Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rain and Memories

For five days now it has been raining incessantly in California. Meteorologists have confirmed that we have received more rain than normal for this time of the year. Total seasonal rain in San Jose, where I live, has already surpassed 9 inches. This week alone 3.5 inches of rain has fallen and more is on the way. Streams, creeks and rivers are overflowing. This is good news after three successive years of drought in the Golden State.

Rain falling on roof is an ancient sound. I listen to its cadence in the middle of the night, insistent and hypnotic. It draws curtain upon curtain and wraps the entire earth, so it seems, in the deepest of darkness. I am between wakefulness and sleep and it is as close to a state of grace as I feel in a long, long time.

In this state, my thoughts and limbs spread outward until I become the earth and the rain falls on me. I feel the stirring of the as-yet-unborn wildflowers, lupines, poppies, clovers and honeysuckles, responding to the waters coming down from the heavens. I imagine the fields and the meadows filling with them. We speak in words but nature speaks in songs and somewhere in their confluence lie memories.

On Monday, the hills and the valleys of the Diablo Range around Santa Clara County displayed only a hint of green. By Thursday, plentiful rain had transformed them into the very essence of the color. Gray clouds pour gray rain on them and there is no letting up. Even from the road leading up to the highway, I can hear a stream, hidden by oaks and sycamores flowing restlessly toward the bay.

On Saturday, when the intensity of the rain lessens a bit, I head for the creek within walking distance of my home. All I need is my old but functioning umbrella. Along the way, I hear the trill of red-winged blackbirds in a field full of yellow mustard flowers.

At the bank of the creek, I locate the lichen-covered stone and stand by the water. Two calla lilies sway with the current, their white giving texture to the soft darkness that has descended from the sprawling oaks around. There are eddies here and there but the song of the rushing stream, from whisper to laughter, holds me spellbound. Raindrops create small ripples but the swift, foaming current quickly smothers them. There is a swing someone had hung from a sturdy branch some months ago and the wind moves it back and forth over the water. It is easy to imagine a child on it, only the child is invisible.

This spot, hidden from view, is redolent of childhood. Another day, far removed in time and place, slowly works its way into my mind. I was probably in the seventh or the eighth grade, in my ancestral village in the Old World, and it was raining like this, and I had the time of my life with friends jumping into a pond, dragging myself up over its muddy bank and jumping in again. We were hollering and throwing mud at one another, pushing each other over, attempting to climb the mango and the coconut trees for more spectacular dives. A kingfisher observed us from its perch on a bamboo pole in the middle of the pond, flew away and then returned. It did this again and again, and I knew it was having the time of its life as well.

“The strands are all there,” wrote Eudora Welty. “To the memory, nothing is ever really lost.” So true! I would only add this: More than any other element, it is rain that best brings the strands together.

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