Rain accelerates as it falls. Mass times acceleration—the force of raindrops on paved streets. Simple Newtonian physics.
There is an art to rainfall, however. Science has quantified it, developed theories of weather and high pressure and low pressure and electric potential, randomness (or rather, entropy), but science cannot make it come when it is needed. At least, not without upsetting some greater balance.
It hasn’t rained here in a long time.
This is not to say, of course, that the streets are not wet, windshield wipers not roused from dormancy for months on end. But the meteorologists and the community are unified in their knowing—a few halfhearted sprinklings accomplish nothing. Those who are old enough to remember the last real drought in California tell stories to their children, of 1976, when water was rationed and the lawns were let alone to die and the cars donned a fashionable layer of dust. It was not so bad, they say. Not so bad as many things. But do not think that because it is 2009, it cannot happen to you.
They mean to awaken an awareness of our circumstances with these stories, but not to emphasize our impending misery. 1976 and 1977 marked the harshest recorded drought in Californian history, but it was nothing really, in the scope of things. 2009, too, is nothing really, beyond statistical data. But you can extrapolate, surely, they urge. Imagination is an instrument of both art and science. (From rainfall to everything.)
I imagine the hills green, watered finally with something enough to grow grasses that are not weeds. This is not what my parents intended in regards to imagination, but I am very spoiled and it is very dry.
In its absence, rain can only be defined in terms of collections of statistics. In the newspapers, ‘inches of rain to date’ are recorded, and after the comics the children watch the static numbers, waiting for a change. They are like sports scores or movie ratings. Fremont received 1.6 inches of rain this month; Livermore got 2.5. Livermore must be winning somehow, the children think. But how and what, they do not know.
We need the rain, their teachers explain. But more than that, we need the snow. The need and the numbers together mean as little as they did separately, and the children’s thoughts return to the movie ratings. It rains in one of the scenes in Watchmen, they think.
One does not get caught in the rain, the way the movies claim. One does not escape it, for wont of warmth and comfort and dryness. Flash floods and late buses and one’s lack of an umbrella, however unfortunate, are not characters in that drama.
On the third of March, a vagrant storm blows in so hard, my voice is lost in the downpour and my vision limited to only the liters and liters of water streaming down the bus’s (and indeed it was late, because of the rain) window.
Two small children stare out of their own window, not in a bus but in a home; they sit inside and look out, because it is too wet to play. A cat in a top hat walks in and brings the fun to them. The Cat in the Hat, the story is called.
A world away, there is another cat, sitting in a hat on a street corner. The rain grinds away at the brick mortar that keeps the city buildings standing tall. But they are as forgotten as the cat, no matter how the pneumatic tubes—which crawl skeleton-like through the buildings—howl in the storm.
Rain beats a syncopated rhythm, not unlike the sound of the city’s tubes, on the roof of a home in Vietnam. The home is a boat and the roof is made from flattened aluminum cans, and the rain fuels the river on which the boat resides. Tic tic tic the beats sound, like clockwork. The clock strikes another hour past, and the dream moves on.
It is my home, this time; the river now flows in a street gutter, and rushes by my bare feet. My feet are pale and cold, and goosebumps stand up on my arms, tiny hairs catching the rainfall. In my elation I throw my head back to catch the droplets, and they fall into my eyes like someone else’s tears. (Of joy, I hope, but maybe not.) There is still story yet to tell, and I am caught in the rain until I hear it out.
Yes, I can imagine life without this, I plan to tell my parents that night. And it is not about ration orders from the water district, brown hills, nor cracked earth. It is an entirely different sort of drought, separate from the tangible science of it.
There are pictures in the rainfall—some mirages, others mirrors. One becomes caught in their stories and expressions. Rain comes down, and the imagination reaches up to meet it. A connection is established, from which there can be no escape.
The rain keeps coming.
Scholarship essay. I can't do many of these, mostly because they require you to have an opinion. It's gradually becoming clear to me that I have very few opinions--on anything that really matters, in any case. Rain, however, happens to be something of which I do have an opinion, which was fortuitous indeed. Why a scholarship essay would choose rain as its topic, uh. Well, it's San Francisco. What can you expect?
the little boat. Most definitely stolen from Steinbeck's Vietnam War journalism. I love the image, though; it's just one of those things I'll never forget.