Sunday Snippet, Archipelago by Bill Chance

They liked to ski in that area because of the hundreds of small islands that cut the wind and waves and made for the smooth glass-like surface that was so fun to ski on. But the area was like a maze, as much land as water, and a confusing labyrinth of passages, gaps, and islets. It was tough to know exactly where your were at any time.

—-Bill Chance, Archipelago

 

Trees reflected in a pond, inverted, with Chihuly, Red Reeds

Archipelago

Sam leaned back and pulled on the rope while cutting his ski into the water. He shot sideways, outward, and felt the wave of the wake as it shoved him into midair. Bracing, he cut back as he landed on the smooth, green surface outside the wake and turned to grin at Jim on the other side. Sam relaxed and enjoyed the smooth skimming across the mirror smooth water.

He realized that in the year since his family moved to Central America his skiing had improved so much. The fact he could ski every day, all year round, made such a difference. There was never that long layoff of the winter months where he would get soft and uncoordinated – have to relearn everything in the spring.

He glanced up at the boat where Jim’s father and little brother were driving them around the water in the vast archipelago of little jungle-covered islands. Something was wrong and he could see Arnold’s red hair disappearing below the rear gunwale as he looked for something in the bowels of the boat. Jim’s father was turned around too, looking, pointing and barking orders, although Sam couldn’t understand what he was saying.

“What’s up?” Sam shouted across at Jim, “Something wrong in the boat.”

“Hell if I know,” Jim shouted back.

“Make that jump, Jim. See if you can get as high as I did.”

Jim nodded, pulled and made a sharp turn outward like Sam had a few seconds before. He did fly high as he hit the wake wave, maybe a little higher than Sam had. But he over rotated and waved his hands desperately as the nose of the long slalom ski caught the water first and at a bad angle. Jim cartwheeled over twice bouncing off the water and then sinking in.

Sam laughed as he let go of his rope, slowly coasted to a stop, and sank down to his life jacket. The two good friends had been working hard on their skiing and fell hundred of times. He knew Jim was fine and saw him smile as his face poked back up above the water.

They both turned to the boat expecting to watch it circle around so the both of them could grab their tow handles and keep skiing. It was a routine they had done many, many times before – three times that very day.

But Arnold was still rooting around and his father was still looking at him. Before either of the two boys could yell from the water the boat had moved around the nearest island and disappeared.

“Shit!” Sam said. “They didn’t see us fall.”

“Don’t worry, they’ll notice soon enough and come back to find us.”

They liked to ski in that area because of the hundreds of small islands that cut the wind and waves and made for the smooth glass-like surface that was so fun to ski on. But the area was like a maze, as much land as water, and a confusing labyrinth of passages, gaps, and islets. It was tough to know exactly where your were at any time.

As the two boys bobbed in the water, floating on their foam jackets, and holding on to their skis, they could hear the whine of the outboard motor moving around between the islands, going back and forth, but couldn’t see anything. This went on for a long time.

“They can’t find us,” said Sam.

“Don’t worry, eventually they will, the water’s warm, we can wait.”

But then the sound of the motor died away.

“Now what?” asked Sam.

“They probably are low on gas and went back to fill up.”

By that time it was getting to be late afternoon and it was the rainy season. Inevitably, the small clouds overhead began to quickly coalesce into large angry-looking black overcast blankets. And then the rain began to fall. It was warm rain, almost like a hot shower. But it was think and heavy – coming down in a deluge of giant globs of water. The boys were used to that, but they were very exposed.

“What do we do know,” Sam yelled over the din of splashing water.

“Let’s swim to the nearest island and wait it out there.”

They weren’t very far from the dark green hillock and were strong swimmers. It was an easy task, especially with their life jackets, to paddle and cover the space between them and the nearest land, even pulling their skis along.

The problem was the jungle grew in a thick, inhospitable blanket right down into the water. They had to swim along the shore until they came to a spot where a tree had died and fallen into the lake, leaving a gap in the jungle foliage. They were able to swim among the dead branches and find a little bit of spongy ground to sit on.

As they moved up they were startled by a gigantic toad, camouflaged invisible into the thick layer of forest detritus along the shore. The toad, bigger than either of the boys had ever seen, grunted and leaped past them into the water with a gigantic splash. Both boys cried out in a moment of fear and then laughed together when they realized the gigantic monster was merely a harmless toad.

There wasn’t much open space left in the spot the amphibian and abandoned and the two boys had to crowd together sitting on the wet ground, still holding their skis. The thick vegetation overhead provided only a little shelter from the rain – the drops of water falling on their heads came a little less often, but were much larger after they tumbled through the leaves.

“They will never be able to see us here,” said Sam.

“In this rain they couldn’t see us or hear us anywhere anyway. It’ll have to stop sometime. They’ll come looking then.”

And the rain did stop. But by then the sun was falling behind the tall trees of the next island to the west.

The suns sets quickly in the tropics – its path is straight down and there aren’t very many minutes of twilight. As it disappeared in the post-rain humidity it became surprisingly cold and the boys shivered in the misty miasma of decomposing life that flowed out from the darkness behind them into the lake.

The two boys sat silent, their thoughts to themselves, as the dark night descended and devoured the whole world. The loud sounds of the nocturnal jungle dwellers began to rise in a wild cacophony of shrieks, cries, and growls.

The boys could only listen and wonder where the whine of an outboard was.

You Will Be An Ocean Too

“Here is a good message from the ocean: You will be an ocean too if you let every river, every rain, every flood and every stream flow to you freely!”
Mehmet Murat ildan

 

 

I have written about it before.

All my life I have wanted to live on a creek lot. I remember living in East Dallas and riding my bike along the hilly lanes east of White Rock Lake (back then I was young and thin and fit and I welcomed hills – now I’m afraid of them) and spotted homes along streams – some with little patios down among the trees perched out over the water. They would have a grill, some seats, and I imagined knots of people at sunset enjoying the setting – always wanted that sort of thing.

My wish finally came true, sort of, when we bought our house in Richardson. Technically it is a creek lot – but the creek (which emerges from the flood control ponds in Huffhines Park at the end of our block and runs a short distance beyond where I live to join with Duck Creek) has been manmade wrestled into an arrow-straight path. It’s really more of a ditch lot.

On most days it’s barely an algae and trash encrusted trickle. There are a lot of ducks and turtles (both the friendly box and the prehistoric snappers) with a nighttime cohort of opossums, bobcats, coyotes and an occasional beaver. There are a few trees – but the number is limited by the Corps of Engineers to insure proper flow. They only allow new plantings when an old tree dies. It’s a sleepy stretch, mostly useful to the local kids and cats, feeding and stalking, respectively, the ducks.

That changes with frightening rapidity when a big Texas thunderstorm strikes. The water rises and moves in a symphony of wet muscular gravity.

Last night one hit, hit hard. The ground was already saturated, the flood control ponds already overflowing when the sky dropped six inches of water in a couple hours.

I opened the garage door and looked out through a forest of honey globs of water caterwauling off the roof into the dark. Illuminated only by staccato bolts of lightning like a galvanic Gene Krupa, the bellowing water stilled by the strobing arcs into impossible waves rising above the creek banks and beyond. The usual quiet night lit up by blue thunder. The gleaming fury as millions of gallons of deafening water scream by is frightening and intoxicating. I watched from my house – afraid to get any closer.

This morning I walked around the strip of creek, grass, and trees. The highest water level was marked by a line of twigs and plastic water bottles. In several places the delimitation moved up over the bike trail and almost kissed the alley that runs behind the houses. By then the creek was down to its usual level, having dropped as fast as it rose, with only a little more water flowing by than usual.

The flow was a dozen feet below the level of the detritus line – which was in turn only a couple feet below the level of the houses (though it would take a lot – a lot – more water to raise the flood up that last bit).

I hope.

I did think of those little patios perched in the winding creek lots of East Dallas. I always liked them – but I’m sure they are all gone now.

My folding bike on a bridge over Huffhines Creek.

A line of detritus showing how high the creek had risen the day before.

I wrote that four years ago, but the creek continues to rise with every powerful thunderstorm. On my daily bike ride I stopped on the bridge over Huffhines creek and took a shot of the line of trash that marks yesterday’s high water mark. I’ve seen it quite a bit higher than this.

Not all that spectacular, but imagine what it looks like with all that water roaring down that little space behind my house. The amazing thing is how fast it rises, minutes is all it takes.

Now, I need to get a before and after shot – harder to do than you would think. Especially to do safely.

The Great Floodgates Of the Wonder-World

“…the great floodgates of the wonder-world swung open…”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale

The ponds at the end of my block, Richardson, Texas

All my life I have wanted to live on a creek lot. I remember living in East Dallas and riding my bike along the hilly lanes east of White Rock Lake (back then I was young and thin and fit and I welcomed hills – now I’m afraid of them) and spotted homes along streams – some with little patios down among the trees perched out over the water. They would have a grill, some seats, and I imagined knots of people at sunset enjoying the setting – always wanted that sort of thing.

My wish finally came true, sort of, when we bought our house in Richardson. Technically it is a creek lot – but the creek (which emerges from the flood control ponds in Huffhines Park at the end of our block and runs a short distance beyond where I live to join with Duck Creek) has been manmade wrestled into an arrow-straight path. It’s really more of a ditch lot.

On most days it’s barely an algae and trash encrusted trickle. There are a lot of ducks and turtles (both the friendly box and the prehistoric snappers) with a nighttime cohort of opossums, bobcats, coyotes and an occasional beaver. There are a few trees – but the number is limited by the Corps of Engineers to insure proper flow. They only allow new plantings when an old tree dies. It’s a sleepy stretch, mostly useful to the local kids and cats, feeding and stalking, respectively, the ducks.

They don’t call it Duck Creek for nothing.

That changes with frightening rapidity when a big Texas thunderstorm strikes. The water rises and moves in a symphony of wet muscular gravity.

Last night one hit, hit hard. The ground was already saturated, the flood control ponds already overflowing when the sky dropped six inches of water in a couple hours.

I opened the garage door and looked out through a forest of honey globs of water caterwauling off the roof into the dark. Illuminated only by staccato bolts of lightning like a galvanic Gene Krupa, the bellowing water stilled by the strobing arcs into impossible waves rising above the creek banks and beyond. The usual quiet night lit up by blue thunder. The gleaming fury as millions of gallons of deafening water scream by is frightening and intoxicating. I watched from my house – afraid to get any closer.

This morning I walked around the strip of creek, grass, and trees. The highest water level was marked by a line of twigs and plastic water bottles. In several places the delimitation moved up over the bike trail and almost kissed the alley that runs behind the houses. By then the creek was down to its usual level, having dropped as fast as it rose, with only a little more water flowing by than usual.

The flow was a dozen feet below the level of the detritus line – which was in turn only a couple feet below the level of the houses (though it would take a lot – a lot – more water to raise the flood up that last bit).

I hope.

I did think of those little patios perched in the winding creek lots of East Dallas. I always liked them – but I’m sure they are all gone now.

Short Story Day 1 – The Fall of Edward Barnard

1. – The Fall of Edward Barnard by W. Somerset Maugham
http://www.online-literature.com/maugham/the-trembling/3/

Over the years, I had not read very much… not anything, really, by W. Somerset Maugham. I did sit down with The Razor’s Edge once, a few decades ago, but couldn’t get very far into it. Although he wrote right at the edge of the modern era, his prose was too stifled and stuffy for my tastes. I set it aside after a few pages and didn’t revisit Maugham, though I knew this was a mistake – there had to be worth there, he is too well known and lauded for me to ignore.

This last weekend, I rode my bike into the crystal towers of downtown Dallas… intending to hang out there a bit before riding back up north. I went over to Klyde Warren Park, bought some lunch from a food truck, and settled in to rest a bit before pedalling home. I realized that I had forgotten my Kindle and discovered I wanted something to read. After a bit of frustration I remembered that the park had a reading area, complete with shelves full of books.

I walked over and perused the selection, eventually picking up a copy of W. Somerset Maugham’s Complete Short Stories – in a couple of volumes. I sat down and read a couple. There was a deliciously evil little tale set in two times and locations – A Woman of Fifty… and a very short work set in Guatemala about a Nicaraguan revolutionary on the run called The Man With the Scar.

I really enjoyed both of these stories. I realized that the stylized writing is employed by Maugham as a device to emphasize the wild irony of the stories beneath. He is not writing about proper society, but about the turbulent chaos that lies beneath and beyond… and that is a subject that fascinates me.

Those two little tales gave me enough rest to ride home and then I procured a selection of Maugham’s stories to read… more in depth. I started with Rain – a juicy story about the conflict between a strict missionary and a woman of ill repute while both are stranded in a cheap hotel in Pago Pago. It is arguably the best known of his short stories and has been made into a handful of films.

It was crackerjack. It impressed me enough for me to elevate the next story in the collection, The Fall of Edward Barnard to the first of my June Month of the Short Story daily selections.

The Fall of Edward Barnard is very similar to Rain – it is sort of the flip side of the same story, though with less horrific consequences (it even has an almost happy ending – though terrible in its own happy way). If you have the time read both… and then compare and contrast.

They concern the conflict between the European/American style – the ambitious, religious, strict, repressed, overbearing way of looking at life and the world with the relaxed, sensual, permissive way of the primitive South Sea Islands. Again, the archaic prose is used to good effect – be sure and don’t let that stop your reading or enjoyment; fight through the language (Word of the day: quixotry) until you get to the point where the author relents and lets loose a little.

So now I have added another classic author to my personal pantheon. It is interesting in that he is not overly careful about maintaining a strict point of view or even consistent tone – he lets his prose go where it needs to to tell the story. When I write, I sweat blood trying to make sure I don’t reveal facts or ideas that are not available to my point of view character at the time the story is unfolding…. Perhaps I need to relax a bit and let the story tell itself.

Something to think about.

“I think of Chicago now and I see a dark, grey city, all stone–it is like a prison–and a ceaseless turmoil. And what does all that activity amount to? Does one get there the best out of life? Is that what we come into the world for, to hurry to an office, and work hour after hour till night, then hurry home and dine and go to a theatre? Is that how I must spend my youth? Youth lasts so short a time, Bateman. And when I am old, what have I to look forward to? To hurry from my home in the morning to my office and work hour after hour till night, and then hurry home again, and dine and go to a theatre? That may be worth while if you make a fortune; I don’t know, it depends on your nature; but if you don’t, is it worth while then? I want to make more out of my life than that, Bateman.”
—-W. Somerset Maugham, The Fall of Edward Barnard

Three Bicycling Stories

A Photograph Doesn’t Do Justice 

I like taking photographs, though it is ultimately a frustrating and futile exercise. I see an image in my mind and I want to commit it to pixels, but I never can. What ends up on the screen is a poor echo, a warped ghost, of what was in my head. Still, I keep trying.

This woman, a bartender at the NYLO Southside, asked Candy, "Is your husband a professional photographer?"Candy answered, "He thinks he is."

This woman, a bartender at the NYLO Southside, asked Candy, “Is your husband a professional photographer?”
Candy answered, “He thinks he is.”

Sometimes, there are images, real images that appear in the eye, of such subtle and ephemeral beauty that a camera can never come close to capturing.

The other morning I was riding my bike to work. I had left before dawn and was moving west on Summit Drive just after Grove Road. It’s a quiet little residential street, perfect for bike riding. Going West, it’s a slight downhill, just right – steep enough to coast but not so much to require brakes – a nice little rest in the middle of my commute.

Behind me, the sun was breaking the horizon, the orange globe peeking out throwing a sudden bright warm light down the street. All along the street were thousands of black birds (grackles, I think) covering the yards, wires, and trees.

The birds did not like me or my bike. Maybe my flashing headlight helped spook them, but they all took off and began to fly away from me. As I moved down the street a massive wave of birds formed in front of me, a cacophony of squawking and flapping wings as they fled in formation.

It was like a giant, solid, noisy, black moving thing, this wave of birds, contrasted with the bare trees and piles of autumn leaves, all bathed in the coral light from the sunrise. A living shape, a rolling cloud, lasting only a few seconds until I reached the turn at the bottom of the hill when they scattered, the wave dissolving into the dawn air, the flock dissipating as quickly as it formed.

As surely as this scene could never be photographed… too evanescent and ethereal for a lens – words fail me. Trust me, it was beautiful – I smiled all the way to work and even for a few minutes in the land of the cubicals until the daily grind ground the moment out.

Still, it is there, in my memory. I’ve never been much of a morning person, but sometimes it’s nice to get up in time to see what the rising sun brings.

My First Fall 

At my age, I’m really afraid of bicycle accidents. I’m a lot more brittle than I used to be and I don’t heal as fast. Still, I ride slowly and carefully and hadn’t fallen for a long, long time.

Until now.

I was going West on Spring Valley (not far from the story above). There is a rail line that bisects my city north to south and is a surprising barrier to cycling – there are only a couple places where it can be crossed and none of them are very safe. The Spring Valley crossing is one of the best – open, wide, and not too much traffic.

Between the rails there are these rubber pads to fill in the gaps for the cars that cross. Unfortunately, the pads had a gap between them… not too much, maybe an inch. The gap, unfortunately  runs parallel to the curb – along the direction of travel. On a bike, cracks or gaps running across your path are a mere bump, but cracks running in the same direction your are – are a disaster.

I am starting to rebuild my commuter bike – an old mountain bike – so I am riding my road bike around town. The road bike has narrow tires. Narrow enough to fit right into the gap between the thick rubber mats.

So I wasn’t looking closely enough and my tire dropped into the gap. It immediately grabbed the rubber and stopped. Instant endo – a nasty crash where your forward momentum throws you over your front handlebars.

I felt the tire drop and grab so I had a split second to prepare myself. I was able to drop a shoulder and roll when I hit, so I wasn’t hurt. I was worried about my bike, but other than a broken toe clip and a missing bar end plug, not a scratch. Luckily, there weren’t any cars behind me, or that might have been a fatal crash.

All’s well that ends well. Hopefully, I’ll have another run of good luck.

It’s frustrating though. I’m sure the city thinks that railroad crossing is fine and doesn’t need any work even though it contains a hidden disaster to anyone riding a bike through there. I don’t have any choice, I’ll have to ride over the crossing at least twice a day when I’m riding to work and most other rides – it’s the only good way to get the the southwest part of town from where I live. I’ll have to be careful and not forget what happened – look out for that gap.

Of course, flying over the handlebars isn’t something you forget anytime soon.

My road bike - an ancient Raleigh Technium.

My road bike – an ancient Raleigh Technium.

My commuter bicycle - I'm now taking it apart for a rebuild.

My commuter bicycle – I’m now taking it apart for a rebuild.

Riding in the Rain 

My goal for 2013 is three thousand miles on my bicycle. Not too hard, that’s only a bit under ten miles per day (my work commute is ten miles round trip). Still, it will require consistent riding, under less than ideal conditions. Texas winters are cold, spring is wet, and summers… well, they can be fatal.

Rain was predicted for today, but when I woke up in the morning, I checked out the internet weather and the radar maps and it looked like I had a couple hours before the thunderstorms arrived. So I decided to get going and get in twenty miles or so. Never trust anything you read on the ‘net.

The fog was thick as I headed out and withing a couple miles it started to mist and sprinkle. It was fairly warm, so the light rain actually felt nice. I decided to ignore the weather and kept heading out on the route I had in mind.

Over the next few miles the rain slowly increased. Still, it wasn’t too bad and I kept going. Once you are soaked… you can’t get any wetter, so I didn’t want to give up. My phone rang and it was Candy, offering to pick me up, but I said I was doing fine. By this time I was around Galatyn Parkway along Highway 75 and I wanted to go north into Spring Creek and the trails up there.

Then the sky opened up.

I’ve been thinking about rigging my commuter bike for riding in the rain and reading up about bicycle fenders. One article I read had this nice quote:

I’ve cycled through thunderstorms in the U.S. Midwest and Texas and even a typhoon or two in Tokyo. For the Californians on the list, fill a bucket with water, toss in a tray of ice cubes (for the hail) and have a friend throw the contents on you — that approximates about half a second of a typical Midwestern spring storm.

That’s what it felt like – someone dumping a five gallon bucket of iced water on my head twice a second. It’s true that once you are soaked, more water doesn’t make you wetter… but I couldn’t even see. Luckily, a few feet up ahead the trail scooted underneath Highway 75, so I was able to take shelter until the tempest subsided.

It was amazing, waiting there, dripping, under the highway, watching the trickle of a creek rising quickly to become a raging torrent. I was safe on the elevated trail, leaning up against a guardrail halfway between the stream and the roadway above. The various drainpipes associated with the highway all began spewing vast cascades of roaring water, some falling in brown cataracts and others splashing against trees and logs into great sprays of foam. I never noticed, but the roadway is drilled with a pattern of drainage holes and all these began to spew a grid of falling fountains from the bridge far above.

The scene was unexpected and beautiful and it made me laugh to look at my private spectacular water display.

The rain was falling so hard I knew it couldn’t last too long and once the storm subsided to a mere rainstorm I bundled up my wet clothes and headed home. I couldn’t ride the trail all the way because the low-water crossings along Duck Creek were submerged. The waterfowl were all lined up along their swollen eponymous waterway watching the flotsam and jetsam closely, picking out any edible particle that came floating by.

I did manage to get my twenty miles in, and all my stuff is hanging in the house trying to dry out. I’m not sure if I’ll go out in a thunderstorm like that again… but it was kind of fun.

Rainy Day in New Orleans

New Orleans is over a hundred miles from the ocean, but it is barely dry. Rain comes quickly and unexpectedly… except it is always expected.

Luckily, there is a source of refuge in the Big Easy – whenever the skies open up, there is always a bar handy to seek shelter and good cheer.

Waiting for the St. Charles Streetcar, the rain came down, hard, so we ducked into The Avenue Pub (which happened to be right there).

The Avenue Pub is beer heaven. Open 24hrs. 7Days (never know when it’s going to rain). Their list of beers on tap is three pages long.

The Beer Buddha says:

“Honestly this category really isn’t fair; but why punish one bar because all the others can’t hold it’s jockstrap? We all know The Avenue Pub is THE beer bar in not only New Orleans but in Louisiana. Nothing against all the other bars in the state but you ALL know you have a long way to go to be mentioned in the same sentence with AP.”

Draft Magazine lists it as one of the 100 best beer bars in the country. They say:

“Only in New Orleans will you find a beer bar open 24/7. The staff is militant about clean beer lines and proper glassware, so even when you stumble in at 4 a.m. you get the best pint in the city. Choose from more than 47 rotating taps and about as many bottles, all focusing on American beer. Go for an exhaustive introduction to local NOLA Brewing or to people-watch from the balcony.”

The Complex City Guide has it at 12 in the 25 best Beer Bars in the country. They say,

“Louisiana may not be the first state you think of when you think of beer (sure, they’ve got Abita), but when you change state to city and beer to drunk, it’s no wonder that New Orleans has one of the best beer spots in the country. Avenue Pub features a rotating 47 taps on two floors (so you can get your exercise in between rounds) and once you mix that with some amazing Louisiana cuisine, you won’t be thinking about Bourbon Street no more. And the most important part, here in the land of to-go cups, the Avenue is open 24 hours a day. Yup.”

And all this is right there, right on the Streetcar Line, right when it starts to rain.

My only complaint – they don’t have Deep Ellum Brewing Company’s Pollinator on tap. Maybe I can send them an email.

The Avenue Pub, on St. Charles in New Orleans

  • Moleskine with Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen
  • Streetcar Fare
  • Beer list and food menu
  • NOLA Blonde Ale Beer
  • Fox Barrel Pear Cider (sorry, it wasn’t even noon yet and I was a little beer’d out – so I had a cider. It was good. So sue me)

A lot of taps.

No Orange Slices! No Muddling!

Ice Melts in the Rain

Help me, I'm melting!

It was a cold (well, cold for Dallas) wet and miserably gray day. Storms all night and rolling bands of rain driven down from a dark sky all day. A perfect fall day to huddle inside… maybe read a little, eat the last of the leftovers, maybe watch some football on TV, maybe do nothing at all. And that’s what I did.

But there was one burr under my blanket. I wanted to see what the ice sculptures were doing in downtown Dallas. I had seen Transendence at its unveiling, one day later, and now… what was it up to? It had been raining constantly and I knew that fresh water from the sky would melt the ice quickly, so I had no choice but to head out and drive down there.

The roads were wet, the visibility was poor, and, of course, everybody else was driving like bats out of hell – so the drive was stressful enough. I pulled up and parked illegally right next to the installation (there was nobody, and I mean nobody around). Luckily, there was a bit of a break in the weather – only a cold spitting windy miserable drizzle.

The first thing I noticed was that they had put out some hand-lettered signs all around the place that said, “Keep Off Gravel (Art Exhibit).” No shit, Sherlock. If those had been out there that first night, would all the drunken idiots have trampled all over the place? Whatever. For the first time, there were no tracks at all across the raked gravel. Never underestimate the power of a hand-lettered sign. The Sharpie reigns supreme.

The human figures were melted into unrecognizable shapes. Their heads were gone, arms mere suggestions, their stone hearts seemed poised to plunge from their bodies to the gravel below.

I know that is what they are supposed to do, it is their purpose – but it is still a little sad to see the beautiful things come to such an end.

The rectangular blocks, on the other hand, are fairing a lot better. They have shrunk a little, one is tipping a bit, but are still intact. They may last quite a long time.

The flesh is feeble, weak, and transient, while the crystalline inanimate geometric mass resists the heat, the water, the slings and arrows and survives until the bitter end. It is the way of all things.

Here are three pictures of the second human figure on each of the three days. If I had thought about it, I would have carefully taken pictures from identical spots, using identical lenses, on each day… but I’m an idiot. Sorry, that would have been cool.

At the unveiling

One day later.

After a day of melting in the rain

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