The Navajos see the rain, particularly, as a communication or discourse or conversation or sexual interaction between Father Sky and Mother Earth, which makes sense. The two seem mutually uninvolved, otherwise.
Rain and snow take on a particular significance in the desert Southwest, for obvious reasons, but offering ruminations to that effect has become, I’ve noticed, an assertion of clannish belonging, in Flagstaff. That’s the place I moved to Hawaii from, sort of — long story. Anyway, it’s easy to rally behind Flagstaff because it’s always in the ICU, bravely fighting for its life. Between the summer wild fires, the freezing arid winters contributing to the summer wild fires, the freezing wet winters alleviating in advance the summer wild fires but contributing to the collapse of roofs and structures all over the small city, and worst of all the predations of capitalism in the form of some people attempting run businesses, and others attempting to shop at them — well. If you say you’re open, aren’t open, and then customers (probably from Phoenix) go to some other shop (probably run by someone from Phoenix) who is open when they say they’re open, it’s diabolical. Machiavellian.
In Flagstaff, one gets the feeling that to be local, accepted by other locals AS local, is to have arrived, in some ineffable sense. It’s a magical in-club, buoyed and made sacred by its own immense snobbery, with rules of membership that are nowhere defined, but everywhere performed. It’s not just enough to move there, I’ll tell you that. It’s a clique. One does not simply get chummy in Flagstaff, any Boromir meme would agree.
The fastest, best way to approach Flagstaff local status is to learn and repeat the requisite call-and-response mantras: “Blessed be the fruit.” “Under His eye.” Just kidding; it feels like that but it’s actually a reflexive disavowal of anyone observing the weather has been nice: “What a beautiful day!” No, it’s not a beautiful day; any day *not* shitting down rain or snow — as indeed most days don’t — is a day which will directly result in the whole town burning down next summer. So, real locals — not these insensitive, capitalist pigs from Phoenix, who come to town to frolic and spend money and leave garbage and smoldering camp fires and support the wrong businesses and, before anyone can disapprove of them en masse, evade justice by going back to Phoenix — organize for themselves a backwards relationship to the weather. If it’s a bad day, that’s good. If it’s a good day, that’s bad. And whatever logic informs this reflex, it’s not about that — it’s about pathos. Performing it. “We just need the rain so bad.” Oh, you also have to include the phrase “The Mountain” in your speech, with implied capitals, like it’s a deity. Say things like, “When I came to The Mountain…” Murmur, murmur — nothing is rewarded, in Flagstaff, like snatching scarcity from the jaws of abundance. Somewhere there’s a Flagstaff final boss, who’s risen to his but more likely her position through out-mourning, out-murmuring, everyone else. Everyone there is a meteorologist, and a geologist, but whoever can pontificate most convincingly along those lines is king shit.
So far I’m liking Hawaii — the weather doesn’t represent some kind of subtle pissing contest for people to simper and posture about. In fact everyone seems to be in agreement about the weather, and if any translation is being made, it’s what that means for the surf. I was local in Flagstaff, and I’m not local here, and I was warned that native Hawaiians don’t take kindly to howlies like myself, but it’s fine so far. Anyway, they can try me. I grew up on a reservation where certain relationships with nature and interpretations about that are a subconscious part of lived reality, not just a bunch of shit people pay lip service to while they’re drinking micro brews and trying to get laid. I can’t decide whether it’s more obnoxious if it’s genuine or if it’s fake.
I guess if I could say one thing to Flagstaff, it would be: stop refereeing people who enjoy nice days, for god’s sake! There’s few enough of them. Stop equating them to this place burning down. We all know this place is going to burn the fuck down, and get rebuilt, because it’s already happened like twice. There’s a reason all the Chinese immigrants connected the entire downtown sector with tunnels, all the way to north campus.
Anyway, Patty Griffin is one of my favorite songwriters, and Rain is one of my favorite songs, and I remember singing it out loud on a rainy night. I was sitting on the couch, and a battered couch it was, in one of the shittiest rentals I ever called home, in Flagstaff. I was sitting with my friend, who liked to sing too, but scream-o. We probably could have done a great clean vocals/distorted vocals band thing, if it had occurred to us, and if we could have ever gotten along for more than ten minutes, and if I’d been more sanguine to metal, and if he’d been more sanguine to clean vocals, and if he hadn’t died in any case. But I remember singing Rain to him on the couch, for no other reason than that it was raining (we just need the rain so bad):
It’s hard to listen to a hard, hard heart
Beating close to mine
Pounding up against the stone and steel
Walls that I won’t climb
Sometimes the hurt is so deep deep deep
You think that you’re gonna drown
Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep
With all this rain falling down
Strange how hard it rains now
Rows and rows of big dark clouds
But I’m holding on underneath this shroud
Rain rain rain
And then, the December morning I found Buffy in Tucson, it was cold and raining hard. By no coincidence, the radio was playing Gary Allen, and I was driving in my car and singing along with gusto:
Well I thought I was over you but I guess maybe I’m not
Cuz when I let you go looks like lonely is all that I got
Guess I’ll never know what could have been
Sure ain’t helping this mood that I’m in
If they’re gonna keep on playin these songs, like
Rainy night in Georgia
Here comes that rainy day feeling again
Blue eyes crying in the early morning rain
They go on and on
There’s no two the same
Oh it would be easy to blame all these songs about rain
Right about then, I saw her, a dirty little mop with no handle, running agains the flow of traffic on my side of the street, seeming boxed in by the tall curb of the sidewalk. I braked hard, but couldn’t pull over — boxed in by that same tall curb — it was fast-moving traffic, miles from any neighborhood, on the industrial south side of town.
I saw in my rearview mirror that the little dirty mop of a dog had managed to clamber up onto the sidewalk after all, which relieved me, but was continuing to panic run along, further and further from me, as I drove further and further ahead looking for a break in the tall curb.
Cars honked playfully at me as I awkwardly trotted back along the grim sidewalk in the sheets of rain. I had on tall heels and a nice skirt suit, as I’d been on my way to a meeting with the City of Tucson.
The little dirty dog caught a glimpse of me over her shoulder and peeled left, thank god, off into the desert, redoubling her speed. She ran, I chased, she ultimately collapsed by a culvert she found non-navigable — it was totally navigable, what a very Buffy thing to do — I carried her all the way back to my car and was ten minutes late for my meeting.
But the odd thing is that I’d driven that same stretch of road the week before, on a sunny desert-winter day (no one in Tucson complained about nice days, or implied you were a bad person for enjoying them), and I was leaving a voicemail for a friend as my car traversed that very spot.
“I think life is just a two way valve,” I was saying, right around there. “You either have it on or off. Am I willing to receive along these lines? On this subject? Or not? And we have all these wounds and reasons and stories and justifications for why we can’t receive, won’t receive, can’t bear to open ourselves to receive again. Like me with dogs, right? My parents wouldn’t let me have one. Then I got Eva, and she died. Then I got Daisy, and she bit people all the time. Then I got Thelma Bear, and lost her in the North Dakota oil field custody battle. And now here I am in Tucson and I really want a dog and I don’t feel like I can have a dog. I feel like god’s against me, god will strike me down if I try to get a dog, or worse, strike the dog down. But really it’s just a valve. An open/close valve. And I have it closed, for all these reasons. But I could just say, right here right now: I am opening my dog valve. I am willing to receive along dog lines. I could say that, and nothing that came before has to matter. Right?”
Believe it or not, I leave people voicemails of this nature. This is the pontification I was offering at that very spot, the week before. And then songs about rain, and I found Buffy. Very interesting.
So the rain reminds me of a lot of things. But right now, it’s tapering off, and we need to return our empty U-box to Kona.