Taking note: Waiting for rain

The morning began with a humid veil of heat that seemed to pour through little clusters of dark clouds amid the sunshine. The air dripped with the sweet, fragrant scent of the leaves that suddenly appeared on barren branches and all the flowers that bloomed amid the unusual late May heatwave.

A breeze seemed to almost crackle with electricity, offering more faith in the predicted arrival of thunderstorms predicted in the early afternoon.

As the morning went on, the air seemed to grow more humid, seemingly clinging blanket-like to the skin.

Dark clouds would move in with an accompanying cool breeze, then disappear.

But all morning, I could almost feel the distant storm’s moisture in every cool breeze and taste it in each humid breath.

There’s nothing quite like awaiting the first thunderstorm of the season, thinking you’ll hear the distant rumble of thunder at any moment.

I waited, and waited and waited all day.

At, first, the storms were to hit around 2 p.m., promising a quenching break during a rare 90-degree day in May.

Then, a 4 p.m. onset became the prediction.

Then, 6 p.m. was the forecast.

And at 7 p.m., a few cooling drops arrived, seeming to promise more was in store.

But then, the drops vanished as suddenly as they appeared.

The prediction of the storm was pushed farther out, to 8 p.m., 10 p.m., and eventually, the middle of the night.

I woke up to dry ground, but a light fog on the exterior of my car windows hinted at a long humid night that was on its way to turning into a long humid day.

This experience transported me back to Tucson, Arizona’s little slice of the Sonoran Desert, where I anxiously awaited clouds, thunderstorms, and monsoons the entire two years I lived there.

While Tucson’s average of 286 sunny days a year sounded idyllic before I moved there from Marquette several summers ago, I quickly found the desert sun can take on an almost vengeful characteristic.

A lifelong lover of sunshine, I found myself wishing often for rain and thunderstorms, brimming with hope at the first appearance of distant, dark clouds gathering over the mountain ranges.

These hopes would be dashed, often.

But sometimes, they came to glorious fruition.

The first thunderstorm I witnessed in Tucson came on one dark summer night.

As I watched it unfold through my small home’s floor-to-ceiling wall of windows, I found myself entranced by the pounding rain and dark clouds illuminated by seemingly nonstop bolts of lightning. The lightning seemed to cast a purple glow in the sky as rains battered and refreshed my sandy, rocky, ocotillo-framed yard.

I was comforted and renewed by the storm after my long, hot, dusty 2,000-mile move to the desert several days before.

The next morning, little wet spots, betraying the secret of the evening’s rain, still remained in the few shade-blessed areas.

The air was rich with the scent of creosote and the arid, dusty earth seemed almost transformed, renewed, alive.

I’d never appreciated the gift of rain quite like this before.

I came to understand the thirst inherent in desert life, the constant desire for rain, the many wishes and broken promises a dark cloud in the distance can bring.

I’d spend another two years in the desert, pining for rain, hoping to feel a single raindrop on my skin or even just catch a glance of a body of water.

This felt particularly urgent during my final weeks in Tucson, as that June brought temperatures of over 110 degrees for many long, merciless days.

As I tied up loose ends and packed up more and more of my possessions, it began to seem that the rains of Tucson’s monsoon season — which typically lasts from June to September — would never arrive in time.

I had many wishes and expectations for the future at that time, but my desire for one last desert rainfall proved persistent, growing as I watched the clouds move in, dissipate and appear again.

And finally, on the eve of my departure, the sky lit up with lightning and a few drops fell, but still, no storm, no quenching rainfall, no soaked creosote bushes or dry arroyos suddenly rushing with water.

I accepted that I wouldn’t witness another thunderstorm in the desert, and focused my mind on finishing the last bit of endless moving tasks, playing the high-stakes Tetris game of fitting all my possessions into a small sedan.

But suddenly, just as I closed the blinds, locked the doors, and said “good-bye” to the little adobe home I inhabited during my second year in Tucson, the drops began to come down and the thunder began to crash.

The event I wanted and anticipated had finally arrived after I put aside my expectations while still holding on to my wish.

And nearly three years and 2,000 miles later, the day after I waited endlessly for the thunderstorms to arrive, the heavens opened up, the rain fell, the thunder crashed and the lightning illuminated the sky, reminding me of the very same lesson I learned years ago: Beautiful things can happen when we let go of our expectations while holding on to our hopes.


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