Friday, August 5, 2011

Remembering the Rain

"I get all the news I need from the weather report." - Simon and Garfunkel
("The Only Living Boy in New York")

It used to rain here. I'm sure it did.

The sky would gray over. Thunder rumbled at the horizon like some kind of hooved beast on the move. We watched through the windows. Drops began to spot the sidewalks and streets. Rivulets ran down the glass and gutters.

It usually didn't last long. Less than an hour. But it was something. Our son became excited and asked us to go to the closet and take out his green rubber froggie boots. 

                                                      We knew what that meant...

When the lightning danger had passed, along with most of the rain, we unfurled the umbrella and took him outside. He splashed through the puddles. The biggest one always accumulated at the end of the street. In an inflated appropriation of the aquatic abundance up north we called that puddle "Lake Michigan."

I'm remembering this wetness because it's starting to seem like a dream. As if it never happened. As if it has never rained a single time in this unexpectedly cursed place where I live.

D-R-Y as a B-O-N-E
The original Rip Van Winkle lay down in the woods of upstate New York and for twenty years he was covered by the elements. When he awoke he had to shake off cobwebs and the leaves that had piled up on him.

This Van Winkle is covered by drought. The soil around here is beyond parched. It blows away as dust. The rest of it opens up like this crack that has appeared in my front yard. I've never seen anything like it before.

Walking across the oatmeal colored lawn results in crisp crunching noises.

I water the grass on the two days I'm allowed per week, but it's like trying to put out a fire with teacups of water. Every day the temperature spikes to 101, 103, 106, 104, playing around in the triple digits like some devil cavorting in the flames of hell.

When it's that hot the land has no moisture to feed back into the air. The cycle becomes self-reinforcing: hot and dry, hot and dry.

To make sure I'm not just some kind of whiner I looked at the official records for this year so far. It was worse than I remembered. Since winter ended, it has rained only once or twice each month. Some of the amounts hardly count, in the hundredths of inches. In July it didn't rain a measuable amount on any of 31 days.

Living With It
So what can a person do? Even if there were hope held out in this month's weather forecast (there's none whatsoever), we would tend to disbelieve it. In the best and wettest of times August always goes down as our hottest and driest month.

When we get to this time of year that's when people start to look forward to the Fair and Rodeo that takes place in mid-September. There's a saying: "It always rains during the Fair..."

It's like waiting for a lost child to return of its own accord. Our one and only beloved rain.

And, generally, it's true. The rain wanders in during the Fair with cotton candy clouds and ozone on its breath and lightning and thunder disclaimers as if it's amazed that we ever missed it. And like happy fools we hold out our arms and embrace our lost Rain and shout because it's so good to have it back.

I found an old photo of it raining during the Fair and I look at it to give me heart and hope as I stagger through the unbearable heat.

And now that I'm thinking of umbrellas and beautifully drenched streets, I'm remembering I once saw in person at the Art Institute of Chicago a grand canvas by Gustave Caillebotte. It has the wonderful title "Jour de pluie a Paris" which means "Day of rain in Paris" or, more conventionally, "Rainy day in Paris" and, if you pronounce it correctly, it rhymes in a very satisfying, wet way.

Singing in the Drought
The other thing I've been doing to keep my spirits up is thinking of songs about the rain.*
  • Singing in the Rain (Gene Kelly)
  • Riders on the Storm (The Doors) with those comforting rain sound effects
  • Texas Flood (Stevie Ray Vaughn)
  • Here Comes the Rain Again (The Eurhythmics)
  • I'm Only Happy When it Rains (Garbage)
  • The Rain Song (LedZeppelin)

I even thought about taking the Led Zeppelin song, which appears on their fine album Houses of the Holy, and playing it every night before I go to bed until it finally  rains. I came to the conclusion that this was a bad idea.

Want more rainsongs?
775 of them? Try here.

If I play "The Rain Song" until it rains, as beautiful as it is with its bent Jimmy Page guitar chords and lush synthesizers fingered by Jon Paul Jones and that nostalgic voice of Robert Plant, I'll get sick of it before I ever feel a drop of rain hit my head or I put my feet in "Lake Michigan."

Trust me. It happened years ago to "Stairway to Heaven." Thanks, F.M. radio...

So like someone who has lost a loved one, I'm going to skip the gimmicks, including rain dances and rain prayers and rain songs, and make do with all I have. My memories. It used to rain here. We had such good times together. See, I have the pictures in my mind to prove it. - V.W.


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