Last night I fell asleep to an almost forgotten sound: the patter of rain on the metal roof. It’s a peculiarly soothing sound to anyone who lives in an arid climate, where rain–or moisture of any sort, the water fundamental to all life–is not dependable. Sometimes the landscapes I live in and love are green and vibrant; sometimes they are most decidedly not.
This year has set records in the “most decidedly not” column, after one of the stingiest winter snow packs in decades vanished weeks early in record spring heat. The wet spring snows that normally blanket the high desert simply didn’t materialize, and the summer thunderstorms were late and agonizingly sparse.
The little spring-fed creek that runs along one edge of my formerly industrial property dried up in late July; the shrubby willow thicket that I’ve carefully nurtured along its banks to shade the creek’s flow and filter urban contaminants from the water has turned brittle, its leaves dead. Without water, the aquatic insects and baby trout that usually swim in the creek are also, of course, no more.
Last night’s rain began after dark; I was slow to recognize the unaccustomed sound. Rain on a metal roof has a special resonance, amplified as if the roof itself were an instrument playing the reviving raindrops.
Showers fell on and off all night, but the rain was so gentle that the float in my rain gauge didn’t register any accumulation this morning. The sheen of water on the surface of the soil, the shiny pavement gave me hope that the gauge was faulty (I think it leaks).
Steady showers started again as the sky grew light. Soon the gutters sang with running water, a joyous sound in this year so dry that fires have charred millions of acres of western forests and shrublands, destroying hundreds of houses. A year when we have almost gotten used to brown instead of green; a year that ranchers haven’t had water for their stock and farmers have watched crops wither in their fields.
The rain fell all morning, and finally stopped this afternoon. We didn’t receive enough moisture to make the creek run again–that will take many rains recharging the groundwater table. But what we got soaked right into the thirsty soil.
A cold front brought the rain when it collided with warmer, moist air drawn from the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean and over the day the temperature dropped steadily. Finally, the clouds lifted to reveal new white snow on peaks bare for months.
Fall is here early, a few weeks before the calendar. I fervently hope that it’s a wet fall, followed by a wet winter.
As the light faded, the clouds dropped down to muffle the mountain slopes again. The sun set, and for a few moments, the valley was suffused with peach, rose, and lavender, watercolors produced as the diffuse moisture in the clouds filtered the last rays of sunlight.
It’s dark now; night has swallowed day as earth turns, turns, turns…. As summer turns toward autumn, as life turns toward that end that is also a beginning.
The air coming in the open window is chill, and richly fragrant with rain-awakened earth. Moisture, a miracle whenever it graces these perennially dry landscapes, pervades the high desert tonight, soaking the landscape I love, and soaking my spirit too. I feel grateful, blessed to be here, engaged in the process of life renewing itself–and renewing my connection with this place, the terraphilia at the heart of who I am.