An Ode to the First Rain

September 17, 2014  The first showers cross the King Range and begin to release the first rain of the water year over the Mattole Valley. [Photo by Uti Deva.]

A guest post by Uti Deva:

It’s that time again when summer is drawing to a close and the first moisture laden low pressure system pushes eastward across the Pacific ocean to the western edge of the North American continent bringing the first sight, sound, smell and taste of rain to the drought parched hills and shrunken waterways of Humboldt county. This is it, the return of hope that this water year will be kinder to the land than the last one.

This morning at dawn the sun rose on broken clouds rolling across the landscape, a nice break to the hazy throat and eye irritating smokey skies we’ve been experiencing this month from the big fire up north.  As the morning progressed so did the density of the cloud cover until the dome above me was an undulating curtain colored with infinite shades of gray.  My weather forecasts agreed that we had better than a 50-50 chance of showers later in the day, so I chose to do some last minute gardening chores to give me time to enjoy the weather show.  Besides I needed a break from the Lost Coast Outpost’s morning news stories of fresh disasters and alleged indiscretions: a young man with a gun shot by police, the town of Weed destroyed by an uncontrollable firestorm, a university official accused of going sport fishing in Alaska on the university’s tab—all rolled into the usual dance of commenters bickering over Marijuana busts and the future of the Emerald Triangle when pot is legalized.  I felt myself getting snarky and irritable, so it was good time to give myself a toodles, power down the computer and get outside to get grounded in nature; the original Prozac and Xanax.

The first rain for me is a sensory re-awakening.  The quality of light changes, the dull green of late summer gets a wash and a shine, the sky gets interesting with cloud cover in motion and the landscape loses it’s flat two dimensional quality as veiled hills become waves receding in the distance illuminated by the fast changing light patterns.   The moisture releases all sorts of fresh smells from the pungent earthy actinomycete soil bacteria, to sharp ozone, to the heady volatile oils emitted by trees and plants. They’re all mixed together into an olfactory cocktail known as the fresh rain smell. Breathe deep, it may help increase your brain serotonin levels and elevate your mood—free drugs with no negative side effects, haters, apologists or legal issues.

For me personally this first rain marks the return of the sounds of the first rain event. I lost my hearing for several years and received a cochlear implant at the beginning of summer which has restored sound to my sensory palate (as well as the ability to verbally communicate with people) and boy have I missed it. I noticed this morning as I worked that the birds were noisier than usual, undoubtedly because they knew rain was coming. One Northern Flicker was above me in a tree loudly cheering the first veils of showers across the Mattole Valley as they cleared the summits of the King Range and began to release water on Wilder Ridge south of Honeydew.  I had the sensitivity control of my implant turned up to listen to the birds, so I was aware every little sound from the crunch of my feet on dry soil to the snap of leaves being plucked.  Then it came, an unfamiliar sound I couldn’t identify until I looked up and saw the first descending drops hitting the leaves in the trees below the garden. The symphony had begun tuning up.  There was no rumbling tympani nor crack of lightning, just an ever increasing rush of millions of rain drops percussing against leaves of all shapes, wood, rocks, dirt, the wire of the deer fencing, the water tanks above me, the bucket in my hand and my body as the orchestra’s  percussion section let loose with a roar.

I stayed out experiencing the rain just a little longer than I might otherwise have without protective gear, then retreated indoors to towel off and have lunch with the door to the cabin open so I could continue enjoying my sensory feast.  It was a good start to the rain year, brief and inconsequential as far as my rain gauge is concerned, but always a welcomed signature to sign off the end the season of growth and the beginning of the season of harvest and abundance.

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