I wake to a world washed clean in the night, dark patches of wet in the road, fleeting evidence. I sweep while water heats for my tea and for the hummingbird’s sugar water to replace the rain-diluted batch hanging in the courtyard. I squeeze grapefruits my friend Bob brings me from his tree, four halves with the yellow plastic hand juicer I bought when I lived in Ajijic. I phone Mami, and we talk about the rain. I tell her how my friend Richard wanted it to rain at night. (I am a fan of daytime rain though I think drifting in and out of sleep to the sounds of falling rain is one of the best things in the world.) “He got what he wanted,” I say. My words echo another’s earlier this month and make me wince. I shy away from that memory, but for one flicker I wonder if my comment holds that same resentment. I hope not. But now I am alert to the phrase, curious to know if it always evokes the other one who did not get what she wanted, if it is always stained in that way by a little bit of ugly.
I wake at 4am to the sound of soft rain falling. I get up and go outside to put the lid on my trash can filled with tecoma branches and bougainvillea trimmings. I am naked from sleeping. I stand in the dark courtyard for a long moment and feel the gentle raindrops on my bare skin. A kind of childlike awe fills me that borders on the edge of glee, only more quiet. In the morning the rain has stopped. After I fill the bird feeders and put clean water in their terra cotta saucers, I stand again in the courtyard (clothed now). I marvel at the delicious beauty of my little garden. The colors and the freshness of it, the fuchsia blossoms on the bougainvillea, the pale orange of the sprawling apricot mallow, the bright yellow of a small sunflower, all washed clean by the gentle rain. And poised now, ready for the promise of the birds.
I’m engrossed in preparing for one of my classes. I sit for hours with my laptop making choices again and again about how to bring my course over into this new online learning system. Each time I need to make a small decision, I have to try to figure out how it works, explore the possibilities of the software first, then choose what seems best. Nothing is simple. But I have given up lamenting being forced to switch over. Because I am inside it now, fully engaged, no longer frustrated by the limitations of the software, only fascinated by the process, the details, the decisions. All day while I work the rain comes, steady and sweet. The birds are loud outside the window. Now and then I remember to stop to listen, look up, savor their boisterousness. In the early afternoon, I hear a soft skrittery sound. A hummingbird is sitting on the open louvers. She is out of the rain. I talk to her, touched and honored. I hope the warm air from the heater wafts over her perch. At one point I realize how good it feels to be immersed in my work like this. But I want to go for a walk, see how full the creek bed is. In the not quite dusk, I get a glimpse of the mountains when the clouds part, and I know I’ll regret it if I don’t get out there. I tear myself away from my laptop, pull my wild fuzzy magenta scarf over my head. I take my lime green umbrella, lock the door behind me. I refuse to bring my flashlight because I want my pockets free. The umbrella feels like enough of an encumbrance. Later I realize I didn’t even bring my key, but I don’t care. I stand beside the creek, the clean air cold on my face, and watch the water move. I startle a cottontail. I walk to the foot bridge where the falling water gets loud, then away again, the frogs and the wide moving water always beside me. I dream of snow falling on our mountains as I walk. It’s dark when I get back, and the light in the living room makes my home look warm and inviting. I dig out the spare key, glance at the courtyard in the light from the three paper solar lanterns in a row along the shed. Everything is glistening in the wet dark. I feel lucky and grateful for my home, for knowing I get to be warm and dry, get to have a good dinner. Before I go inside, I pick two handfuls of mustard greens for my soup. I even have a good book waiting for my Friday night. It feels like the ending of an ordinary day in an extraordinary way. Thank you.
It rains off and on, steady and quiet in the night. When I prop myself up on my elbows to peer over the windowsill in the early morning, I see a swathe of pale orange across the southern sky. Half awake and planning to go back to sleep again, I look west and see a rainbow. I grab my lime green umbrella and my mini iPad and juggle them in the rain to take a picture, goofy and awkward, but it’s no use. The image doesn’t begin to capture the light in it, the magic. I make oatstraw and alfalfa tea and climb back under the covers, my feet cold from my foray. I sip my hot tea and watch the mountains, shrouded in mist. I listen to my birds. My thoughts drift to a colleague. My belly clenches, a messy swirl inside me at the memory, feeling not heard, dismissed, angry, hurt. I wake up to the moment and remember. “May I hold you with kindness,” I say out loud to the feelings. I missed this part of the vipassana practice until two weeks ago when I was listening to a recording of Sylvia Boorstein, and it just came into me. I wonder how I missed it. I see it, after, in my beginner’s book I am rereading, right there in the first pages. It is Boorstein’s phrase, too, that Ian invokes each time we begin sitting practice. “May I meet this moment fully. May I meet it as a friend.” I’ve always loved it, but I didn’t make the connection until now. It has holding our feelings with kindness at the heart of it. Just like Thich Nhat Hanh’s, “Hello anger, my old friend.” But I didn’t get it until now, that direct turning toward our feelings each time they arise, welcoming them. I wonder if maybe I needed to foster enough self-kindness in more general terms before this practice of receiving uncomfortable feelings like old friends was even practical for me. I knew we needed to accept what comes, knew we needed to be kind to ourselves, but it didn’t click. What comes to me this morning is my colleague’s behavior is not a reflection of her regard for me. It’s only what she does, and I take it personally. I cry quick, sweet tears. I return to my big cup of golden tea resting on the covers in my lap, warm my hands against its sides. My toes are warm now, too. And my heart.
Summer in Palm Springs requires a kind of stamina, I think. You discover ways to cope with the searing heat. Again and again you count the months remaining until it will be over. We are not quite there yet, and I haven’t given up hope for a stretch of cooler days still between us, but temperatures here are set to keep hugging 100 degrees for at least a few more days. Last summer we had thunderstorms, and I got excited at the thought that global warming might bring a monsoon season to our valley here. When I left town for my annual work retreat in June, I dragged all of my potted plants and trees into a clump and set an automatic sprinkler on them. When I got back, I left the odd little jungle in the corner of our courtyard garden. I liked looking at all that green in one place. Then one day when I was sitting on the patio something went awry with the water pressure, and instead of my 4-foot tall circle of water the sprinkler shot up twice that high. I closed my eyes, and the water hitting the umbrella sounded just like pouring rain. I could hear it pounding on the roof, hear it running off my neighbor’s trailer. When it was done, the wooden fence was soaked, and if I looked at only that one corner, that almost quarter of my courtyard, it was exactly as though the world had been drenched, made new by rainstorm. It felt incredible. In spite of the drought, I couldn’t resist letting it run another time or two before I reeled myself back in. I wanted that feeling again, had no idea we could manufacture it. It made me want to fill the courtyard with plants and drench them like that every day. It made me wish I could just keep letting the sprinkler run amock. And remembering this unintended luxury, I will tuck it away for a possible repeat this summer, one desperate day in July or August. Maybe just knowing it’s an option will ease that sense of desperation in the endless brutal heat.
The first time it rained last summer made our trailer home in some subtle, indescribable way. I lay in bed in the early morning listening to the rain falling on the metal roof. I reveled in the sound and the smell of it, fresh dirt and wet pavement coming through the open louvered windows. It’s been one of my secret hopes that global warming will mean Palm Springs gets to have monsoon season like Arizona and parts of Mexico. Lying there in bed, listening and breathing, something loosened in me. The rain outside our metal shell made us one, somehow, the rain falling on us together. Later I went for a walk with my lime green umbrella. I stood for a long time beneath a big tree at the school listening to raindrops falling on the leaves. The rain woke me up, had me walking through the rock labyrinth on the way home, each step on the wet dirt slow and deliberate, my lungs outside my body, the wet air breathing me.
The air has been terrible for weeks. It brings back dim memories of smog-choked mountains from my first nightmare summer here, images I’ve told myself in the intervening years I must have misremembered or exaggerated in my own dark gloom. I check the air quality in the Los Angeles Times every morning, little colored circles, green, yellow, orange or red. We have been orange almost every day, “unhealthy for sensitive individuals.” Once we were even red, the only one, a danger for everyone, while the rest of southern California was green or yellow. It’s so bad it makes me not want to live here, has me back on craigslist combing for rentals, a part of me screaming inside to get away. Do I live near a nuclear power plant? Head for Blythe or Algondones? Can I trade this sun, this warmth I’ve become so spoiled by? They’ve been in the 60s at the beach all summer. It makes me shudder. (Oh, and yes, I realize summer has not yet actually begun, but we’ve been in the 100s for over a month already. It skews my perspective.)
Can I live like this, with this foul air, if it’s only for a handful of months every third summer? In Ajijic it was the spring months that were bad. I arrived in April, shocked by the horrible air. They allow agricultural burning, so all the fields in Jalisco were turned to ash in preparation for the summer planting, and the smoke would gather above the lake, blotting out the mountains on the southern shore. Like here, people would gaze back at me, a blank look on their faces, when I lamented the smog. How can they not notice? It’s with me always, my body’s instincts on guard against it. My lungs take shallow breaths, as though they might reduce the damage. And our mountains, our glorious mountains that are a presence everywhere, are diminished by the smog. My eyes seek them out again and again throughout the day. But instead of their surprising nearness, their magnificence that makes my heart leap in my chest, they are made distant, dulled, lessened by the ugly air that clings to them.
When I lived in Ajijic I imagined a life where I would escape each spring, moving the cats to Puerto Vallarta for April, May, June. Now I fantasize about escaping to Ajijic for July, August, September. Soon the cicadas will arrive in the village, if they aren’t there already, harbingers of the nighttime summer rains. I lived in the hills where the lightning clung, the thunder crashing close to our tile roofs in the middle of the night, like no noise I’ve ever known, the fierce roar of the gods. I’d lie on my back in the dark, my bedroom windows open to the north and east, the lightning bright behind my eyelids. I’d listen to the thunder’s echoes roll out across the lake below, the sound reverberating for long moments as it traveled across the basin. At some point the downpour began, rain racing off downspouts like Niagara Falls, making rivers of our steep streets. In the mornings the wet cobblestones would shine in the sunlight, all dust banished from our world. I’d look out my kitchen window to the nearby ridge, the crest of our hill. The air would be washed clean, too, in the brilliant summer light, the kind of sharp clarity that makes you want to launch yourself from the rooftop out into the blue sky, to take wing across our world.