Henry James said the most beautiful words in the English language were summer afternoon. But for me, it’s the word rain. Maybe you have to live in the California foothills to really love rain. By the end of summer, we’re parched and dusty, worried about fire and desperate for any moisture at all.
Last night, maybe around four, I woke up and heard the comforting sound of rain falling on the roof. It’s March here, and we’ve been counting the inches of rain after a three- year drought. Will it get past thirty? Our normal. Will we get more to make up for the dry years? Checking the rain gauge is one of the first things we do in the morning, adding up a third of an inch here, a half there.
I’m a terrible insomniac, but now that I’m retired and living up here, I think of it as a blessing. All that quiet time just to myself, snug under the quilts with Dave and the cat. I remember my dreams. I plan the garden. Last night, I imagined the rain pouring from the roof onto the window boxes where I’ve planted blue hyacinths for the smell of spring. Since it’s still cold up here, I waited for that moment when the dripping sound of the rain would stop, and I would know the rain had turned to snow. After a while, it came. Such quiet. A spring snow.
Just after we’d moved up here, the first rain in October was a violent affair like most of our early autumn rains. Dave was still working three days a week in the Bay Area, and I was alone. The first crack of thunder sounded like a bomb, then came lightning—the whole sky white with it. The electricity went out in the house, and the cat dove under the bed. I stood on the screened porch, counting the numbers between lightning and thunder and trying to guess how close the storm was, ready to make a run for the fire hose if the house got hit. Would I even remember how to use it? It was something like a lawn mower; you pulled a rope and the gas engine started. I kept reminding myself of the routine until the time between the thunder and lightning got longer and the hills to the south of me seemed to be getting the brunt of it. After a while, I was left with just the sound of the rain pummeling the roof and the cedar branches. Even the wind had lessened, and the dried blue oak leaves—hard as pebbles that time of year— stopped blowing against the windowpanes.
The next morning the sky was bright blue; the world washed clean. Leaves and downed twigs littered the hills and the dirt road. I still had no electricity, and when the propane guy drove up to fill our tank, I asked, “ Do you all have power?” “Nope, “ he replied pulling the gas hose off the truck. “Gotta get a generator,” was his advice. After he’d filled the tank, he hopped back in the driver’s seat and studied me for a while, figuring I was hopeless. I’d last a year max. “It’s different up here,” he told me as he drove off.