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.