We awoke today to the gentle shhhhh and SHHHLOSSSSHHHH! ing of the first rain of what we have as winter here - a bit cooler weather, rain that varies from "nostalgic" to "irritating" to "sticky/clammy" to "oh my god we don't have FLOOD insurance!/Let's walk down and look at the creek." It's a little-known fact that all native Santa Barbarans are actually made of icing sugar - if touched or affected by a bit of precipitation your average Oregonian would call a "nice day", we will go into a sequence not unlike the Wicked Witch of the West:
Funnily enough, the last two days were beautiful - clear, a few clouds scudding across the sky as if they were custom-ordered from redenvelope.com by Oprah (and who's to say they weren't?) just to enhance the indigo-green-grayish colour of the hills that frame our fair city. You know, like this:
The rain made me think of other rainy days - so I suppose this particular rain was of the "Nostalgic" variety. Roni and Pamby were born during a period of protracted southern california drought - Roni was actually born during the summer of a horrible El Nino year that gave us heat, dead fish and NO RAIN at all. No rain as a weather pattern continued for the better part of seven years. Which is really much to long of a time for a place with dry/clayey/weird soil and the erosion problems of any coastal regions. I can clearly remember the day that I realized little Roni and Pamby at ages three and five respectively, did not remember RAIN. It had indeed rained, albeit lightly and so briefly as to do no good, during their lifetimes - but they were to small to remember it.
Everyone I knew followed the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" (gross!) rule, using the minimum amount of water for everything possible, and many of us regularly took "ship showers" (you get wet, turn the water off, soap up, rinse off, etc). In January of 1991, some areas of town had water bill increases of 300 percent! Low-flow showers, toilets and lawn-watering during daylight hours were the norm and we eventually got an emergency desalinization plant. There was talk of "seeding" the clouds that would sometimes cruelly skirt our mountains, never dropping so much as a micron of rain on us. Playing in the sprinklers or on the slip n' slide was a luxury rarely permitted and almost everywhere was brown and ugly. At one point a brown bear, probably starving and thirsting to death, wandered down OUR STREET. The heat and lack of rainwater flowing into the ocean made a the plankton "bloom", causing a red tide of tiny animals that you could see from land, clotting the water and choking the fish to death. They washed up by the thousands, so going to the beach was out.
Despite all this mayhem, I was watering some of our flower beds (and my bathing-suit clad self) one hot, sticky late summer afternoon on my mom's orders. Roni and Pamby followed me outside and watched and played as I squirted the hose liberally all over the place and than high up in the air for a "shower" that sent them squealing to the corners of the yard or into the popcorn asphalted driveway that we shared with two other neighbors. I called after them, "Look you guys, its raining! Grab your umbrellas, quick!" and little Roni looked at me and said,
"What's rain?" blink, blink.
"What do you mean, what's rain? Its when water falls out of the sky, silly!"
"What? You mean when you do that with the hose and the water falls down?"
"No... when the WHOLE SKY gets cloudy and little drops of water fall all over everything, everywhere."
"Duuuuh! You're such a BA-by - not knowing what RAIN is!" See how sweet sisters are? Really, its all teaparties and dress-up days. Then I realized she was serious - she'd really never, ever seen it rain. I was astounded, and ended up saying something like, "aaaah, you really don't know, do you..sad."
In March of 1991, our "March Miracle" rain came, better late then never - finally the heavens took mercy on us and dropped twenty-two inches of rain on our poor, parched land. In one month. Although the rain was a blessing on the whole, it put my dad (construction) effectively out of work and us in some pretty dicey financial times, as opposed to the just-getting-by existence we were used to. Despite this, we all managed to enjoy the rain, even though we were heartily sick of it by April. Taking Roni and Pamby out in the driveway or even to get the mail up the street, swaddled in hand-me-down rubber boots and warm sweaters and contained in the cozy arc of an umbrella, became an adventure.
Pamby never missed an opportunity to jump into a puddle, and rarely came in with a single patch of dry skin. Roni and I loved to go to the little creek behind our neighborhood and stand on the bridge. We were used to a green, slimy ooze or no moisture at all in the cement-lined wash - the 'bad boys' and homeless used the washes as a kind of alternate sidewalk/urinal/place to tag/battleground. Now we could take leaves, and later, branches and drop them into the chocolatey, milky colored cataract that surged down the wash. Soon, we could hear and feel the deep sound of large stones, dislodged by the swollen streams that fed the wash, rumbling down towards the ocean with great knocking noises.
Lake Cachuma (say: "Ka-choo-ma" - in the native langauge of the Chumash indian it means, "Constant Sign" spilled its dam, not a moment to soon for all of us. Finally, the two little girls knew the meaning of the words, "its raining!"