Becoming Rain

Darkness at 4:30 feels like inclement weather—there is a small bit of adrenaline-inducing oppressiveness to it. As blackness folded over us one December evening, Kim and I did something unusual, at least for us: we saw a movie. This wasn’t some warmed over Netflix CD that had been sitting under the television for six months; we saw the new flick Interstellar at the local Imax theater. Imagine stepping from drippy real world dimness into a cave of booming wrap-around sound and monstrous visual sensation, where humanity is ravaged by violent dust storms in an ecological desert of corn and riding roaring rockets in a desperate search for another planet to colonize. Wow. Afterward we emerged into a gentle, soothing rain. No blowing clouds of dust, no thundering engines at full thrust, no intergalactic crises … just a peaceful womb of pattering wetness. Since our movie adventure the rain has rarely stopped, including those two magnificent days of warm precipitation that traveled to us through a trough emanating from the southeastern Pacific. I love being connected to the south Pacific by a belt of rain thousands of miles long.

Recently my bond to rain has delaminated just a little. We installed new super-duper energy efficient windows with an added layer of soundproofing that helps shut out annoying suburban sounds like cat fights, chirring raccoons digging up my garden at 3 a.m., and nonstop barking by neurotic untended dogs. The house stays warmer, and this technology-enabled boundary of peacefulness probably helps me sleep. But I can’t hear the rain. I can’t lie in bed imagining I’m listening to every drop that ever fell or is falling or will fall on our well-watered planet. I miss that. So on rainy nights I sometimes leave the window open, make my peace with the unfettered BTUs scurrying into the darkness, and allow the symphony of rain to settle deep into my chest.

Maintaining my bond to rain sometimes requires breaking out of this soundproof cell in the suburbosphere for a midwinter sleepover at the cabin on upper Smith River. This isn’t very convenient. My excuse for going is a small fruit orchard that needs pruning. The only heat in the place is from a leaky woodstove that won’t hold a fire. My pretense is that by spending the night I can get an early start in the morning. I rarely start early. There is only oatmeal and coffee with evaporated milk for breakfast. I could take other food, but I rarely do that either. In reality, my trips to the cabin are just a recipe for reckless indulgence in rain. Because unlike my techno-sealed glass in town, the cabin windows are so drafty that panes occasionally lose their grip and fall to the ground. The roof is metal and completely un-insulated. So when night storms pummel the house, the barriers between me and the music of rain are minimal. Lying awake listening makes me happy.

On a good rain-soaked morning in the Coast Range, battleship clouds run aground on the hills to the southwest, tearing open their hulls, spilling their payload of precipitation. After breakfast I put on a leaky camouflage raincoat and an old pair of green nylon bib rain pants with a tear in the leg that has been patched with a piece of duct tape. Then I putter around pruning or shaping the garden-to-be or sawing up a pile of firewood. My rain clothes help, but in the end I get wet. Really wet.

Toward the end of the winter-shortened day I’ll wander off to pick a few hedgehog mushrooms. Getting to the small remaining patch of old forest requires that I walk through a very young clearcut where the rain pours down unimpeded. My boots squish rhythmically in red goo, and often there are muddy deer prints indicating a nighttime visit to the meadow below. A dramatic shift occurs inside the ancient forest. There is a gentle smell of healthy decomposition, of wood becoming soil. The big trees intercept the downpour, and the hurried descent of water becomes more measured, sliding off the canopy, forming crystalline drops at the end of each deep green conifer needle, falling to the forest floor in muffled plops.

By 3:30 the subdued light under large firs dims rapidly, and the growing gloom triggers that primal urge to find a safe roost for the night. I hope everyone has been in a place where they can feel this. Traipsing my sodden self back to the cabin, I’ll hunt up some dry clothes and a beer. Then I’ll sit in the shelter of the front porch where I can watch and listen and smell the onset of rainy nightfall. Darkness is very dark. It is also very quiet. There are no car horns or catfights, only the drumming of rain on the tin porch roof and occasionally the snort of an indignant doe beneath the apple tree on the knoll. Some evenings, going home is hard.

In winter everyone who lives in this moss-ridden fungus-infested place should complain publicly and vociferously about the rain. I mean this. It will help in ways that you may not have considered. Your complaining will be an affirmation to those who live here and really do hate the constant drizzle that they need to pack up their soggy tents and leave. You will discourage people from coming who imagine this must be paradise but who have not fully assessed the oppressive wetness of our winters. Your whining might give voice to those internal gremlins that begin to nibble away at your late winter soul, those times when it seems like the rain has been falling for years and only a thin umbrella of sanity remains. A window might open into the gray, allowing the little monsters to fly away. All told, your grouchy disposition will ensure that we remain a community of rain lovers.

So by all means ahead and gripe. But you can’t really mean it. Because somewhere in the depths of your spirit you know the truth: that in this interminable disheartening winter drizzle rests the splendor of our place. Rain is the dominant force that makes the springs that fill the creeks that cut the canyons with sides blanketed by an infinitude of greens. It is the watery adhesive that draws us together, even when sometimes this seems like shared suffering. If we are to become this place, then we must become the rain.

©Tom A. Titus

A version of this post first appeared as "Meditations on Rain" in Nature Trails, the monthly publication of the Eugene Natural History Society.