Today was a special day. This morning I woke to rain.
The world was wrapped in a curtain of water, floating over green leaves and lightning. Droplets suspended like mist on the air currents. I sat in the concrete stairwell and watched. Rain is worth attention. Nothing else on earth feels like rain.
It isn’t just water from the sky. It is sound and silence combined, something far richer than white noise. The sensation is close to what linguists refer to as “mutual intelligibility:” the partial comprehension of a language related to your own.
In the case of rain, it feels as though the comprehension should be there. But it always runs parallel to understanding – never intercepting. Rain balances a deeply intricate existence with a straightforward purpose – yet I am reminded it isn’t a creature of nerves and synapses. This untranslatable quality turns rain into an event that changes the world’s dimensions.
A rainstorm defies mapping. It is a lesson in disorientation, remaking normal points of reference. Hard surfaces seem to float, waver, and disperse, while pliable surfaces, such as leaves, become prominent and heavy. Light scatters across, rather than illuminates, slick surfaces. Even the air seems literally out of its element. It becomes visible in waves or gusts of water, and the act of breathing feels akin to swimming. The line between earth and water is also blurred, as dust and surface debris are washed into streams while water sinks into the soil.
As each separate element of the environment is coated in water, even the distinctions between similar phenomena are taken away. It becomes clear that the difference between a trickle and a torrent, a puddle and a lake, is only a matter of size. In details and behavior, they are identical. They act upon the world in the same way, regardless of scale.
A rainfall event therefore seems to change the world because it changes the qualities we regard as static – the apparent touchstones of our environment.
Like many disorienting experiences, this change in scale and space can be addictive. I used to take walks in the rain just to see the transformation. I do not believe I am alone in this urge – there are far too many “rainy day” recordings looping across YouTube, too many (or just enough) “rainy day aesthetic” images on Tumblr. But rain isn’t captured in a facsimile. It is far too complex a creature, a force. These things may substitute if you live in, say, Phoenix – like water for whiskey, as the saying goes. They do not begin to replicate the full sensory engagement of a rainstorm through its full life cycle.
Rain is not a crafted experience. To stand in the rain is to pay perfect attention to everything that matters. In that moment, rain is the world. That is all.
(…but is it? Part 2, tomorrow.)