Today, it finally rained. Real rain, hours of it. Enough to make puddles and breathe petrichor, the magical scent of desert rain. A friend took her infant daughter out in it after the thunder stopped and let the gentle rain bathe the baby. Her New Mexico baptism.
Earlier in the day, while I ran at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, the clouds gathered around the full circle of the horizon in tall white towers and thick gray sweeps, and yet I ran under a bubble of hot blue sky. As the wind picked up, the movement of juniper and creosote branches reminded me of the pine boughs carried in Pueblo corn dances. Dances that honor the oneness of humans, plants, animals, ancestors, and rain. I silenced all other thoughts in my mind and ran for rain, adding my inner voice to all the other rain-prayer songs in the desert.
Cloud People, for you,
My feet are a drum,
Pounding the rhythm of rain.
The grains of sand shushing under my feet
Softly rattle the sounds of rain.
My sweat is rain.
My blood is rain.
My thirst is the thirst of the dry earth,
For every fluid of my body
Is made of rain.
Even my breath as I push up this hill
Exhales the moisture of rain.
The plants are dancing for you,
Hopeful and eager.
Your grandchildren call,
And you come to us,
Trailing your soft gray hair over the mountains.
Images: Clouds by Child Hassam and Desert Rain by Edgar Payne
Shortly after I posted about the early spring and the warm dry winds, it finally rained. Cool as well as wet, it was practically our first winter day all winter. The rain smell was so welcome, so magical, I had to go out in it. With a large umbrella, of course. The sound of raindrops on it was the best music I’d heard in months.
There’s a beautiful walking route in Elephant Butte known as “the dirt dam.” It’s a road that’s been closed to traffic and takes you over the dirt dam to the big dam, the one that really makes the lake. It’s not the dams that make it scenic, though—to me, anyway. It’s the subtle colors and dramatic shapes of the desert. On a sunny blue-skied day, I’m drawn to notice the grand-scale sculptures of rocks and mountains. I seldom see this place soaking wet. It was a different world, where fat, silvery raindrops hovered on the tips of pale brown thorns. Many years ago, a friend told me he liked cloudy days because the colors of nature were revealed better, the way they were in classic Japanese watercolors. He was right. The rocks and soil were darker, and the bare thorny bushes looked black. Against this backdrop, dried-out straw-colored flower-stalks surrounded suddenly bright green stems. A red hue streaked up clumps of pale yellow grass, the same coral red as some crystals I’ve collected in the area. The flat, spiky pads of the purple cacti seemed more intensely purple and the green ones more vividly green. One full day of water and winter. I’m grateful.
Cloudy winter days aren’t as blissfully beautiful as the sunny ones with pure bright bowls of New Mexico blue overhead, but the payoff comes later, with mind-blowing, psychedelic color and texture at sunset. The changes happen so fast, I have to time my sunset viewing exactly right and pick the right location for it. The sunsets may technically be in the west, but the colors can show up anywhere. There was a thick, creamy, red-purple display in the southeast one evening, a blazing orange total-sky event on another, then a softly glowing purple radiance in the north the next night. On a cloudless day, all we get is a pale rim of gold on the edge of the bowl.
Most of these lovely clouds haven’t rained, though. Yesterday’s shower was the first in around two months. It’s been a warm, dry winter. One day in December was actually cold. One day. High temperatures should be in the fifties, not sixties or seventies. I wonder if the snakes ever brumated. The other day, a little yellow jacket wasp was walking around on the top of my shoe while I was working out by the river. I like bees and wasps, but should they be out and about in January? The pines trees have shoots of new growth and I think they’re pollinating. The fig tree in my yard is budding. A mosquito tried to bite me. I’m comfortable, but too comfortable. The bugs and plants and I should be enduring bit of a chill. I’m sure my East Coast friends would like to ship a big load of winter to the Southwest about now, and I wish you could. Without snow in the mountains, we could be headed for a dry year.
The following is not a complaint: My home internet was down for a week and I had a cold—events so insignificant in the realm of human difficulties that they remind me my life isn’t hard. My immune system probably appreciated the chance to do a little work. I wasn’t knocked-out-flat sick for even a day. To avoid spreading germs, I was less social, but less dancing meant more writing. And while I had to schedule my limited online time and leave home to do it, my reading changed for the better. Fewer news articles, and more in articles in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, a medical journal I still find fascinating even though I’ve retired. A challenging read keeps the dust off my brain, and I occasionally get plot material from it, including the remarkable studies that help shake up Mae’s world view in The Calling and the Tibetan medicine material in Death Omen.
I can cope with minor personal discomforts and even benefit from them. The uneasy comfort of the weather troubles me more.
I know I can’t make the sky rain. It’s like trying to make someone love you. When the right conditions have arrived, the change comes. Sometimes, however, I think it fails to rain when the world is out of balance, and that it takes dancing and meditation, yoga done as rain salutations, people showing compassion and affection and listening to each other with their hearts, to invite rain. Love and care for the earth will call rain. Earlier today, it rained in the alley behind my apartment for one minute. I went for a short walk at sunset, and a massive blue-black cloud was flashing lightning out toward Elephant Butte, revealing the rain as a sheer curtain in each orange flare. I did a little dance, spinning and then running backwards, asking the storm to follow me home. It did, but I don’t take credit.
When I was running in the desert around noon today, I encountered a mule deer. They often look you in the eye before they run. If they even run. We circled a juniper, checking each other out, making eye contact through the branches, then she turned her back to me, did two full springs straight up in the air with a graceful tuck of all four legs, and trotted off. If anything had the power to call the storm, she did. The deer did the rain dance.
Unrelated, but perhaps of interest: The Calling, book one in the Mae Martin series, is on sale for 99 cents on all e-book retail sites through July 21st. If you’ve enjoyed my books, tell a friend. Thanks.
The smell of rain in the desert is so special it has a name: petrichor. As moisture touches rocks and soil that have been hot and dry, they release a scent of minerals and plant oils and something else I can’t place. It’s the smell of life, I think.
When I crossed the state line from Texas into New Mexico last week it was pouring, with lightning so intense it flashed pale purple. At the same time, the last faint light of evening shifted through rain on the horizon like a pale gray aurora borealis. I parked at the rest area at Glen Rio and got out and danced in a backward spin, softly singing Michael Hearn’s lovely sweet song “New Mexico Rain,” not caring or noticing if anyone saw or heard me. It was that good to be back and to have my homecoming blessed with a storm.
Today we had a long, gentle rain, the kind the Navajos call female rain. I went running in it, on a favorite trail at Elephant Butte Lake State Park. Quails peeped, crickets chirped, and there were no other sounds but the rain, my steps and my breath. The sand was firm under my feet, the lake glowed silver-blue, and low puffs of clouds floated across the flat cone-top of an extinct volcano, making it look as if it had come back to life. The subtle greens of plants whose names I don’t know—feathery and blue-tinged, needle-like and yellow-green—glowed in the diffuse light. Wet lava rocks shone black or red as their pores soaked up the water. At each curve in the trail, the rain scent varied, mingling with juniper at times, stronger when the rain increased, fainter when it faded. Normally, I work on plot problems, writing scenes in my head as I run, but today my mind was quiet, my attention captured by sounds, textures colors and petrichor.
There’s not one special memory linked to this scent, just a sense of place. Of the earth itself within the borders that delineate New Mexico, a place where the Pueblo people are dancing for the rain. When that rain touches me, I feel as though something is released in me as well from the rocks. My heart knows who I am.