When I was in the early days of my career, I moved from Kansas to a desert state and thought I would expire from homesickness. Some people thought I was just missing family, which was true, but it was more complex than that. My sickness started in the fall, particularly when I was too far south to see the season turn. It would then peak in March, about the time my nose told me there was a change in the soil temperature and I could not smell Kansas.
I suppose every state has a distinct smell, but the smell of Kansas is one of musty humus. We don’t plow much anymore, but to get the full impact of the smell I’m describing, just stand at the end of a field when a farmer pulls a plow across it and throws the dirt over. The smell is of old plants breaking down and mixing with all manner of bacteria to make more soil – a distinct “stick-your-head-in-a-bag-of-garden-soil” smell.
The weather forecasters say we are having an early season this year, and on this mid-March day the geese are flying overhead going northward. The migration of others has already begun and is ten days ahead of normal. I bet they yearn for the smell of the soil from their home nesting grounds just as I did.
By the time I was able to move home again – and I never was home until I came back to Kansas – the world as I knew it had changed. There wasn’t much family left, there were new neighbors, and people farmed differently, but I knew I was home. The seasons seemed to work with the earth like they were supposed to, and people cared about things like weather because it was a part of a way of life.
When the sky clouds up and moisture begins to fall, any of us can lift our nose in the air and say “Ahhhh, smells like rain.” When a March day begs for me to put my hands in the soil, I say, “Ahhhh, smells like Kansas.” And to me that also smells like home.
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