The gray on the horizon isn’t wildfire smoke anymore. It’s rain. Heavy, thick clouds bearing blessings. Everything is new. Everything has changed. Turtleback Mountain wore a double rainbow this week instead of a brown haze, and every wrinkle in its rocky skin was visible when sunset sliced through the clouds, painting the mountain gold.
The sand in the desert is damp, dotted with the footprints of raindrops, marked with flowing rivulets and the slender tracks of snakes. A humble puddle is a miracle. A wet lizard clings to a rock, trying to get warm. I feel a bit sorry for him. He looks grumpy. But I’m joyful. Monsoon season. It’s always a cause for gratitude and awe, and this year even more than ever.
Noise fast. News fast. Brain clearing. I need it all. It’s necessary to be informed, and to be informed in depth, but I need space inside my mind as well. I took Thanksgiving as a news fast. After spending time with a good friend, I went out walking in the remarkable rain that moistened the desert for two and half days.
I try to stay out of stores during this season as much as possible. My family doesn’t do a gift exchange, and I want to avoid catchy pop Christmas tunes that stick in my head. I heard a particularly “cute” one in the laundromat four days ago, and it still intrudes to grate on my mind now and then. I need a good dose of classical music to rinse my synapses.
As I listen to Beethoven’s seventh symphony, I realize how important silence is in music. The dramatic, suspenseful pauses as well as the tiny spaces in which the musicians take a breath and the fractions of seconds that are neither one note nor the next. Without silence, there’s no structure, no movement, no pattern, no melody.
I took a walk under the full moon tonight with no sounds but my steps.
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
Finally. A real monsoon.
The sky had to work up to it. After a couple of weeks with temperatures in the upper nineties and low hundreds, it took a few days of clouds and passing sprinkles to cool things off enough that rain could survive its trip to the ground without evaporating in mid-air in those beautiful but maddening long gray brushstrokes. This is a tough place to be a water droplet, but at last they came together in a grand, full-sized storm. And then the power went out. I tried not to think about how long it would be off or what would happen to the week’s groceries I had just put away. I stumbled and groped my way outside and sat under the overhanging roof to watch the rain, feel the cool (probably eighty-something) night air, and enjoy the view of T or C without lights. Occasional passing cars lit the streets, but the only steady glow was from the full moon behind the storm and one tiny cloud-hole with a star in it. My neighbors a few doors down were already sitting outside, their voices softer than the rain.
Having had little time for writing all day, I brought paper and pen out with me to do the mandala for the book in progress. I could see well enough by the clouded moonlight, and it didn’t have to be a work of art. This process was due, like the rain. I had to work up to it with eight chapters first, to see who was going to be in this book and get a sense of where the conflicts and connections would be. Able to see well enough to draw, I made a circle with the names of my protagonist and her significant other in the center and all the other characters’ names around them, connected in complex patterns that swirled around the outside and wove through the inside of the circle. It was satisfying, and will remind me of relationships and loose ends and potential allies as well as enemies. This is as close as I get to an outline, and I will refer back to it often. I got the mandala idea from Writing as a Sacred Path by Jill Jepson, which I found in Santa Fe’s magical Ark Books several years ago. Every book I’ve written has had a mandala.
I finished it and the moon emerged. The rain was over and big puddles reflected the moon back at herself from the streets and alleys. Then the power returned. My neighbors and I stood at the same time, and as if we were driven to light like moths we went inside to the electric glare, leaving the moon behind.
Picture: Luna023 by Cezar Suceveanu