Trusting the Barometer Bush

Rain ravens, we called them. Sculling through midwestern skies they circled higher than our imaginations, far beyond our sight, past the scudding clouds into apparent oblivion. Only their harsh, echoing call testified to their presence. Bending over her pan of cinnamon rolls my grandmother murmured her irritation. “Have to get the wash done early. There’s rain on the way.” More often than not, she was right.

There were other signs, of course, and she taught them all.  A halo’d moon meant rain – counting the number of stars inside the ring told the day of its arrival.  When rising winds lifted and twisted the deep-lobed maple leaves, their silvered, shivering backs might as well have been engraved, “The Rain is Coming”. Continue reading

The Day That the Rain Came Down

Even now, days later, people seem compelled to ask. “Well….?”

In its full form, the question is, “Well, did you get any rain?” When scattered showers roamed the area recently, excitement was high. Unfortunately, “scattered” was the operative word. A quarter mile to the west, there was no rain, not even a sprinkle. Across the lake, one friend took a dousing for a full half-hour while the marina where I’ve been working remained dry. The bank teller, the nurses’ aide and the sales clerk didn’t get a drop, while the fellow at the next gas pump, the diver from the boatyard and the lady up the street at least had a chance to turn on their windshield wipers.

In short, we enjoyed a reminder of rain rather than real rain, though I happened to be at home when the reminder fell and enjoyed it thoroughly. It rained just long enough for me to drag out my hose and wash down the balcony without creating a mess for the people below, and it rained hard enough to leave some pretty substantial puddles lying about. A half-hour later residual heat and the sun nearly had absorbed them although, to my amusement, while the puddles remained the happiest people in the neighborhood weren’t people at all.

The mallards hustled out first, staring up into the sky, catching raindrops with their beaks and flapping their wings as though applauding the clouds. Glass minnows rippled like raindrops across the surface of the water and then, in a flash of gray and black, the biggest surprise of the day came running across the lawn.

A raccoon who’d apparently been snoozing, or hiding, or doing whatever it is that raccoons like to do during the day was making a mad dash toward the puddles. It skidded along the bricks of the walkway, threw itself into the water collected there and rolled over three or four times. Then, taking to its feet and shaking off its fur, it began to drink. And drink. And drink some more. It stood there slurping up water for a full five minutes until, with another shake and a quick look around the neighborhood it made a mad, galloomphing dash back across the lawn, no doubt headed toward the security of its own raccoon-sized condo. Continue reading

Rain, Rapturous Rain

Even with the Day of Judgment drawing nigh, my neighbor laughed as she unloaded twenty pounds of dog food from her car.  “Shoot,” she said. “I’m always looking for a reason to put off doing laundry or going to the grocery store. The end of the world seems as good a reason as any.”

Poor Harold Camping. When he predicted Jesus’ arrival back on earth in 1994, all he got for his trouble was a messianic no-show. The reason, he explained, was a slight mathematical miscalculation. After tweaking his figures, he decided to give it another go and announced this time it was for real, this snatching-up of the saved and destruction of the damned. The day would be May 21, the time, 6 p.m. local. Be there or be square, as the saying goes.

At that point, it was open season on the man and his beliefs. Like my neighbor, everyone (other than the good Reverend’s followers) was ready to have a little fun at Camping’s expense, especially after the deadline had passed. The Huffington Post published Nine Ways to Tell the World is Over, a typically-Huffpo-like but still funny list that included Sean Hannity going through with waterboarding, Donald Trump shaving his head and the Cubs winning the World Series. Time magazine tried to get in on the fun with their list of the nine best Apocalypse Not Yet tweets.  Given the nature of Time and tweets, most weren’t really funny, but I did laugh at the message from Jesus, who defended his right to run the Apocalypse by tweeting, “It’s not over until I say it’s over”. Continue reading

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? Continue reading