate with rainstorms. The first one is ozone—a tangy freshness detected on the wind even before the first raindrops arrive. Oxygen in the air is usually O2 but electric charges from lightning in the upper atmosphere produce oxygen molecules with three atoms. We can detect that change and it registers as an impending storm. Through countless millennia we have sniffed the air and anticipated rain.

A different scent arrives with the first raindrops. Petrichor is the earthy scent of rain on dry soil after a period of hot, dry weather. Crumbling plant and animal material mixes with minerals on the ground or asphalt and concrete in the city. It can smell sweet or slightly greasy depending on the number of hydrocarbons in the bouquet.

After the storm passes through, having soaked the ground, there is yet another scent: geosmin. This is an organic compound produced by bacteria and other microbes. It gives beets their rich damp-earth taste. A scent that signals to gardeners there's a new opportunity to dig in the soil.

We aren't really sure which aroma Victor Ortiz is referring to in his haiku when he mentions the scent of rain. It could be ozone, petrichor, or geosmin individually or all three in turn. We do, however, learn something about his interior life. He has a prayer life. And despite the simplicity and directness of this one-lined presentation, his prayer life is a rich one. The senses aren't treated as distraction and summarily dismissed. His prayers are enlarged with the allowance for the senses as part of the reverie. This haiku strikes me as an intimate experience of absolute truth—very much in keeping with the Psalmist's view of prayer asĀ "deep calls to deep."1

He particularizes the scent of rain as an occurrence inside his prayer. Maybe he was praying for actual rain to squelch the wildfires in northern and southern California this past November. Perhaps there is a personal drought that he is addressing in his prayer, or it's been a while since he has prayed. It doesn't matter what brought him to prayer. It's an attractive place for him to be because of the scent before, during, and after rain. And it's an invitation for us to check out this space created by prayer.

Victor Ortiz has gifted us with this gentle, evocative haiku of unparalleled craft and depth.

Cherie Hunter Day
March 2019

1. Psalm 42:7 (NIV)


The Heron's Nest XXI.1 (3-19)

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