Laughing in the Rain

I’m told, and I acknowledge, that I tend to be too serious. I do have a sense of humor, but it’s of the subdued rather than the rowdy kind. Word play (though not necessarily puns) can get me laughing until the tears flow, and I chuckle readily at Maxine’s wise pronouncements. None of which has anything really to do with the topic of this post – or does it? I’ve written about the drought, about living with wildfire, and now I want to write about the visible effects of the one hour of rain and hail that came down at my place last week.
Pasturn runoff
Just a short time ago, on the United World College campus nearby, the students put on a show to entertain their parents and friends the evening before graduation. A brief but strong shower began just as the show was ending, and the audience came out of the auditorium to a covered patio overlooking lawns and the parking area. We locals ran out into the rain, laughing and dancing, delighted to get wet, while the visitors stood in huddles and worried about the plans for an outdoor graduation the next morning. We were right to reassure them; the graduation proceeded under sunny skies.
Now as I write, I am looking out my window at pasture land, still mostly brown but streaked here and there with green. New shoots that never made it up in the spring are showing themselves just in time for the summer solstice. There are thunderclouds overhead and storm warnings being broadcast on the evening news.
Meanwhile, on my kitchen windowsill, a small pot contains a sprouting avocado pit whose shoot is growing almost visibly. Each morning the small plant is an inch or more taller. I set three pits in water several months ago, hoping that I’d get one to grow. If you’ve tried to start an avocado, you know it’s not easy to get one to take root. In 1992 I succeeded, ending eventually with a tree that reached to my 8 foot ceiling. About two years ago, the tree succumbed to root rot and died. Now I’m trying again. An optimist, I see my started plant put out its daily inches, and I cheer it on to become a worthy successor to the old tree.
What does growing an avocado tree have to do with humor? The optimism of setting a seed to sprout, knowing maybe one in ten will do so; the optimism of watching for green shoots in a barren landscape after a single hour of rain; and the optimism of expecting blue skies for a graduation all reveal the kind of humor I find funny. Lighthearted commentary on the foibles of nature (human and otherwise), I find funny – like a joke my spiritual teacher told at a seminar. Apparently an older student complained of suffering from furniture disease. My teacher hadn’t heard of such an illness and asked about its symptoms. “That’s when your chest falls into your drawers.”
What I don’t find funny – but apparently many people do – is put-down humor, such as made Don Rickles famous. When I taught inside the New Mexico Penitentiary, I learned a verbal sparring the men called capping – a sort of focused one-upping that depends on witty use of words and images. Like teasing, it is funny so long as it doesn’t cross a line and become mean-spirited. The challenge is to know where that line lies. It moves. It has no more substance than a line in the sand in a windstorm.
There’s a line between drought and wetness. We certainly haven’t crossed it, barely even taken a half step in that direction, although in the last week we’ve received as much moisture as in the past eight months combined. Enough to put us on target for maybe six inches total for the year. Definitely not the end to a drought. There are people who, as soon as we get a rain, are convinced a turning point has arrived. They want to start washing their cars and watering lawns, demanding that water restrictions be lifted. I think of them standing firmly on the wrong side the common sense line. Though why we call good sense common, when it’s as rare as rain in the desert, I’ll never understand.
Some of the experts currently prognosticating are saying we are not in a drought at all but rather returning, after fifty years of abnormally wet weather, to the more usual level of rain and snow fall in this region. They get their information from tree rings and other natural sources. They were already providing this explanation a few years ago, when the pinyon trees around Santa Fe were attacked and destroyed by bark beetle. The trees had moved into lower altitudes than they have historically been found, apparently because of the wetter conditions, and now are subject to stress and attack in the renewed cycle of dryness. I recall the explanation being offered. I don’t recall many people listening. I do have amusing visions of pinyon trees as an army moving across a moonlit terrain, an inch each night so as not to be noticed, until they arrived at those lower altitudes where they set up camp. Sadly, they were not able to retreat back to safety in the same stealthy manner. Their dead copses still litter the landscape.
It isn’t funny to live without water, although such a situation provides ample material for jokes. In Saigon, in my childhood, we had running water for only an hour a day, during which we stored what we’d need in large vats. A shower (of which several were needed daily due to the steamy heat) consisted of pouring a bucket of water over oneself, soaping up, then pouring another bucket to rinse. Unless it was the rainy season. Then we could easily take the soap, strip and go stand in the garden to get a lovely soaking and cleansing. Visitors hearing about a garden shower might ask, “baby or bridal?” Locals (we were kids, remember) would giggle as we replied, “neither.”
I’m convinced a sense of humor is essential to living – with climate extremes, with other people, within society. Without humor, who would have the patience to start ten avocado pits and see only one take root? Who would continue to vote, expecting the next batch of politicians to somehow be different? Who would dance in the rain?
Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Ima who?
Ima doing my best to make you smile.

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One Response to “Laughing in the Rain”

  1. Ron Maltais Says:

    I appreciated your refreshing contemplation of rain and our various reactions to it. Last night I too enjoyed the lightning, thunder and periodic rains later in the evening. It was a wonderful relief and I was already imagining the bits of green grass which are already noticeable this morning. I went outside into my small patio garden at midnight just to revel in the crisp, clear night air. The mild breezes were an added delight. I had just brought 2 lilac bushes to my neighbor yesterday afternoon, and we planted them quickly before the roots could dry out. The rain will certainly help them get settled. I suppose you could consider it a natural christening or perhaps the equivalent of breaking a bottle of champagne on the front of a boat before it’s maiden voyage.

    A colleague of mine who left New Mexico 3 years ago for a job in Atlanta is visiting to teach some summer workshops, and we drove around a bit yesterday, doing some errands. Our conversation touched on the drought situation. He could definitely see the changes and I noticed that over the landscape there were more pine trees drying up than I had ever seen before. We have no option but to accept what the weather is and its consequences but I was wondering if the pine trees we have grown accustomed to in our environment really belong here. Historical photographs of this area 100 years ago reveal landscapes which were almost barren in comparison to our current lush forests in the northern regions of our state.

    In closing I am a bit surprised to find myself responding to numerous articles on this blog. I must thank Niki for inspiring me to organize my thoughts in writing. Should I continue??

    Ron Maltais

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