Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Rain Dance

The summer of 1978 in southeastern Maine was hot, sultry, and insolent.

At first we loved it. It was sunny every day, there was hardly a cloud in the sky, and the temperatures were hot, and got hotter as July wore on. 

I was working at a summer camp as a general staff member for ten bucks a week plus room and board. The work was steady, sometimes back-breaking, but since I was working with the horses, I had about three hours a day when I was in my element. The rest was tough slogging: sweat and biting critters (mosquitoes and blackflies) with no end to the joe-jobs: kitchen duty, food prep, and cleaning public toilets after every day of use by 8-year-old boys who had no parents around to monitor their TP usage (shudder!)

And the weather! The camp bordered a large lake, and we caught ourselves gazing longingly at the boats filled with sports fishermen from the fishing camp up the road, imagining how cool it would feel to be out on the water. The grass started to go yellow; the dirt got harder and harder. A creek ran through the center of the camp, and as the weeks wore on, we kicked up dust clods when we walked across the compound, and the creek dwindled from three feet deep down to ... barely a trickle. 

A similar moth invasion happened in British Columbia
in the summer of 2011

The first week of August was when the moth swarms hit. The streetlight just outside the dorms was eclipsed by thousands of moths in a mad frenzy to get to the light source - night after night for nearly a week - it was eerie. And just as quickly, they were gone. 

Yet still, no rain. We wondered when (or if) the skies would break. The heat was oppressive. Tempers flared. We tried to focus on our duties, and we tried not to complain, but we knew that every one of us was praying for a thunderstorm. In private conversations, we questioned how long this dry spell could last. The air was oppressively heavy. Everything was an effort. 

One afternoon around August 13, the guys and I (there were three of us who worked with the horses) decided to take the horses out for a ride in the woods and beyond the usual trail ride boundaries, to give them (and us) a break.

We'd gotten to the other end of the trail and into a farmer's field, about a half-mile away from the camp paddock, when we heard it. A low, distant rumble. "Is that...?" one of us asked. Then we heard another - this time much closer. We looked up. The sky had gotten dark with clouds. It had been sunny when we left. 

The field lit up with a blast of heat-lightning, followed closely by thunder. It was getting closer. We looked at each other, gulped, and wordlessly turned back toward the camp. 

The rain started just before we turned into the back part of the trail. It wasn't any kind of rain we'd ever seen though. The drops were about a half-inch in diameter, and they were pelting down ... straight down ... splashing off the hard-packed earth. Our clothes were soaked completely through in seconds. Lightning lit the trail path, coated now with soggy pine needles, criss-crossed with tree roots - the thunder was nearly constant. In the five minutes or so that it took to get back through the labyrinth - the trees lining both sides of the trail and and arching over our heads. Yet our canopy provided no protection from the pelting rain. 

Finally we reached the paddock and one of us hopped off his mount and opened the gate. Hurriedly we took our gear off the animals and led them back to the lean-to, where there was some shelter from the rain. We put some hay in the hay-rack and hung up the gear, and trudged back to the camp, another quarter mile - this time on foot. 

My comrades ran ahead of me... I figured I was already as wet as I could get, so I walked. As I did, I was aware of the rain pelting down on my head, running past my eyebrows and off my eyelashes; what didn't run off the eyelashes rolled down my face freely and ran off my chin in a little rivulet. 

It was raining.  It was RAINING!

I rounded the corner and saw the girls' dormitories: two large buildings. My room was in the left building, but my best girlfriend, whom I had met only a couple of months previously, stayed in the right-hand dorm. I turned right, went to her door, and knocked. She answered the door and I squinted at her astonished face. 

"It's raining!" I yelled above the thunder.

Her face brightened. "Yes! Yes it is!  Wait a sec!" She went to her bunk, slipped on her shoes, and came outside, where her hair immediately began to get as soaked as mine. She grabbed my hand and pulled me out into the dirt between the two buildings. There, we spread our arms wide, turned our faces toward the sky, and twirled, laughed and spun like little kids, splashing in the puddles and shrieking in delight. The creek was nearly flooding its banks, lapping up against the bridge in brown wavelets of mirth. Once she was as drenched as I was, and we had laughed so hard our sides ached and we were spent, we each headed back to our respective dorm rooms and began the process of cleaning up.

That girlfriend and I still stay in touch; our friendship has seen us through some pretty tough (and great) times. I think about that "rain dance" often. I think of it when I get too caught up in the past, or the future, and forget to enjoy the moment. It helps. 

It reminds me that even the things I think are bad ... can sometimes end up very good.

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