Learning not to fear the rain


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Category: Reflections Date: 02 Dec 99

“I can’t stand the rain against my window, bringing back sweet memories.” - Tina Turner


“Rain is falling” is the most poetic phrase in our local parlance. As I write this, on this inky dark night, a windy tropical downpour drums a cool tune, a mild breeze puffs out the curtains, carries smells of sweet damp earth, lime leaves and crushed flowers.


“Rain is falling” is evocative of everything from a torrent to misty drizzle. It conjures up afternoons reading in bed on old soft cotton sheets and mushy pillows, with one hand cupped around warm indulgent drinks: brandy and warm water, coffee and cream, hot chocolate, while the rain drums on galvanised roofs, drips off pipes, drenches trees. It’s about the way fat individual drops line up along telephone lines, wobble and quiver and quickly fall with the speed of light. It’s about the orchestra of music it creates: rattles on  cement, base drums on galvanize, chac chacs on plants, a soft hum on delicate stalks and petals.


It’s occasionally accompanied by the whip and crack of thunder, and the swish of tyres on wet roads. It’s about hypnosis, as you watch streaks descend window panes; it’s about inky cosy nights, pajamas and an album of blues, while you sit with your feet curled under you; it’s about fine misty rain gathering like moisture on your skin and hair, about gleaming pavements reflecting lights.


It washes away gray skies and nourishes the cracked earth. There’s a devil-may-care quality about it: the way it makes people skip out of the way of a puddle, or splash of a car; duck from the points of someone’s umbrella, rumples blow-dried hair, soils silk shirts, wets beds and smashes window panes. And it does worse where we have slashed and burned, dispensed with drainage, cut into hillsides: uproots crops, drowns children in floods. But this is about poetry, not human shortsightedness, so let’s not go there.


Tobago introduced me to the whole mystique surrounding rain in the Caribbean. People wouldn’t iron and then “go in the fridge” since it would give them a cold. In our tropical humid heat, babies and toddlers are dressed up in woollen caps since “dew is falling” even when the sky is clear and beams a million stars and a full moon - another bit of pure poetry. I couldn’t see dew drops falling anywhere, just settling on large leaves and wobbling on huge pink and orange tropical flowers, but that’s another bit of poetry.


There was a time, before these Caribbean poetic truisms soaked into my skin, I would rush out in torrents of rain, step into puddles and delight in rainwater running down my cheeks. Once because I fell in love with the fine moisture-like quality of rain in Devon, I walked three villages and back to a holiday cottage in the dark, triumphant, bearing useless bits of twigs for fire and wildflowers to decorate the mantlepiece, feeling as free as a woodsprite and a tramp.


But there is nothing as primal as swimming in the sea in a tropical downpour. The fat drops warm and rock the sea, wash over you like a blessing. But after a while myths soak in. Once I caught a cold after running in the rain and did the worst. Got safe. Carried umbrellas. Minced around puddles, waited till it stopped. I lost the falling rain but didn’t know how much I missed it until last Sunday’s visit to the Hollis Dam.


A picnic had been planned. But, just as we were about to set off,  rain started falling. It poured, it thundered, it flashed, it flooded, it splashed and sploshed on the windshield wipers. But our expedition was headed by a determined former army officer so two cars, five children including a six-month-old baby set off. We drove through miles of rain, sleeting across fields of grass, bending palms, peeling roofs, fecund dripping fruit trees. Past the entrance we drove, over three fragile bridges into the depths beneath which we had images of plunging. We stopped short. A tree had fallen across our path. Undeterred, the oldest man amongst us leapt out to move it.


The young men followed reluctantly, rain pouring down their cheeks. Their hands and arms were soiled with wet mud and leaves by the time they moved enough branches to allow us to continue. It was like being on the set of Jurassic Park. On either side was dense foliage through which we glimpsed bits of a river, waterfalls. But it didn’t prepare us for the heart-stopping sight we beheld as we rounded the last corner: a calm wide expanse of water, above which was a hilly green path lit up by palettes of white wildflowers. A sloping shed leading to the water was where we set down our picnic baskets and spread our cloth.


After picnicking, everyone but the baby frolicked in the rain for three hours - followed the path to the end, singing, running, pushing our wet shoes deep into puddles, shaking a pomarac tree for fruit and biting into its pungent sweetness, picking flowers, examining plants, walking down the steep slope to immerse our palms into the warm water. We were drenched to the bone, but its healing qualities had seeped in deeper.


That night, as we got into pajamas after warm showers and stirred soup on the stove I felt as if an essential tenderness of the soul was restored. Some of the muck of artificial fear, of stuffiness, stiffness, was removed. “I learned”, said the young Trini man of good humour as he tucked into his soup, “that I don’t need to fear the rain.”


And no one caught cold.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur