I remember days and days of rain. I remember our backyard turning into a small pond and the smell of wet umbrellas and raincoats in the laundry area where they were tossed on top of the washer and dryer. I remember long nights of thunderstorms. That’s what it was like growing up in California. There was a predictability to the seasons, a visible turning of time. We didn’t have the dramatic flare of east coast autumns. We didn’t have deep snow and then the thaw of Spring. But we had seasons. We depended on them. At the ranch my family used to own, inland from Malibu, the long winter grasses would blow like velvet in the wind. It was hypnotic looking across fields at the undulating green waves.

That was a long time ago. California has been drying out for a while now, but this year is the worst. People dressed in T-shirts and sandals in the middle of January have stopped saying Isn’t this weather great? Because they know it isn’t. Thousands of acres just burned; houses were destroyed, others damaged. Countless wild animals perished in the forest, dying horrible deaths in the inferno that began when three idiots started a campfire in bone dry vegetation. Governor Brown has declared this drought an emergency.

But a drought is more than just frightening facts and a dreaded future. Something deep within us needs the seasons; they ground us, they make us aware of time. The weather has a profound influence on how people treat each other, how they treat themselves, where their minds and their imaginations go. One of my earliest writing teachers said, You have to think carefully about the characters you’re developing, and of course the trajectory of the story, but don’t forget the weather. In my last two novels, the weather was significant — it influenced the story because it affected how the characters thought and behaved. In Till Human Voices Wake Us, there is a week of solid rain when the characters stay inside the house most of the time, spend concentrated hours with each other, and in that cocoon, with rain pouring down outside, things shift and change. In The Blue Hour, the fog is such an important aspect of the town of Clearoak, it’s practically a character in the novel.

Rain makes us slow down, reflect, go inward, spend more quiet hours. The days seem longer because the sky tells no time of day. There is something special about that. This winter in California has been like summer, and it’s jarring on a very profound level. We’re missing something essential — the respite that winter gives us, the way rain washes everything clean, sometimes even our most troubled emotions. Each morning this winter has been the same — a flat blue sky, air dry as sand, and not a cloud on the horizon. We look at the cracked dry earth and feel something inside us die. Nothing grows without water — and that includes our spirits.

One Response to WAITING FOR RAIN

  1. Russell daron says:

    So true about the impact of the weather and how it affects our emotions…I always get a great sense of relief when weather changes…so good insight!

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