Approximately 70% of the earth’s surface is water. Our bodies are about 60% water. Brains 70%. Blood 80%. H20 is us. Why is it then that many if not most of us consider a rainy day gloomy?
Truth be told, most of my customers work outside and thus (this is another thing not to tell my wife and kids) I prefer that it rains on weekends. (Added benefit: my dandelions and ground ivy don’t get thirsty and I don’t have to disturb them…)
Interestingly, raindrops do not form in the familiar teardrop shape. Shape depends on size. Small ones are nearly spherical. Medium drops are flat on the bottom. As they fall, large ones become concave on the bottom like a mushroom cap.
Obviously, gardens and crops need rain to grow. Farm belts – breadbasket areas are used to receiving amounts adequate and appropriate for cultivation. Annual variations can cause moderate to disastrous problems. Wars have been fought over water. It is predicted that related disputes will only increase with the growth of the planet’s population and the turbulence in our climate.
Inhabitants of arid regions probably prize the resource most highly as evidenced by the following two cultural examples. The movie Chinatown was about the political machinations behind the irrigation of the San Joaquin Valley in California. The currency in Botswana is called “pula” which is the Setswana word for rain.
Not surprisingly then, one who could call forth a deluge was considered to have special powers long before we took up the plow and hoe. Prehistorically, a rainmaker was a shaman or medicine man who through ritual and/or incantation was thought to be able to make the heavens weep. More lately it’s more like a man, a plane, and silver iodide. (Or pollutants – in urban areas rainfall is 20%+ more likely on Saturdays than Mondays)
Metaphorically, it is also a positive term. In the business world a rainmaker is one with a particular facility to recognize incipient financial opportunity, instinctually know how best to fertilize it, and finally to coax out liquidity in torrents. In the movie “Rainmaker” Dustin Hoffman plays a savant who, possessed of a special mathematical aptitude, was enable to “count cards” and make his brother, played by Tom Cruise, a lot of money in Vegas.
My kids always yawn when I remark about how great it smells as rain finally comes at the end of a long dry spell. It is great isn’t it? The scent is caused by the fact that clay soils and rocks absorb and accumulate an oil produced by some plants, petrichor (means blood of the gods), which is released by contact with moisture.
I love rainy days. All sorts. To be in the lightest of rains is like walking in a cloud. Standing still you don’t notice or hear the fall of drops, but move forward and you begin to push through a curtain of mist.
In a hard rain, it’s neat to run down along the river by the large arrangement of water lilies near my home. Before dawn for the best effect. Even though drenched and being sharply pelted, one’s attention is drawn inexorably forward toward the incredibly resonant sound up which is newly mysterious and intriguing every time.
As you approach, you naturally begin to parse the theretofore blended sounds of rain on water and on the uplifted broad thick leaves. Close by, the emerging new sound becomes almost ominous until alongside they’re separate. Oh ya wow. There’s a moment of perfect antiphony just before they begin to blend together again as you move on by.
Torrential thunderous downpours let you know you’re alive by the fear they strike. (I love that they’re called “tormentas” in Spanish. Perfect!) The level of instilled terror is directly related to the precarity of one’s position. Top of a mountain or middle of the ocean will be found to be pretty scary in a big storm. Basement of NORAD in the mountain in Colorado less so.
Lighteningless rain sounds wonderful under a thin roof or in a tent. Pull up the covers and relax. Can’t do anything outside anyway. Once, at scout camp, I was laying upon my back on cot under a simple canvas fly in a hard rain. It was late afternoon and nearly lulled to sleep I turned over to watch mother mouse drag five fuzzie young pups out of a puddle to safety beneath me. I had forgotten about the rescue until several years ago I saw them again dry, older, and more accomplished singing “Blue Moon” and “That’s Amore” as the Chorus in the movie Babe… (Another unbelievably great flic)
Before he died, my brother (who took the above short clip about three months before his death) gave my kids a rain stick. You know, those things that when up-ended imitate the sound of rain on a thin roof with great virtuosity. Thought to have originated in Chile they are made out of dried cacti with the thorns removed and then forced back in. They are neat and never cease to amaze this simple mind. Here’s what Seamus Heaney has to say:
The Rain StickUp-end the rain stick and what happens next Is a music that you never would have known To listen for. In a cactus stalk Downpour, sluice-rash, spillage and backwash Come flowing through. You stand there like a pipe Being played by water, you shake it again lightly And diminuendo runs through all its scales Like a gutter stopping trickling. And now here comes a sprinkle of drops out of the freshened leaves, Then subtle little wets off grass and daisies; Then glitter-drizzle, almost-breaths of air. Up-end the stick again. What happens next Is undiminished for having happened once, Twice, ten, a thousand time before. Who care if all the music that transpires Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus? You are like a rich man entering heaven Through the ear of a raindrop. Listen now again.