Monsoons and Mud Duds

Sitting in the clouds.

There has been more rain this summer than any summer in the last five years. Which means that here in West Phoenix, we’ve been rained on maybe eight times since March, and all in the last three weeks. As the heat builds over the desert, clouds begin building over the Bradshaw Mountains, twenty miles to the north. Some years, they build for a month of afternoons, hovering like a promise on the horizon and vanishing by morning into a dense humidity that dissipates in the baking oven of midmorning.

But this year, the rain has been falling. The timing coincided with my lugging the livingroom rug outside and draping it over the patio railing to hose off after the latest bouts of canine incontinence. My plan was that it would dry in twelve hours, at which point I’d bring it back in and call the rug cleaner. But then it rained, so I left it out to dry. And then it rained again. And again.

But while the rug was languishing in the storms and the eucalyptus on the front lawn came down one night, the bots reveled in the puddles appeared and reappeared miraculously overnight. One of Mbot’s fashion-foward friends asked her mother if she could buy a “mud suit” especially for playing in puddles. The bots are not so concerned about specific mud duds. For them, anything will do, from diapers to school clothes.

Puddlejumping

But while my patience for tomatoes smashed on a door is limited, my patience for mud-soaked weebots is about infinite. I grew up in Juneau, Alaska, on the edge of a coastal rainforest. It was a world of reflections. Although I found the near-constant overcast oppressive, the reflections–on the bay, on the wet macadam, in the puddles on the playground–were like live scraps of energy, rippling with their own life–maybe I liked them so much because like liquid mirrors, they added light to world of blues and grays.

I have come to crave the rain here like I craved the sun there. And so when the puddles appear, we sit in them. And we pay the extra fee for having the backing on the rug replaced because, it turns out, saturation is not nearly as good for rugs as it is for children.

In the froggie boots, too fast for freeze frame.

 

Sky on the Ground

We do not often have reflections on the ground, here in Phoenix. Not like where I grew up, in Southeast Alaska, where the ocean and the low clouds were Siamese twins, connected at the horizon, reflecting one another. There, because they were a feature of daily life, we avoided puddles. Here, because they are an exception to the arid desert rule, we put on our boots and celebrate them.

My body still has not acclimatized to the desert. The year Mbot was born, there was little rain. It was too hot to venture outside with an infant until November. A year almost to the day after Mbot was born, the monsoons came. In an essay titled “Coyote Carrying Rabbit,” I wrote, “One night in early July, the temperature dropped thirty degrees in two hours, from 112 to 82. Just before dawn, a clatter of raindrops awoke me to an eerie yellow light. The rain had not come for months and months and months. I rolled the stroller through a bright lake of sky, reaching to pull on wet leaves along the way, unleashing miniature rainstorms, and making up poems: ‘Pretty trees/Dripping leaves/Pine needles tipped with silver beads/Smooth bright puddles on the ground/Like pieces of sky have fallen down.’

“As we walked, I felt as if a forgotten part of myself was stirring to life. The process of becoming ossified in the suburban heat, which attacks from the flat close surfaces of apartment buildings; supermarket facades so similar one to another that you cease to see them; the forgettable faces of strip malls; the endless black macadam—occurs so slowly that you don’t even know it has happened until you are broken open by the monsoon.

“It makes me think of the idea of ghosts, and the idea that they haunt the streets lamenting the loss of their earthly selves. For if, in geographic transport—in moving to the suburbs—I can so completely lose a part of myself, so that I cannot even remember exactly what is missing, how can ghosts, who have certainly undergone a more dramatic transformation, remember that they had ever been living at all? Even for those who do not believe in ghosts, per se, the western word has been traced back as far as five thousand years, to the word gheis, which is linked to the idea “to wound, tear, pull to pieces.” Maybe the ghost myth gives voice to the different parts of ourselves that can only be conjured into being by our environment.

“The monsoon reminds me that in this place, I have lost some of what I am—or at least lost access to it—and even the memory that that missing part ever existed. But the monsoon also reminds me that my phantom self slumbers under my dry, hot skin, waiting out the drought.”

Where are you? Are there parts of you  that aren’t there?