Knowing the Rain

a. Christmas lights

I love looking at the garden through the bright pebbles of rain studding the glass doors to my deck. Zillions of tiny points of light concentrate the whole day’s ration, light siphoned from the dark sky, from the colorless leaves of the birch, glittering here, for me.

I sigh, recalling that each droplet will leave a tiny, exact footprint of dust as it dries. The effect: an evenly distributed scrim of speckled mud. The lovely rain, cleaning the air and dirtying my window! The residue somewhat dims my enthusiasm for the view.

Until I wash the glass. Which I do. And then it rains again and dims the view until I wash the glass, and so on.

Okay. But Now. Right Now.

Now, the sparkle is a hundred Christmases.

Happy Holidays!


b. Waiting for the Rain

It’s still raining. A good steady downpour, after heavy storm winds that buffeted the house all night before they finally delivered their load a little before dawn. It’s our fifth day of rain in the past week, wonder of wonders, a very late start to our wishfully-named “rainy season,” coming after crisis drought and dismal projections about California agriculture, with only a tiny hope that, if this keeps up, we might recover enough in our reservoirs to avoid the worst deprivations. (Does anyone really think it will keep up?)

All the past year, as every overcast morning eventually transformed itself into another sunny day, I noticed an ambivalence to neighbors’ passing comments on the weather: “Hard to complain!” “Another gorgeous day, though I suppose we should wish for rain.” “Well, the succulents are happy enough.”

Sometimes I asked friends, “What are the weather people saying—any chance of rain this lifetime?” They always had an answer, delivered with a pleased air of authority. Apparently, no one stopped watching the weather report or minded passing it along. My ignorance never seemed to raise an eyebrow.

I sometimes marvel at other people’s faithful pursuit of this particular form of quasi-information, knowledge more reliably obtained by looking out the window. Periodically, however, I check in to see how the weather news is coming along. I remember when the weather first shifted from radio to television, where a pretty young women with bouffant hairdo stood on high-heeled shoes, using a pointer (or a red fingernail) to tap at smiley sun-faces or cartoon cloud-puffs with raindrops shooting down over a map of the country. Sometimes she waved a self-conscious arm across the map, like a would-be ballerina, to indicate a weather front moving in. This was entertaining for awhile, but told me nothing I needed to know. Soon enough, the sight of the weather map meant it was time to change channels or go fix dinner.

It was a while before I discovered that the cartoon clouds had been replaced by lovely swirling masses of white—actual clouds photographed in motion over the green earth or the blue sea, along the north Pacific coast. The serious looking women and men reciting temperatures adopted more natural postures and lowered their voices. Passing a room with the weather report onscreen, I often stopped to watch a moment because it was so pretty. I still didn’t put much stock in the accompanying pronouncements, trusting others in the house to warn me if I needed my bearskin the next day.

To drive or BART across the Bay Bridge, from Berkeley to San Francisco, is to enter a different climate zone, and neither side of the Bay, whether at home or at work, can be counted on to stay the same very long, changing from summery-spring to dead of winter or back in a heartbeat. I specialize in keeping a hat and umbrella handy, with multiple light layers that can be donned or doffed at a moment’s notice. Who needs a weather report?

In fact, California casual dress fashionizes our climate dilemmas. (note: new word! I anticipate hate mail.) By the way, do I imagine it, or are avid followers of the weather channel as likely as anyone to fall victim to the sudden shifts of temperature that strew flu and cold victims right and left?

Recently, however, I have been forced to revisit my rude distrust of The Nightly Weather Report. It seems climatologists (no longer ‘weathermen”) have more sophisticated technology at their command. They are right once in a while, even when announcing eminent rainfall with unprecedented precision.

Last week, a neighbor looked across to where I was hanging out clothes to dry on my west-facing deck, where the sun was in full command of the day.

“You know it’s going to rain around four, today?” she said.

Around four? How dare they pin it down like that? I laughed, waving at the azure sky, not a cloud in sight. I took my time with lunch, then hauled out my hand cart and trundled it along Sonoma Street to the North Berkeley library where I returned three books and browsed for new ones. From there, I swung down Hopkins to Monterey Market, still chuckling over my neighbor’s fantasy that she or anyone could predict rainfall to the hour, when all my life the weather people rarely guessed the right day unless it had already started to rain.

I was in and out of my four stops and rolling my cart into Lily’s restaurant to pick up Chinese takeout for dinner, when I saw a sandwich wrap skittering across the pavement before the wind. Startled, I finally noticed the dimming of light as the first drops freckled the pavement. I ducked into Lily’s and was confronted by the wall clock behind the counter. Four o’clock. Exactly.

C’mon. Not possible. I converted in an instant. What a wondrous thing, to be able to predict—really predict—the weather! I could even see how useful such information might be, as I raced back up the hill to rescue the clothes now getting soaked on my deck.

But today I am discovering the downside of too much knowledge, not to mention too much faith. As my tenant passed under my window this morning, clearly heading for his car, I called down, “No bike today?”

“Right. Big storm breaking as early as noon.”

Noon, huh? Okay, that’ll change my game plan. Should I rush to get my walk, or do I have time to settle into my morning pages in the journal, a ritual that makes my whole day go better? Or maybe before I walk, I could take care of one urgent email, to get my website up before my design team fires me.

On an ordinary day, I would consult mind, heart, body, come to a quick decision and roll into action, juggling my three intentions efficiently.

But this is not an ordinary day. This is a day I know when it is going to rain. Sometime around noon. To believe this is also to believe that it matters. What is the best possible use of my brief time before the rain comes? It’s after nine now—already I’ve wasted an hour I could have spent better had I known the forecast!

I turn on my computer, still debating my options, afraid of choosing unwisely. Stalling, I start cycling through my favorite onscreen games, reserved for just such moments—Free Cell, Minesweeper, Spider Solitaire, a gazillion-piece jigsaw. Each win, each puzzle piece inserted, grants the happy illusion of accomplishment: I’m getting things done!

Finally, thirst breaks my absorption. I rouse myself to fetch a glass of water, at which point I manage to ask, What are you doing?

It takes a second to figure it out.

I’m waiting for the rain.

Which never comes. All day.

Tonight, catching up with the work I blew off all day, I smile with an odd relief. Not that I would have minded the rain—we need all we can get. No, the relief arises from knowing I’m back in a world where the official forecast can’t be trusted. Where I can wait until the wind picks up and the sky darkens before I think, Oh, good, here comes the rain.

I renew my conviction that I don’t really need to know the weather that someone predicts is on the way. It’s enough to know the weather I’m in. I can watch the leaves dancing and tangling. I can hustle to get indoors, close some windows, and listen to the wind, huffing around the house like the big bad wolf, dashing the first drops like pebbles at my windows. I can tune in to the thumping deluge to know this will be a real one, not a passing patter. I can crack open a window and breathe the freshness after such a long, dry time.

And, being practical, I can continue to prepare myself for just about anything. Getting ready, then staying flexible. Beats imagining I can know what’s coming.

5 Responses to Knowing the Rain

  1. Catharine, I love your writing. A good writer can tell a good story, while a great writer can paint a picture, draw me in and hold me until the end and then leave me wanting more. I love you!

  2. Perfectly captures my ambivalence about knowing (or not). We’ve had a tough winter up here, and as I help my family get ready in the morning there are lots of decisions about long underwear and snowboots that have to be made, but I wish it weren’t so easy to see the long forecast–day after day of highs that barely reach 30. I’d rather be free to hope.

  3. Catharine,

    Love this article. You write beautifully and as the above post says, leaves me wanting more.

    Class of 1957, Myers Park High

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