Rain showers soaked much of Northern California the other day. It was not enough to cause serious problems beyond localized street flooding, but it was a nice, steady, wet change of pace for a region that regularly sees summertime temperatures above 100 degrees.
The showers washed away dust and soot and grime and brought with it that cleansing smell that comes with the first real rainfall of the year, the smell that reminds us of childhood things. It permeated the air for much of the day.
It was nice.
It was refreshing.
And beyond the gray skies, it was illuminating.
Stockton needs a good washing from time to time. Stockton is a dusty, crusty, musty city and dusty, crusty, musty cities need washing on a regular basis. Otherwise, they turn to dry silt and blow away on the winds of indifference.
The water gurgled through the drainpipe just outside an opened balcony door and the sound of raindrops hitting the leaves just beyond was audible. A ping, ping, ping came from the stove vent as the drops crashed onto the vent’s hood on the roof.
Cars splashed by up and down the street. With ample time since the last major rainfall, oil and dirt had built up on the street surface. California drivers very likely had forgotten that the water from first real rainfall of the year loosens that oil and dirt from the street, causing slippery driving conditions.
And many people abandoned outdoor adventures for the comfort of homes and HD televisions and the National Football League or a movie classic.
The rain reminded me of my childhood spent in the North Woods of Maine. Why wouldn’t it? Mark Twain – or someone else – wrote about the weather:
“If don’t like the weather in New England, wait 15 minutes. It’ll change.”
Or something similar, at least.
The point is that New England weather – especially in Maine – is a fickle thing and occasionally a very harsh thing.
In the North Woods of Maine there is plenty of precipitation and there is much time spent bundled up against the weather – rain, sleet, wind, snow, and more snow. As a child growing up in Aroostook County, it seemed that rain came nearly any time of the year, even in winter if it was warm enough to turn snow and ice to sleet and then rain.
Despite being well-suited for the weather, Mainers make a sport of grumbling about it. If it rains too much, it’s bad. If it rains too little, it’s bad. If the wind blows, curses!
But we worked in it and we played in it and the forest grew green because of it. And rivers flowed and lakes rose because of it.
And the National Weather Service and the local weathermen – they were all weathermen then – were slandered and their manhood questioned whether their daily weather prognostications were correct or not.
I recall a childhood memory in which my mother is driving my sister and me north to Eagle Lake or Fort Kent or Saint Francis to visit family. Outside the very bright red Chevrolet Cheville it is raining – the windshield wipers slapping back and forth and the wheels splashing along the roadway. My sister and I are arguing over which of us will be Mom’s “co-pilot” on the trip north, along the way imagining that the car is a plane and the ornamental buttons on the passenger door and dashboard are plane controls.
Truly, neither my sister nor I were “pilots” of any kind; at the time, our young legs could not reach the car’s floorboards.
Later on, in a newer memory, I recall camping on the shores of Perch Pond with the rain coming down hard for what seemed like days. Part of the memory includes playing games in the Cormier’s sprawling family tent, part of it includes being perpetually damp, part of it recalls the thin thudding sound the raindrops made as they hit the canvas tents, part of it recalls the heavy, clinging, soaked clothing.
A memory from about the same time recalls a trip into the woods to pick fiddleheads, raindrops hitting the hood of a windbreaker I wore for the trek into the woods not far from Portage Lake. The forest was drenched. Each step brushing against the ferns and grass and small trees brought an even more thorough drenching, soaking shoes and socks and pant legs and the human legs under those pant legs.
I remember watching the splash the drops made – millions upon millions of them – in the nearby river and the sound of the drops slapping the trees above and the accumulated water tumbling from saturated leaves to the saturated ground beneath. It seemed prehistoric.
Still later, while in high school, we practiced soccer in the rain – and occasionally in the snow. The rain then did not seem to cleanse things, but to make them simply sodden and muddy and heavy from the weight of the water. Soccer shoes and socks became heavy, sweatpants and sweatshirts clung to shivering teen boys, and baseball caps worn in practice and on the sideline in a futile attempt to ward off the rain became soaked. Water and mud and grass stains infused in the clothing and the body by the rainfall.
Other memories of New England rain abound, of course, because rain is so much a part of the history of the place – the forest and the land and the water and the air – and of the people.
But rain washes away dirt and grime and occasionally flushes away things made by man and Mother Nature, but rarely does it wash away memories.
After all, memories are merely refreshed by a good rainfall on a fall day.