I sit in the courtyard watching a raven in the rain. He is sitting in a palm tree in the distance, moving up and down in the light wind, but he seems to be enjoying himself. I count the seconds between the lightening and the thunder. Sable goes inside, hides under the bed, the only marring of my delight. In the kitchen I hear a loud popping sound and look out the window half expecting to see a palm tree in flames. Outside again, the birds take flight in unison, and I crane my neck looking for a hawk. He lands in my neighbor’s tree, and I move the binoculars to my eyes in slow motion. He’s all wet, his neck feathers slick and clumping like the wet fur of a cat. He is gorgeous, regal, his golden eyes fiercely alive. Later, I eat popcorn in bed, my eyes closing on my book, and let sleep claim me. I drift from dozing to deep sleep and back again, the steady rain soaking through all my layers. It is this long nap in the rain on a summer afternoon, so rare here, that is most alive in me now as I write, embedded in my flesh, touched by the divine. Did I remember to thank you? After, I go for a walk in the late dusk. I place each foot with care, small frogs hopping out of my way with every step I take.
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.
I’ve heard the mockingbird singing from the top of the fan palm three mornings in a row. Today when I was lying on my back in the courtyard on my yoga mat, I listened to the verdin’s sweet three-note call. I pictured him sitting in the pine tree, his bright yellow cap and cheerful eyes hidden among the long green needles. Last week, both the hibiscus and the apricot mallow began to bloom again. The crickets have woken up, too. In spite of still mostly three-digit temperatures, they all recognize the secret signals, a heady mixture of the fewer hours of high heat each day, the angle of the sun making its way south, the nights in the seventies. And they aren’t grumbling like I am–tired of the heat, my tolerance used up–though they have more reason to than I who could escape it. They don’t indulge in weariness–they bounce. They celebrate in song, in bloom.
And their festivities cheer me on. I relish the feel of the cotton sheet over me in the early hours of the morning, the occasional weight of Sofia against leg or hip, missing for months now, a welcome surprise. I look forward to the day when I’ll be seeking the warmth of the sun on the patio when I do my yoga instead of hiding from it. I’ve lived in California most of my life, and still I bristle when someone tells me there are no seasons here. They are subtle but marked. Do not tell me otherwise. Soon the long clusters of green berries on the fan palm will ripen, and the starlings will feast, scattering in shiny black chattering when I walk outside. The days will grow shorter, the blue of the sky deeper. Riding my bike will become sheer bliss. Sometimes I think our desert, where some claim we have only two seasons, may mark the changes in the year more clearly than other parts of the state. Though I realize the changes are less visual than visceral. Here in the fall we begin to reawaken. We return to a state of grace, of ease in the outdoors.
The seasons were subtle in the places I lived in Mexico, too. But they were undeniable unless you just weren’t paying attention. In Todos Santos, the summer rains made for muggy heat, a boon for bugs, biting and otherwise. But it washed the dusty desert clean, changed the color of the world, the lush plant life made new. In winter you could go barefoot in the warm dry days. I remember sitting in my third-floor roost in La Casa Azul, my feet propped up against the rebar railing, marveling at being barefoot in the middle of January. You knew it was winter there by the nights. In Ajijic, jacarandas trumpeted the burgeoning spring, their lilac blossoms littering the cobblestones. The “rainbirds” were the harbingers of the summer rains, not birds at all but insects, a kind of cicada, I think. You could mark the onset of the rains on the calendar from the date you first heard the rainbirds sing. Autumn there meant a world of green, the hills bathed in all their new-growth glory after months of nightly rain. And fresh, sweet corn was everywhere.