Rain

It hadn’t rained here for months. The hot weather and tinderdry vegetation (all the plants I have tended for years along my back fence are dead, my lawn may not make it) felt apocalyptic.

However, one of the nice things about having a journal that goes back well over a decade is that you can look back at other years.

This has happened before.

Friday, September 6, 1996

Summer is ending in Dallas, it’s still plenty hot, but the real heat is past now for another year. Summer is the most uncomfortable season here, but I always like it, I’m going to miss it.

I like the pure brutality of it, heat so bad it’ll kill you. The green, wet spring giving way to the dry brown death of summer. Yellow heat giving way to white heat, the sky white, the blue burned out of it. White hot laser sun, bouncing off the blue Dallas buildings like a lens. The heat beyond shimmering, the air shooting straight up. After work, my car has been sitting alone in the sun, I open the door and the heat bursts out, hits like a hammer. It’ll burn your nostrils, so hot you can’t breathe, so hot your own breath feels cools on the back of your hand.

The heat is so hot, so dry on the black Dallas gumbo clay that the earth itself splits like an overripe tomato. Cracks appear in the ground, big enough to fit your hand in. The slab of my house tilts away from the heat, my deck drops a foot. The plants go dormant, brown, leaves fall, like in a northern winter. Only rich people’s lawns, with men running the sprinklers day and night can keep up with the solar barrage, with the instant evaporation.

If it’s cold, you can always put on more clothes. But you can’t get any cooler than naked. And the burning sun will cook your skin anyway, roast you to death. There are only two ways to get out of it. You can huddle inside, breathing the precious AC. Without AC nobody would live here, we’d all still be up north, back east. You can sit inside, in the cool dark, the rattle and rumble of the AC shakes the house. It’s always dark inside because the sun is so bright, any clouds have been burned away, your eyes can’t get used to the shade. When you come in it’s like night inside, you’re blind, the tungsten can’t compete. If you wait awhile you can see, but the klieg light in the sky is still there, only some brick and sheetrock away.

Or you can find some water, a lake. You can sit in it, sit in the sand, in the freshwater sea-shells, watching the wavelets lap against you, the odd perspective of being right on top of the water, closer than you ever are to the ground. The sound of kids playing, the smell of dead fish, you can survive for a while that way, but you can’t sit in the water all summer.

That’s what Texas summer is to me. I’ve lived in Central America, in the humid Panama jungle, where the air is so laden with water it is more liquid than gas, when I first got off the plane I thought “my God, I can’t breathe this stuff, how can anyone stand this.” But there somehow you can get used to it. Maybe the constant warm refreshing tropical rain. But Texas summers are brutal, vicious, killer. You must take precautions.

I like that, it keeps things in perspective.

Sooner or later, the drought will end. It always does.

From Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Rain

Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.

—-John Updike

It’s been something like seventy four days since it’s rained here; that’s some sort of a record – breaking the old gap from the thirties, the dustbowl days. I’ve been fantasizing the first good rain, thinking about running out, face upwards, arms wide, like the guy in “The Shawshank Redemption.”

For some reason I didn’t think it would come at work. Because of Nick’s game last night I missed the weather and didn’t know a possibility of storms was on for today.

As a moneysaving thing, trying to get back on our feet after the car repairs and new heater-air conditioner, I’ve been on a Ramen regimen for lunch. Thirty cents a day. So I sat at my desk eating my humble noodles and began to grind through some more endless government forms I have to fill out. Something made me look out of my office, across the lab to the bank of windows.

It took me awhile to realize what I was looking at – featureless gray background with white angled streaking slashes moving fast across. It was rain. As what I was looking at began to sink in to my awareness the first bright flashes, loud cracks, and rumbling booms started – it was a good late summer thunderstorm.

As an environmental person I have several responsibilities during a rainstorm, especially one when it has been dry for so long. I put on my lab coat and walked the building’s perimeter, looking out each door, making sure everything was in good shape.

The temperature dropped twenty degrees in minutes, and a great howling wind picked up. The rain blew sideways in great clouds, picking up standing water from the ground. Fast flashes of lightning like a strobe light; so close the thunder came on immediately, like giant timbers snapped by a monster hand. A loud clicking started up and I saw pea-sized hail dancing around in the water.

The wind slowed a bit, the hail stopped and it was too much for me to resist. I do need to check the drainage so I strode out quickly into the downpour. I could have picked up a rain suit or even an umbrella but I decided to go ahead and get wet.

It felt wonderful. I had to stop walking and wipe off my safety glasses every now and then, but other than that the rain was comfortable and cool – a great change. The grass out back was soaking the stuff up as fast as it fell – the giant cracks in the clay softening, the dead grass coming loose, the footing flexible and yielding but not yet muddy.

Within an hour or so it was all over. We had almost two inches at work (less than an inch fell at my house). Everything is so desiccated the water was immediately soaked up; by my drive home the streets were dry, the creeks not flowing and we were able to have soccer pictures and baseball practice on schedule. The deluge reduced to only a memory. Inexplicably, there was a small green open rowboat stuck in the dry creek bed behind the school by our house

The odd thing is that not a drop fell at the airport – so officially, according to the government, it never rained and the record drought is still on.

It sure felt like rain to me, though.

This year, for me, it was less dramatic. As a matter of fact, the end of the drought was a pain in the ass. I had plans for Friday night – I was going to hang out at the Sculpture Center for Midnight at the Nasher. A band was going to play and they were going to show “Footloose” on the outdoor screen. But, right at sunset, the skies opened up.

It wasn’t a hard, satisfying rain… more like an ambitious drizzle. It was carefully calibrated to destroy any plans without making it too obvious that all was lost. I stubbornly stuck it out and wandered the garden at the Nasher, pretending that if I ignored it, the rain would go away. After a bit, I gave up and went inside. I must have looked like crap because a museum guard suggested I dry off so, “I don’t catch cold or something.”

Not long after that, I gave up and went home. At least the wet city streets are good for night photography.

It wasn’t until two nights later that we had a real storm. I opened my garage door and stood out in the alley watching the cracked fireworks of lightning split the sky over and over. The dry trickle of a creek behind our house was up in an angry cascade, a powerful torrent tearing down the middle of the block. I looked left and right and saw most of my neighbors doing the same thing, standing in the dark behind their houses looking out at the storm.

It has happened before. It will happen again.

Friday October 1, 1998

Storm Blows Through

Violet serene like none I have seen apart from dreams that escape me. There was no girl as warm as you. How I’ve learned to please, to doubt myself in need, you’ll never, you’ll never know.

—Natalie Merchant – 10,000 Maniacs

A storm blew through today
while I was talking
on the phone
at lunchtime
here at work.

Nobody warned me,
it wasn’t on the news
things are so bleak, these days
I thought the rain would never come.

I’m so isolated
I didn’t hear it at first
But the thunder shook
and I could feel it
from my feet
on up
my legs
rumbling, shaking.

So I grabbed a look
out a window
and it was falling
sheets
of sweet sweet rain

electric
shaking
rumbling.

It has been so dry
dust parched earth
cracked pain
a desert of dirt
grit and the taste of old salt.

But the rain came
unexpected falling
electric
shaking
rumbling.

I wanted to go stand outside
let the sheets
of sweet sweet rain
fall down
all over me,

swallow the rain
and take it all in
let the rain swallow me.

The cool
sweet sweet rain
I watch through the glass
press my palm on the pane
feel the thunder
shake my feet

Smells like a hayloft

I live in Texas. It’s always hot in the summer. It’s always hot and dry.

This year it’s been ridiculous. The other day I walked out into my front yard to circle around and take my car to work. A smell immediately hit me. You know how a smell can take you back decades, conjure up a memory so strong and still so mysterious you have to stand there, head hung, eyes closed, straining to relax enough so that the memory can flood back and you can figure out what it was. I was successful. It was a memory from my childhood, brought back by the odor of my front yard.

My yard smelled like a hayloft. The dead desiccated lawn, brown and brittle, smelled exactly like hay.

So this morning, I woke, and something was odd. I had to work today, but because it was Saturday I was in no serious hurry to get down there. I tossed and turned trying to figure out what was different, trying to catch at some torn cobwebby remnants of dreams as a possible clue as to what was going on.

Candy was already up. She shouted out from the front door, “Bill, guess what, it’s raining.”

I couldn’t believe it. It has been so long, I didn’t think it would ever rain again. Years ago, when a long drought broke, I walked out into it. I wrote:

 The temperature dropped twenty degrees in minutes, and a great howling wind picked up. The rain blew sideways in great clouds, picking up standing water from the ground. Fast flashes of lightning like a strobe light; so close the thunder came on immediately, like giant timbers snapped by a monster hand. A loud clicking started up and I saw pea-sized hail dancing around in the water.

The wind slowed a bit, the hail stopped and it was too much for me to resist. …I strode out quickly into the downpour. I could have picked up a rain suit or even an umbrella but I decided to go ahead and get wet.

It felt wonderful. I had to stop walking and wipe off my … glasses every now and then, but other than that the rain was comfortable and cool – a great change. The grass out back was soaking the stuff up as fast as it fell – the giant cracks in the clay softening, the dead grass coming loose, the footing flexible and yielding but not yet muddy.

—- from September 12, 2000

A week ago I thought about walking out into the rain when the drought broke, but today I decided to sleep in a bit after all. By the time I dragged myself up, made coffee and oatmeal, dressed, and walked to my car it was over. The yard didn’t smell like a hayloft – it smelt like seaweed.

It’s not over; tomorrow it will be back up over the century mark. It’s not the end, but maybe the beginning of the end.