In my backyard, I sit watching lightning strike along the horizon and listening to thunder’s reverberating call. The air is sticky, a change from the typical dry-desert heat common in Southern Utah. The lightning and thunder flash and roar approach from a distance; the air is electric, but the saturated clouds hold their rain jealously. I relish the humidity, waiting for the storm to arrive.
In the desert, rain is thrilling because rain is anomalous. Desert rain is a glorious inconvenience—glorious, because the land always yearns for moisture, and rewards rain with the sweet smell of wet sagebrush; and inconvenient because it soaks through shoes and clothes and hair and ruins any chance of a nice picnic. Still, I loved the rain, a love likely caused by the infrequency of it—we prayed for rain when the ground sat cracked and sapped, and once the raindrops finally fell, we looked to the sky and thanked God.
I was living in Uruguay as a missionary, and my companion and I left the house as it began to sprinkle. Still, I didn’t think it necessary to don a rain jacket, a decision I regretted five minutes later, when it started raining lions and wolves. We ran under a tree, thinking its branches would provide shelter from the heavenly floodwater; I had never been so wrong. The rain turned the tree into a waterfall, and after a few seconds every part of me was wet, sopping, dripping, drenching, drowning wet, like I had jumped into a lake with my clothes on, standing under that tree. I had never experienced rain like this.
In some parts of town, the rain was followed by the most unholy pungent sulfuric smells. It was like the earth, after accepting the rain from the sky, excreted the old dirty water from the soil. Where rotten water went, I don’t know; perhaps it ended up in the open gutters along the side of the road, where choruses of meowing frogs filled the summer evening with their vocal arrangements, singing hallelujah as the earth soaked in the water from the rain. In other parts of town, my companion and I walked through the soggy streets smelling tortas fritas being made inside the houses we pass. It’s a comfortable fried lard kind of smell, the type that comes with dulce de leche and leads to a warm kitchen. These are my favorite kind of cold-weather-rain smells, perhaps the only redeeming part about walking around in the rain.
I lived in London as a college student through one of the wettest summers in the history of Earth (or so it felt at the time). As I experienced the first downpour, I realized how ill-equipped I was with my flimsy umbrella and canvas shoes. Although I purchased a marginally better umbrella, I squelched and sloshed around in my unsuitable shoes for three months, not willing to invest in better gear because I hoped after every storm that drier weather was just around the corner. It wasn’t.
As weeks of unceasing rain passed, my mind sank into a kind of mire, and I struggled to get out of bed in the morning and squabbled unnecessarily with my roommate—my body begged for the sweltering dry heat of my Utah home. One particularly grim afternoon I ducked into a coffee shop just off Trafalgar Square to escape the wet, and soon warmed by an oversized steaming mug of hot chocolate, I sat and watched London, its color and noise muted by the drizzling precipitation. I watched people pass by Nelson’s feline sentries, hurrying to and from the Tube, scrambling into and out of cabs, marching through puddles and armed with raincoats and wellies. I was struck by how commonplace the rain was for them, how routine, and it dawned on me that loving that strange wonderful city also meant loving its gray leaky skies.
Back in my dry desert climate, I find myself thirsting for rain, for its rhythm against the rooftop and window entrances—the rhythm of conflict, of inevitable collision. Steady rain is frantic rain, rain that wants to get somewhere, anywhere, quick. I get lost watching this rain. When I look up at a gloomy raincloud sky, I revel in the grayness of falling water, close my eyes, and hear the drumming.
Natalie D. Johansen holds a Creative Writing MFA from Brigham Young University and is currently a Lecturer of English at Southern Utah University. She has published essays in Segullah, The Provo Orem Word, Prick of the Spindle, and more.