Full Circle: Puddle in the snow

Published 10:41 am Saturday, April 7, 2018

In the wee hours of a recent March morning, I was awakened by raindrops on the roof. In a half-sleep I listened to them as if they were a forgotten memory, familiarizing myself all over again—after months of winter freeze—with the foreignness of their sound. Rain, you see, lets itself be known. It plinks and plunks upon the shingles announcing its arrival, whereas snow sneaks in during the night, like air wrapped in sparrows’feathers, never ceasing to surprise us the next morning by its stealth.

During the night there is nothing quite like the cushioned solitude of a soft rain gently falling, taking its own sweet time to float from heaven to earth. It makes my world smaller; my universe reduced to the very space I am displacing. Moreover, it swaddles me in comfort, like being enfolded in a blanket right out of the dryer.

I once read a book written by a blind man who explained that the most free, least handicapped he ever felt was when it rained. Then he could go for a walk and not fear crashing into obstacles. “This was,” he explained, “because I could hear the raindrops falling on everything around me, the muted drips guiding me down the unobstructed middle of the sidewalk. When I heard nothing except the steady splashing on the pavement, I knew the path was clear.” While I had been begrudging those drips, he had been embracing them as navigational escorts, protecting him in his darkness. How differently our ears worked.

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Rain comes in various shapes and amounts. What I’ve described here is friendly like the holy water sprinkled upon the head of a newborn during a Presbyterian baptism; a tiny being too young to know he has just felt God’s grace. There is also mean rain where the drops meld together into a torrent that slices at the earth and everything upon it.  It cuts gullies and moves buildings and washes away plantings where our only hope was for just enough nourishing moisture.

The very scary typhoons I knew in Japan turned raindrops into spears that horizontally knifed through the edges of our concrete brick walls and bent window air conditioners, allowing the torrents to spill into the rooms. Such hostility.  During the eye of the storm, when we let our pets outside, the desperate dogs welcomed the pause in the siege as if a bathroom party had been arranged especially for them, while the cats haughtily refused to exit, the abhorrence of the wet upon their dainty paws too much for their delicate sensibilities.

I spent many a rainy season in Asia, an experience you have to live through to believe. This is no gentle awakening in the night, but rather six weeks of unrelenting sog where even the wall-climbing geckos can no longer get a suctioned foothold because of the slime. The clouds do not simply empty rain, they vomit rain; 42 days of continuous, streaming torrents, like a really severe head cold where one cannot imagine where the unceasing phlegm is coming from.

Things of all hues turn one color during the rainy season. Green. I don’t mean the photosynthesized green of growing things, I mean the green of things that were never intended to be green: your curtains or your best dress hanging in the back of your closet or the magazines on your coffee table.

While living on Okinawa, I once agreed to look after the apartment of a vacationing friend. Piece of cake, I figured, not remembering it would be during the rainy season. I waited a week before I went to inspect. What I found was a living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen that had been silently and thoroughly redecorated in velvety moss. It felt like I was entering the giant sized drawer of a lady’s jewelry box.

Even the calendar on the wall looked like virescent cotton candy, the numbers barely visible through the fuzz. All four rooms had to be stripped bare, including the walls. That is when I truly learned the miracle of electricity—the kind that runs blessed currents to dehumidifiers and air conditioners. By the time my friend returned, I had restored her home to a kind of dry order, with empty spaces here and there where things had once been. I did not regret having tossed out the furry newspapers, although the discarded bedspread tied a double knot in my guilt.

We in Austin are grateful such inhospitable weather is literally half a world away.  Our rains are usually a welcome event (unless it’s harvest time), their moisture anointing our lawns, corn and soybeans. They’re like the rain Gene Kelly danced to, splashing along the curb in and out of puddles.

But the rain that fell on the snow banks during that recent March morning felt odd. It was too early to wash winter into our thirsty fields, down our culverts and into Turtle Creek. So, hold on! I’m not finished with snow yet. Besides, lurking in my distant vision is the angst of the burdensome spring clean-up which ironically always encourages me to hope for just a bit more winter.