The rain is raining all around.
It falls on field and tree.
It rains on the umbrellas here
And on the ships at sea.
--Robert Louis Stevenson,
A Child’s Garden of Verses
You know how good that feeling is when you’re just too grumpy to want to feel good? That’s how I thought I had made an uneasy peace with this endless rain.
My laptop is by the window and I watched while three little kids in yellow slickers and Wellington boots splashed in all the puddles up and down the street. Then they stopped in my front yard where there is not supposed to be a pond, but because of all this rain there is what kids would call--and grown-ups dispute--a pond.
The kids jumped up and down in the pond, over and over, like little human Superballs. One of them fell on her bottom, naturally unfazed. Another squatted down to bathe his face like next he was going to pull out his Playschool razor. They were soaked well beyond their skins.
Their mother watched, standing off to the side. Immediately I thought she must be a good mother, a patient mother, the kind who does projects with her kids and who would somehow be able to get them to actually practice the clarinet when they were old enough to be taking music lessons.
I was not that kind of mother. I sold the clarinet. The trombone we still have, entombed in its case and lying at rest in Linnea’s closet. As for projects, I never liked them. They required a level of spatial reasoning my SATs had proved I never had: ‘Where can I set the piles of laundry so that little Madeleine will have some room to build the wind-powered generator for her Barbie habitat?’
And while my girls would have loved to become so muddy, so messy, so deliciously rain-drenched, I was much too curmudgeonly a mom to have let my kids puddle jump so egregiously (and almost subversively) on every neighbor’s lawn up and down the street.
No, that’s why God made irregular French verbs—for schoolchildren to keep busy on rainy days.
But as I sat at my computer, watching the rain-soaked urchins, I started thinking that they looked like illustrations from Robert Louis Stevenson’sA Child’s Garden of Verses come to life. Of course, if they had beenillustrations from A Child’s Garden of Verses, the very last place they would want to be is upstate New York in this convulsive dreariness.
Yet somehow, as I watched them, my grumpiness began to abandon me. This felt like betrayal. I had been safe and warm inside my grumpiness. I didn’t want to think of those lovely times when I had gone boldly and uncovered into the weather.
Like when I was in my twenties, too much in love, too young to know the consequences of climate, and had moved to Washington state just south of the rain forest. Yes, the rain forest. We had lived amidst flowers that bloomed while we slept—while it continued to rain. Mornings, before I could drive to work, I had to scrape the camellias from the windshield.
My beloved had lived in dry lands and the rain had seemed to enchant him. We found washed away roads, the brittle edges of their blacktop softened; we found bridges that had been built to allow for a change of course. And all the while the rain kept a swath of cloud like gauze around Gray’s Harbor. This wasn’t Brigadoon because it was real and from it real souls emerged. But still it seems as far away as that.
Which may be why there was a strange and wordless comfort in the night-black walk my daughter, Linnea, and I took last summer. When the rain seemed neither to threaten nor stop, we left our tidy bed-and-breakfast and made our way to the edge of a tiny harbor. There we stood, wet as clams, watching anonymous sail boats find their shelter where they could.
Their mast-lights were all that showed, gleaming like fireflies, but heaving in the waves like kids with sparklers on the Fourth of July.
We stood unseen on shore, the sea drawing away beneath our feet with each receding wave. We were barefoot, except for our CVS flipflops, and we had brought no umbrellas. The rain was warm. We had planned on getting wet and knew we would not get lost.
The harbor was tiny; the sheltered crafts were small. And I was not Matthew Arnold standing on the cliffs of Dover writing poetry anybody might ever remember or decide to forget. I was simply a mother with a blooming daughter by my side watching the pitch and shift of insecure vessels in a rainstorm. There was nothing—not even as yet our skins--at stake.
But in the blackness, the pitching lights atop the smallcrafts’ masts reminded us that terra firma is nothing more than a cloud in our minds. Maybe we spend our lives in a shifting search for safety--in a random harbor, or in a neighbor’s grassy front yard, a neighbor who will bless our puddle-jumping and splashing and say, let it be.