Waiting for Rain

“It’s the dust,” he said. “I can’t stand the damned dust.”  And he couldn’t. 

Moving around the house he dusted reflexively, compulsively, the dampened cloth swinging and swiping in defiance of the elements: dry and hot a personal affront, windy an insult, dusty a threat, a visceral reminder of those wretched days atop the Caprock when dust was not merely dust but a destroyer.

Even when the worst of the Dust Bowl had passed he absorbed the stories and with them the grief and the fear. Blowing sand stripping his uncle’s car of paint in less time than it takes now for the telling of it.  His mother wedging damp towels into cracks around the windows and doors of the old house, wringing out excess water and re-wetting them with her tears.  The neighbor caught out in the fast-moving storm, unable to see and disoriented, certain of death and burial by billowing, unconstrained dirt.

Even apocryphal stories rang true. No one could prove that a Panhandle priest fled back to Illinois after that awful Ash Wednesday service, fled to the valleys and verdant fields, the rivers and rain of his midwestern home. On the other hand, no one doubted it was possible. Priest or not, what man could stand to curse his neighbors, reminding them of their coming from dust and returning to dust even as the dust of destruction overtook their lives?

“Were you afraid it would happen again?” I asked. “Of course,” he said. “It didn’t take much to remind folks. Still doesn’t. When the rains don’t come people get nervous, kind of alert. They watch the sky more, look for clouds, sniff the air. If a well goes dry, if there’s no hay, if the springs stop running…”

He trailed off, considering.  “When I was a kid,” he said, “I’d sit on the front step of the house. There wasn’t anything around but the lane out to the road, and the fields. I’d sit there and watch the wheat blow, bending and waving. It looked like I thought the ocean would look if I ever could see it. I looked at that wheat and thought about water while I waited for the clouds to build. Sometimes I’d think about rain, really good rains that I remembered.  Anybody who lives in the Panhandle better keep some good rain memories around. They’ll stand you in good stead in the dry days.”

It’s a dry day, now.  Coastal  marshes are emptying, while the water birds grieve.  Tendrils of smoke curl in from distant fires and the frogs have grown silent. Do they have their own memories, their own tales of courage and survival through the dry times? Perhaps they do. Perhaps, like people of the drought, they too are waiting: for refreshment, for renewal, for rain.

Delta Rain
Complexity’s seed takes no pleasure in a thin and fallow earth.
To root and hold demands a different soil,

warm, receptive loam turned and broken,
fields unrolled from roadside to levee
with a firm and measured hand.
Straighter and less complicated than the river’s curl
furrows gash across the land, silent and implacable.
Their simplicity refreshes.

Around them,
forgotten fence dissolves in mist
drops of birdsong drip like dew
reality pours down in torrents
washing clear both air and sight
sluicing through fields and flooding ditches
carrying seed and furrow alike to the river’s last embrace
life flowing and flowing
~ Linda Leinen

32 thoughts on “Waiting for Rain

  1. What images your words create! And sensations, too. I can smell the dirt and dust in the air when I read this. Beautiful!

    1. SnoringDogStudio,

      Thank you so much for your kind words – isn’t it wonderful to experience what words can do?

      Perhaps it won’t be long until I can write a post called “We Finally Got Some Rain!” There are people cross several states who’d be thrilled to have that experience.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!


  2. And now I’m going to say something corny: I LOVE the verbs you used in your poem. Great verbs that “nail” the image, the action. No extra words needed. Nice, nice, nice, nice!!! and then the “drops of birdsong drip like dew” which I love.

    An evocative entry. So much about America blows through this one. It is very particular. It is land and people. We are married to it, this land.

    Do frogs et al have memories? I am certain of it. It is passed down through them as something less of a mental construct, but more of an intuited thing, I think.

    1. oh,

      There’s nothing corny about verbs! Especially good ones. Sometimes I have to beat back the abstract, multi-syllabic ghosts from a previous life, but it’s always worth it in the end.

      America is land and people. We have a history with the land, and it galls me to no end to hear some of the pronouncements coming down from on high about what farmers, for example, should and should not do. You know my prejudices here – politics doesn’t harvest crop.

      In any event, I’m a non-bitter clinger, clinging to land and memory and listening to the frogs teach me their truths. Have you ever listened very, very closely to a frog? Not the spring peepers, but a good bog-frog. Can you hear him say, “In-TU-it… in-TU-it… in-TU-it…”? ;-)


  3. Thank you for this evocative post. Memories are so important, which makes recording memories equally as important.

    1. Charles,

      To re-tell the past is to re-live it, and to re-live the past is to open up new possibilities for being shaped by it. Needless to say, that’s true for stories of all kinds.

      I love the word evocative, and I love the process of calling forth memory. I’m glad you found that quality here.


  4. Your descriptions remind me of when I lived in Malawi and the rains failed one year, the dust was just awful and the heat…

    1. juliet,

      Waiting for expected rains is hard enough. It must have been awful to have them simply not arrive.

      One of the most well-known books about life in Liberia is called “Red Dust on the Green Leaves”.
      The soil there is primarily laterite, and during the dry season it covers everything. Once the rains come everything is fresh and beautiful again (well, except for the muddy roads), but at the end, waiting for the rains is tedious at best.

      As you’ve pointed out on your blog, we’re remarkably insulated from the cycles of nature. Still, we’re not the ones in control, and we need to respect the world in which we live.


  5. How ironic given the wild fires in west Texas! Or perhaps not. I really like your writing. I feel as if I am there. Very descriptive and it really draws the reader in.

    Thank you so much.

    1. Wild_Bill,

      A little ironic, perhaps, but only a little. I’m south of Houston, and we’re in need of rain, too. Since I varnish boats for a living I’m usually the one crying about rain cutting into my work time, but no more. I’ll happily give up work days for rain.

      It’s been hard watching the fires. They affect all of us, even the people who don’t realize it.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the read. I do enjoy the experience of learning to write about the places I love.


  6. My mother used to tell me about being a child on the prairies in Outlook, Saskatchewan. I have photos that suggest she would have related to your talk of dust, though the too-hot season is a lot shorter in the Canadian dust bowl.

    One day my widowed grandmother visited a friend in Haney, BC (a place now absorbed into a suburb of Vancouver) and discovered it was green and lush like her birthplace, Scotland. When she got back to Outlook, she started packing, and moved the family off the prairies as fast as she could manage it.

    My mother said that once in Haney they would dance outside whenever it rained (often) they were so glad of it. And my grandmother would sit out on the porch and just watch those blessed drops come down.

    Lately I’ve been complaining (whining) about the incessant rain in Vancouver, and apologize now. But too much of a good thing… well, it’s a cliche, but it’s true too. Balance is hard to find.

    1. Shirley,

      Whining is absolutely acceptable. No apologies needed. We all do it.

      Sometimes I wonder if the issue’s so much a matter of balance as a human need for change. When I lived in Berkeley, it was as perfect a climate as I’ve ever found – but it was perfect day after day after day. Eventually it got to the point where I was heartily sick of gorgeous weather and ready for any kind of ugliness that came down the road.

      I enjoyed the story of your grandmother and her move to “greener” – hills rather than pastures, I suspect. I have a small handful of photos showing fringe relatives who lived in Saskatchewan in the early 1900s. One shows two boys playing marbles in the dirt, surrounded by shacks and nothing else. It looks remarkably like Dustbowl Oklahoma. From what I’m told, they busted sod for a while, and then headed south to Minnesota – also green.

      I was in Galveston last week and a group of seagulls had taken over a motel swimming pool. They were frolicking like kids – the whole world’s ready to dance in some fresh water.


  7. I’ve seen the WunderMap. Good graphics. Thank you. Weather Station 81, south of Gordon and Strawn, is west of our ranch, about 0.5 mile. I didn’t know they had a weather station till I saw WunderMap. I have a weather station, sans wind velocity, in the live oak tree in front of the ranch house. Once these fires are past, I’ll spend more time on your blog and read your fine compositions. You employ action verbs. That’s a fine sign for me to come back. Thanks again, Jack.

    1. Jack,

      No need for a weather station here this afternoon. The wind was so strong from the south there were standing waves in the marina, and I wondered how you folks were faring. I was astonished to see high temperatures clustered around 100 in your area and northward into Oklahoma.

      The only positive news I have to offer is that our humidity is steadily climbing. I’m glad. I like Santa Fe, but it was a little disorienting to have their weather.

      Any time you want to come back and visit, you’re welcome. The door’s always open.


  8. As always, you have a knack of finding the perfect words to create mood, character, atmosphere, the complete picture. I simply don’t know what to say other than “bravo.”

    Ken Burns is working on a film on the dustbowl and the Amarillo PBS station has been involved. Perhaps Houston is, also.

    1. jeanie,

      Mr. Burns does get around, doesn’t he? I’d be interested in seeing what he does with the Dustbowl. Like the Depression, there’s a loose mix of fact and fiction to be sorted through, and he’d be a good one to do some of the sorting. I’ll have to re-read your post on his work to refresh myself on the issues you raised there.

      I so much enjoyed writing this. I think I’m just about ready to tackle a story I’ve been carrying about in my head. If I can do mood and character here, I surely could do it in something just a little bigger. Shucks, I’ve got the title and the characters, and I know what happened. All that’s needed is the telling of it!


  9. Thanks for the thoughts. After a ‘personal drought’, it’s good to be inspired by words, imagery and poetry. I too have been waiting for rain, but my plight is nothing compared to all the catastrophes around the globe. Nowadays, it seems we need shelters all the more, from droughts and storms, literally and metaphorically speaking. Thanks for providing one here.

    1. Arti,

      I’ve been thinking so much of Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice” in these past days. While Texas burns, you’re still having snow, and I suspect if the ice has broken, it’s not been long since it happened.

      There’s no way around it – spring is a season of pastels and the delicacy of first blooms, but it’s also a season of extremes. Ice jams, tornados, wildfires – not pleasant, but inevitable. It’s no wonder we feel like seeking shelter now and then.

      I do know this – a little refreshment can go a long way. Every early morning 4 a.m. the sprinklers turn on outside. For an hour or so afterward the mockingbirds sing and assorted insects chitter and chirr, especially the mole crickets. They’ve experienced a little shower, and they love it. When the real thing shows up, they’ll be ecstatic!


  10. Well, I wish I could give you some of our rain. It’s cold and bitter, and you wouldn’t like it at all.

    I DO like your poem, and I really admire the word choices, and the way you used language to move the reader from images of dry arid land to “torrents” and “sluicing.” Very nicely done.

    1. Becca,

      How very strange. The comment I left earlier for you disappeared. I’m usually the one at fault, but in this case it’s a mystery. So, we’ll try again.

      I had mentioned I’d like any rain, even the cold and bitter sort. I’d send it off to those who need it most – there are early fires burning all around. This is what a drought-stricken spring looks like. Painful.

      I’m so glad you liked the poem. I’ve been carrying the title and two phrases with me for two years. Neither phrase was included, but that’s fine. I’m happy with the poem, and ready to move on to the next!


    1. RoughWaterJohn,

      What a wonderful compliment. It’s clear from the image in your “rear-view mirror” that you know a thing or two about what “there” looks like, so it’s even more pleasing that you enjoyed the read.

      I did browse your site and was completely entertained. I lived aboard for a time, so I know a bit about those “toils”. As for the quotation from Jeph Jacques on rapier wit – well, yes.

      I enjoyed the wiki on Jacques, too. I’d not heard of him or of “Questionable Content”, but was intrigued by the description of the comic as being “mostly realistic (with occasional bouts of absurdity”. That alone makes me want to take a peek.

      Thanks for boarding – you’re always welcome.


  11. I hope you get good, non-destructive rain. The weekend you posted was very bad for tornadoes in our area. No one I know was injured or lost anything, but a couple of people I know had a really scary Saturday morning.

    1. Claudia,

      From what I’ve seen over past days, “very bad” is a significant understatement. Thank God for the advances in forecasting and warning technology that have come along in recent years. I use a few old-fashioned methods of weather prediction that are pretty dependable, but those are for day-to-day. When things get serious, I want my radar and computer models.

      I’m glad you and yours came through unscathed, if scared. And we’ll get our rain. Here on the Gulf Coast, we just prefer to avoid getting “rain with a name”. ;-)


  12. Of course the water birds would grieve. How could they not? (how sad and beautiful!)

    Thank you so much for this evocative journey through the dusty air.

    1. aubrey,

      There have been two silences in my life that have been deeply disturbing. One was the sudden absence of planes and boats moving about after 9/11. The other was the utter stillness after hurricane Ike. Not even a fish was jumping, no crickets chirped. It was as though the world had been stripped of all life. In time, of course, things began to stir, and they will again.

      Best wishes to you for a happy Easter weekend.


  13. Linda,
    What a visual story and poem. Rain is something we must have for survival but we cannot handle too much or too little. It needs to find balance which rarely happens.

    We go through years of droughts here in Florida, seems like every 4-5 yrs there will be a serious drought, 2007/2008 comes to mind. We need rain but not as badly as parts of Texas.

    Hope it comes soon and we can read about a “raining” story!

  14. Patti,

    We all know the cycles, and live with them as best we can. It’s funny – until I knew you I never thought of Florida as a place that might experience drought. Now I keep an eye on your map as well as ours!

    My mom uses me as her drought indicator. When I start saying, “You know, I’d really be happy for it to rain”, she knows that it’s time to pay attention. She’s also gotten smart enough to say, “Well, I just hope we don’t get it all at once!”

    Have a wonderful weekend. I imagine you’ll be playing Easter Bunny, in one way or another. ;-)


  15. Your werds in the first lines had me feeling the claustrophobic feeling that wind and dust bring to me. It’s an element of nature I couldn’t tolerate.

    1. maggie,

      Claustrophobic is a good word – and I’ve sometimes felt that way in fog. It’s an amazing experience to be in open territory, and yet utterly enclosed.

      There is one combination of wind and dust that always fascinated me. When I was in Liberia, our pilot often would point out differently-colored dusts on the plane when he brought it down. When the harmattan winds blew from North Africa, the residue might be yellow, pinkish or tan, depending on which part of the desert was its source.

      I can’t remember his exact words now, but they were something like this: “Pay attention to the wind, but pay equal attention to what the wind carries”. I thought of that last night when parts of Tuscaloosa were dropping out of the sky over Birmingham.


  16. What a terrifying thing, the Dust Bowl. It’s as though the Earth were assaulting itself, and taking out its anger on anyone or anything standing in the way. Your writing, as always, took me right there. I had to get up and get a drink of water.

    I hope the rains come soon.

    1. bronxboy,

      Drought is uniquely unnerving to me. I suspect part of the reason is that drought can’t be tracked, like a hurricane. The forces at work – ridges, caps, streams in the air – are invisible, and there’s a whole lot of just waiting around that takes place.

      It’s especially frustrating when it “looks like rain” all the time, and rain doesn’t come. We had that for a while. Now, we’ve just gotten another seven-day forecast with nothing but sunshine and blue skies in it. The water restrictions won’t be far behind. We hope the rains come soon, too – thanks for adding your wishes to the pile!


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