Outdoor Adventures: Waiting for a summer rain
By Mitch Mode
It was clear at daybreak, eastern sky washed in light, and mild; the night had been gentle and the early morning promised the same. The dogs ran to the edge of the lawn, disappeared in the thick green of lilac and flower; emerged from the tangle then raced along the boundary of lawn and garage and fence. They came to the door for breakfast, ate, then drifted off to beds, curled up and slept.
An hour later it was darker than it had been at the dawning and the sky was heavy with cloud and the air thick with promise of storm. Breeze strengthened, became wind. Cloud swirled above, lowered and the air was rich; weather grew as if a dark flower.
Distant thunder; pause; thunder again, nearer. The day darkens as if morning has tilted toward dusk like a teeter totter; what was up becomes down; what was light becomes dark. Early morning mimics late evening.
Thunder; flash of lightning. The trees wave wildly as if startled. The wind rises and then the sound of leaf in the wind changes and I realize it is not wind in trees but rain coming in a rush of urgency.
It has been a time since rain fell, least it seems that way. It has been hot and it has been dry and there comes a time when the thought of missing rain builds as clouds build in summer; slowly, steadily, rising ever higher. That has been my thought of rain of late; a building, gradual but steady of wanting it to rain.
I have worked in the heat of our old house this summer, screens and fans providing meager relief. The heat wears on one as grit can wear on the sharp blade of steel. In days of heat I have felt my temper fray and I have lacked good humor.
I have ridden bicycles in the heat of this July, building miles as a mason builds a wall; one piece at a time, shorter rides of spring passing; distances increasing as the summer sun rises. I rode in the afternoons when the heat was highest.
I rode miles on backwoods blacktop that too often provided scant shelter from the sun.
I rode on fresh blacktop on the state highway, Highway 17, blacktop new and hot and I rode past the machines and the men that worked on them. We exchanged glances, the workers and I, neither one of us wishing to trade places with the other. There was no shade on the new tar and the heat shimmered and the acrid smell of fresh asphalt rose like smoke and seemed to carry the taste of brimstone.
The white line on the black tar was as bright as the sun itself and I could see my shadow sharp and detailed as I rode.
I rode on gravel lanes where the dust lifted into the summer heat as a brown fog that had body and weight but no soul and no mercy. My tires scrabbled for traction and I felt as if I was stalled out and that the dry sand was as of quicksand.
I rode on fire lanes and dodged shadow and dappled light that danced and wove as if reflected light on water. The woods to the side were green and lush, a heavy velvet curtain that parted at times to reveal deeper shadows then closed back down as if to hide a secret world.
But I never rode in rain.
There were times I wished for rain, times when the miles and the heat wore on me and my mind would slide to distraction and my legs would ache and the saddle felt like a brick and I wished for rain to cool me and to take my mind off the ache of the ride on that day. I carried water bottles and wanted to pour one over my back to cool me but I never did; I needed it to drink to get me home in the heat.
On days as that I wanted rain. But it never rained.
Now in the cooling of the morning and the darkness of dusk come early, now it rained. It rained hard and steady and the thunder shook the world. It rained and the wind drove the rain and I watched the street gutters fill and run as rivers run, downhill and with power.
I carried a cup of hot coffee and walked to the front door, opened the screen door and sat on the top step under the roof of the porch that gave shelter. I sat there and I slowed my mind down and I watched the rain but more than that I felt the rain not on my skin but in my mind. I’d missed rain; now it was here. I settled down and let the power of the rain fill the world.
I heard a soft whine at my shoulder; Riika had come to the door. I opened the screen and she came out, tentative. Her face was at my level and I watched her nostrils quiver and flare and take in the sweet smell of the rain. She stepped one step out and looked at me and then sat next to me. I put my hand on her and felt her tremble and I wondered, Excitement? Fear? Anticipation? What was she feeling?
There is a feel of fresh rain that is near indescribable, an overpowered scent and freshness, all encompassing, as if the air is charged with higher oxygen and to simply breathe in that air brings comfort and peace of mind. There is a coolness to it, a wonder to it, a peacefulness to it even as the storm can rage all around.
We sat, Riika and I, on the step on the rainy morning, sat and took it all in until the storm passed and all that remained was the wet grass and the puddles on the pavement and the sweetness of the air and the memory of rain that was a long time coming.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post downtown, Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800. To comment on this story, go to StarJournalNow.com.