“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” ~ Langston Hughes.
I was born in a part of the world that was always famous for its rain. Manchester, in the north west of England was so wet and dreary that a comedian from the area once joked that he missed summer that year, he was taking a bath at the time! Jamaicans who moved to England in the Windrush era did not know how to handle the weather. One person who was transplanted in the winter months, was overjoyed one morning to see the sun had come out. Outside she went in her short-sleeved dress, welcoming the feel of the sun on her skin. Only the sun had no warmth, the weather was bitterly cold and back inside she ran!
I left England for the tropics about the same time as they started to clean up the environment in the UK. They moved from the sooty, smoky regular coal to a ‘smoke-less’ version – less pollution. Once they steam-cleaned the black-bricked buildings in the city of Manchester, it turned out that the sand-stone bricks were actually a pleasing shade of light yellow! The pea-souper fogs of famous London town soon were relegated to stories and old movies. Fog still arises from time to time, but never that dense, can’t see your hand in front of your face, kind of soup.
I once read that in some Native American languages they have two names for rain. One represents ‘female’ rain – that gentle misting moisture that drops silently from the heavens. The other is the ‘male’ rain – large aggressive drops that make their presence known. Much of the English rain I grew up with was of the female variety. But just like some women, do not mistake her gentle persistence for weakness. That rain can soak you without you feeling the first blow! And it never ends. Moving to Jamaica, and now living in South Florida, we are used to the aggressive, sudden stop and start of a tropical downpour. If stuck inside, you don’t bother to reach for your umbrella (frequently ineffective anyway!), you just wait it out. It will soon slow down enough for you to dance between the big drops and get in your car. In Jamaica one of the sweetest sounds was the noise of the rain on a zinc roof. The in-look was ‘corrugated’, a word I loved to hear my father say – the ‘you’ following his rolling ‘r’s. But that sound drowned out all conversation, and so long as the power didn’t ‘cut-off’, you could lie in your bed and read a book to the soothing thrum of the rain on the roof.
Last weekend, thanks to the wedding of a family friend, I visited Phoenix Arizona. It was not my first visit, I had traveled there some sixteen years ago. But I was struck by so many things, I had to jot down a few lines. The arid desert landscape permeated the suburbs. Rocks replaced grass with flowering bushes the only pops of color. Even the buildings matched the landscape, the desert-colored palette helping them blend into the background. The un-developed areas were rudely punctuated by cacti and palm trees. The saguaro cacti extend middle fingers to a broad cloudless sky. Spiky and not pretty, they apparently decided long ago to be defiant in their attitude.
Of course, if you are going to develop the desert for human occupation, some compromises must be reached. It makes sense not to fight with a lack of water, but to put down pebbles and rocks instead of grass. And there are flowering bushes (like bougainvillea) which do not demand a lot of water. The wedding was held indoors, thankfully, that 100 degree weather, though lacking the Florida humidity, was still hot! Outside was a golf course, liberally sprinkled to maintain its ‘natural’ look.
A relatively short ride out of the city, heading north, takes you up into the mountains. I must confess to have been spoiled by my early years driving through the beautiful mountains of Snowdonia in Wales, and then growing up in the hills of Jamaica, able to visit the Blue Mountains, I am a snob. I found the hills in South Arizona to look fake, temporary, untidy and irregular. Some of them looked like discarded soil dug from a huge pit. The lack of greenery didn’t help. But as you climbed out of the desert, through the ‘forest’ to Sedona (instead of trees, there were shrubs and scrubland), some of the scenery is literally breathtaking.
Sedona itself is magical, a town which like many other ‘secret spots’ has been discovered by commercialism and lost some of its charm. But the red rocks which surround the town are carved by Mother Nature into amazing formations. Some are named for the features they resemble: Cathedral Rock; Snoopy (resting on the top of his kennel); Coffee Pot and more. The loom in the distance, horizontal stripes of shaded red, vertical grooves and spires. Cameras cannot do them justice. Too close, you lose perspective, too far away you can’t capture the scope.
Apart from the amazing scenery, Sedona has a mystical vibe, a healing energy that is concentrated in certain places, what is known as a ‘vortex’. Unfortunately, in a one-day road trip it is not possible to experience all Sedona has to offer. We drove up and out of the town to Flagstaff, up a smooth, winding two-lane highway through the forest, tall trees rising from dry riverbeds; white rocks peeping through. We stopped at a scenic overlook, an area providing a view of the winding road we had just driven up. The weathered outcroppings were white in this area, no more red rocks. Navajo Indians had tables set up with their products. They sat behind their tables, greeting visitors politely, not aggressively pushing their handcrafted jewelry, their not made in China dream-catchers. No one ran you down to push their goods in your face. When approached they told you the history of the pieces, the method of production, the artists. And because they didn’t twist your arm, out of gratitude you bought something.
This Friday morning, as we have witnessed the loud field of rivals talking across each other as they try to talk to the American voter, I am left with memories of a quiet people, a culture almost wiped out by the aggression of the white man. The sight of the desert landscape helped me to appreciate a good shower of rain. The browns and sandy beige of the buildings in Arizona made me appreciate the brightly colored buildings of my own neighborhood (don’t even mention the arrogant primary colors of Caribbean villas!). Sometimes you have to be deprived of things to appreciate them.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family! May you see beauty wherever you look!