Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Perfect Storm

or In Which We See a Puddle

I was leaning back in the Adirondack chair early yesterday evening, idly watching the clouds and daydreaming a little, not really noticing what I was seeing.  Eventually a slow bubble of awareness rose up through my thoughts and burst, and I realized that the cloud I was staring at, the one right overhead, hadn't moved in several minutes.  It hadn't moved.  It wasn't winging across the valley, spinning into shape after shape, or fading to nothing in the desert air.  It was just...still.  So were the clouds around it.

That's when hope leaped high.  I stayed outside watching the clouds growing, thickening, blocking the remnants of sky, until the first rumble of thunder chased me inside to close windows.  By the time I'd finished, the rain had begun, the kind of steady, soaking rain we've been dreaming of here for months.  A harder rainfall would have been almost useless, as it would just have run off the sun-baked brick we call the earth.  This one was slow enough, gentle enough, to soften the surface first.  It trickled into the soil to ease thirsty roots, it washed the patio and sidewalks clean, it set the leaves on the sand cherries and desert olives trembling and flickering in the fading light.  Occasionally a gust would send the rain slanting against the windows, but mostly the wind was quiet, and the rain fell straight.  Thunder growled but never roared; the goldfinches didn't even bother to leave the feeders.

For the hour that the storm lingered, I drifted from window to window, door to door, indoors and out, watching droplets splash on the sidewalks, puddles (puddles!) on the streets glint in car headlights, colors in the garden take on new depth and intensity, water run freely from the canales.  The moment when the rain barrel overflowed—that was a triumph.

From an objective standpoint, I don't know why a rainstorm, even in the desert, should be quite so exciting to us city folk.  Rain or no rain, the indoor and outdoor taps still flow with water on demand.  In immediate, practical terms, extra moisture doesn't really make much difference, and in the quest for long-term sustainability, one rainstorm is so small as to be meaningless.

Even so, everyone I met today was wearing an air of ease, as if something wrong had righted itself.  It has been 216 days since our last "significant rainfall event"—one that brought us more than a scant two or three hundredths of an inch.  Yesterday, different parts of town received anywhere from 1/10 to 9/10 of an inch; I'm guessing my neighborhood fell somewhere in the middle.  In one hour the storm more than doubled what we've received in the last seven months altogether.  It's as if a long, drawn-out dissonance has finally resolved, as if someone has been singing the first seven notes of the scale, "Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti—" over and over until we've grown used to the tension of incompleteness in a teeth-gritting sort of way.  Now, suddenly, sweetly, that last "Do" has been given a chance to resonate.  We are relieved.  We are beside ourselves with joy.

One half-inch of rain won't shake the foundations of the earth.  It won't end a drought or even adequately water a garden—it didn't really even cool things off.  When I raced outside at dawn this morning to take pictures of raindrops on flowers, and maybe a good wet puddle, they had all already dried up.

But for the hour that it lasted, it was a perfect storm.


  1. Yay! You had puddles. Puddles! (If only momentarily). Having moaned about how dry it was over here, I now have to report I'm getting a little cheesed off at how much rain we're getting. How is one meant to garden in these conditions for goodness sake?

    Sorry you missed raindrops on roses (and whiskers on kittens). You may need to go out there with a sprayer!


  2. Now that is writing - you gave me gooseflesh, living that rain with you!

  3. How fabulous to get rain! I understand that feeling of not quite being complete without it. I hope your garden plants drank up and are smiling now. I hope you get more.

  4. Dave, it was so exciting! I felt like a kid in a candy shop. But yes, I could see how after a few days of the wet stuff it would begin to be a bit much, especially to those of you with grass to mow and the like.

    Except for one occasion during the spring, the only time I've captured droplets on flowers (or Sir Marley) this year was after I'd just watered with the hose...

    Diana, that's so kind--thank you!

    Holley, it really was wonderful--I hear thunder now and in fact should get off the computer, so maybe another storm is on its way...?

  5. I can't imagine knowing what it's like to be so dry. We are very damp and cool here this summer. Much more so than usual.

    I love the way you tell a story. You have the incredible ability to draw me into it.

    Thanks so much for writing!


  6. Stacy - I agree with Diana (EE). I can relate to what your saying because I felt that way in April (not so poetically though) when my garden was as dry as a bone.

  7. How i wish to be writing so well too! I do not say much in my posts because i know i am not that good, so i just post more photos. I can relate fully with you with that excellent narration, with all the emotions fully told well. We only have wet and dry seasons, so it is very refreshing for us too, animals and plants, to have the rain after long dry seasons.

  8. Excellent narrative. I really felt like I was there. We have not had any rain in about one month in the city, so I have no frame of reference for 216 days, but I feel your exuberance.

  9. Stacy, I'm envious of the rain you got. I yippee'd at the rain we got in Santa Fe on Fb. It was a downpour, but for not much longer than a few minutes. Hurray for rain!

  10. Stacy, Congratulations on your rain, and let's hope it is the start of a new weather pattern. We are having a mini-drought here in Maine -- nothing like your 216 days without rain (!); more like only an inch and a half in July. When I awoke this morning to the sound of rain, I was thrilled, even if it didn't amount to much. -Jean

  11. Lovely writing. I remember the first rain after the drought of 2007-2008. I felt as relieved and joyful as if I were the earth and the rain was sinking into me. Despite all the technology and structures that distance us from the earth, I think we all in our souls long for that connection, and the dissonance when something's wrong that you write so lyrically about. And the relief and gratitude when we see that yes, mother nature is still nourishing us ....

  12. Elaine, when I lived in the northeast sometimes we'd get those cool, damp summers—normally I really prefer our warm, dry weather, even if it means that we don't have the lush greenery like you do, but it's been a bit much this year! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

    b-a-g, thank you. April's a tough month to be without rain—just as everything needs a kickstart for the growing season. And somehow, no matter how much water you drink, you still feel parched just looking at plants turning brown and crinkly around the edges.

    Andrea, that's very sweet of you. I always enjoy your vivid photos and the love you convey so strongly for your home. The first rain after a long dry season really is magical, isn't it? Sometimes I wish that in modern cultures we still had celebratory ritual dances!

    Donna, thanks. I can't believe how hard you're all getting slammed with heat these days. You'll be pretty exuberant yourselves the minute it breaks!

  13. GirlSprout, every time I look at the weather page in the ABQ Journal and see the rain tallies, part of me is happy for any rain anywhere, but I also find myself saying things like, “Clayton got an INCH? How come Clayton got an inch?!” Congrats on your downpour in Santa Fe—yes, hurray for rain!

    Jean, I'd think even a mini-drought would hit Maine harder than a full-on one here—at least our native plants have some sturdy coping mechanisms, even if they're not attractive ones in the garden. (Mostly they go dormant or shed their leaves, but then they spring back to life with the next moisture.) The word “only” with “an inch and a half” is awfully cute... :) Rain is one of the loveliest sounds to wake up to (in small doses).

    Sheila, thank you. I've been thinking about your response to the drought—we really do take it personally, don't we? Not in a bad “it's all about us” way but in an empathetic way. At some level that connection still exists, and we feel the loss of water deeply, as if we're the ones who are going without. You sum it up beautifully in your last sentence.

  14. Funny how we rely on rain here and when we cry that we don't have any for weeks we are least we gardeners...but 216 days...ouch...I felt every blessed drop..wonderful post!!

  15. Donna, at least we in cities are pretty sheltered from the physical effects--the ranchers and farmers have really felt it hard. It makes you glad to live in a first-world country, that's for sure.