A Flood of Memories from a Desert Rain

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 11, 2015


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The smell of rain can revive memories.


Scientists say rain’s fresh smell comes from the action of rain and wind stirring up the air with ozone from the atmosphere and aromas from beneficial microbes in the soil.


I am sure that scientific explanation is true. To me, the smell of rain, sometimes accompanied by a colorful rainbow, can revive a memory. As years come and go, memories accumulate. Some become favorites, like books that will be kept and reread. Other memories are uncomfortable, even painful.



Raindrops collecting on mesquite trees add sparkle to the desert’s beauty. Photo copyright © by Mike Padgett


A recent rain and its fragrance triggered memories of a boy exploring along the Columbia River. This inquisitive first-grader once imagined he would have enjoyed exploring the American West. Until he read about life-or-death struggles faced by pioneers.


One day, as the boy searched for agates near the river’s edge a few miles west of The Dalles, Ore., a chunk of obsidian the size of a baseball was uncovered. The boy was visiting his grandparents. They were renting a house near the river. Today, the boy cannot remember if they found the obsidian and gave it to him, or if he found it.


The ancient glass rock, created eons ago by volcanic activity, is jet black with veins the color of blood. Maybe it came from Mount Hood or Mount Adams, the closest of several snow-covered and dormant volcanic peaks in the Cascade Mountains. Today, decades later, the shiny childhood treasure sits next to the boy’s laptop.


A year later, in a lazy mountain stream near Mount Hood, the little boy saw his first salamander. To him, the colorful four-legged creature was like an alien. He didn’t touch the salamander, but he squatted to watch it swim and meander slowly over water plants. Nature’s wonders had captured the attention of the boy, who then was in the second grade.


This was the year of other discoveries for the boy – learning how to navigate knee-deep snow; and making a kite from newspaper, glue, strips of balsa wood, and string. The kite soared. Until the string broke. The boy recovered his kite from the neighbor’s corrals. It never flew again because of damage from its nosedive.



Dangers of BB guns


The boy and a friend also learned the dangers of BB guns that year. The friend, probably acting out what he had seen in cowboy or war movies, fired his rifle at the boy. The BB pellet left a painful and bright red welt on the chest of the shirtless second-grader. The boy and his friend – who was a couple years older – vowed to keep the incident a secret. They never played that game again. The boy kept the welt hidden under his shirt as it faded.


By the next summer, the boy and his family had relocated to central Oregon. One day, the boy and his father left home to hunt deer. They had been walking for hours, without seeing any deer, when they heard an animal scream. It sounded like a large cat. They stopped to listen, but the animal made no other sounds. They never learned whether the cry came from a bobcat or a mountain lion.


The family was living in a small Oregon community. It had an elementary school, a small grocery store, several homes and a hobo camp near the railroad.


A short distance from the grocery store was a small shanty. It lacked a foundation, and the siding of unpainted wood had been darkened and dried by the sun. The boy learned it was the home of Otis, who lived alone.


The boy never learned Otis’ last name, nor did he ever see his face. Once, the boy saw Otis on the dirt path that led from his shanty to the store. He stopped to watch Otis walk slowly to his shanty. His shoulders were hunched.


The boy, who had been learning in his third-grade class how to write a check, wondered about Otis. He didn’t have a car or a job, so how did he pay for groceries from the general store? Did he have any friends? Where was his family?


Though Otis is long gone, he is represented today by many others living from check to check. If they have no family, they probably depend on social agencies for subsistence. If they are able, they might migrate to public housing in metro areas. Otherwise, they join the other homeless struggling in towns and cities across America.



A deer too far


Another year, the boy and his father again went deer hunting. From a high vantage point, they spotted a buck in the distance. The father dropped to one knee and took aim. Too far, he said.


The father aimed again. After a couple breaths, he gently pulled the trigger. The shot echoed across the valley. Missed. The buck fled into brush and trees. That was the only deer they saw that day.


The lingering raindrops and the fresh scent they create in the desert prompted these fleeting memories and others.


Fast forward a few years, past the boy’s part-time jobs after school, the Army’s draft notice he received after joining the Air Force, past his university graduation, a rewarding career that lasted decades, and his other encounters with nature.


There was the black rattlesnake resting coiled along a hiking trail, and his accidentally stepping over another rattlesnake stretched in the dark across a warm sidewalk. Once, he had an arms-length staredown with a territorial hummingbird, and he wrote about riding with a park ranger to check on a pair of eagles nesting in a cliff over a lake.



If Native American ruins could talk


Nature is one of many topics that fascinate my Best Friend and me. She introduced me to archeology. I introduced her to walks in the forest as well as in the desert. One summer weekend, while camping in northeastern Arizona, we shifted closer in our sleeping bags during a lightning storm.


Sleep finally arrived, after the thunder and lightning. The next day, we turned off the gravel road on the Mogollon Rim to follow a logging road. We drove a short distance before parking. We had the forest to ourselves. It was a sunny summer day with fresh mountain air and the sounds of a gentle wind rustling through treetops.


On the ground, where logging equipment had disturbed the soil, we saw shell fossils. Maybe they were brachiopods, marine creatures that lived on ocean bottoms eons ago.


We also enjoyed walking at sunrise along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and through California’s Muir Woods National Monument. Equally fascinating are Native American ruins in Arizona – Montezuma Castle National Monument, Tuzigoot National Monument and Canyon de Chelly National Park.


If the prehistoric ruins could talk, my Best Friend said, they could share some amazing history.


Some memories fade. Others are revived when a rain’s outdoor aroma encourages quiet reflection.





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Jan 11th, 2015

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