The Land that Rain Forgot

Full disclosure: I am a pluviophile. That means that I love rain, in all forms. I love monsoon downpours, steady rain pattering on the roof, misty seaside rains, even dull drizzles on endlessly gray days.

So why, you might ask, do I live in New Mexico, a place that lately receives barely more yearly rainfall than the wetter parts of the Sahara?

It wasn’t always like this, I reply wistfully. I would never have voluntarily, consciously moved to this dry climate with relentlessly hot summers. In fact, I didn’t move to this climate. In 1994 I left the hot pollution of L.A. for four glorious seasons in the oasis of Santa Fe at 7,000 feet in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

I arrived in the summer of 1994 to the sound of thunder and the glow of rainbows. I was sure I truly was in the Land of Enchantment. Mornings would dawn to an unbearably blue mountain sky. Around noon a few clouds would start forming, ringing the horizon with the promise of rain. Nearly every day around 3 or 4 p.m. the sky would open and the “male rains,” as the indigenous people call them, would burst forth, nourishing a thirsty land.

The grasses were green and tall, the wildflowers ablaze with color. Sunflowers waved in the winds that brought cooling moisture.

Eventually the monsoons tapered into the bright cooling days of autumn. Our mountain forests were healthy, our quaking aspens golden waves upon the mountains. Our pinon trees were still alive, as yet unkilled by bark beetle infestations made worse by global heating that both weakened the trees and failed to kill off the beetles in too-warm winters.

Softly, snow would come in late autumn. There would be enough–enough on the high mountains to nourish forests and streams, to slowly melt and run off in late spring to fill the traditional irrigation ditches known as acequias.

Spring would be slow to come. Weather would oscillate between warming and freezing, but the trees used to blossom after the last surprising late spring frost, allowing them to bear fruit. Spring would often be windy and full of pollen, but only for a few weeks, not the months and months of congestion and dust of recent years.

Around 2000 it all began to change. On January 1st, as the world heaved a collective sigh that Y2K had not turned into a disaster of crashed computers and electric grids, it rained in Santa Fe. There was a flat rainbow in the north, beautiful as all rainbows are, but…unnatural somehow. Rain, not snow, on January 1st. My heart sank, knowing that something was very, very wrong. I had been reading about global warming since high school, when I had written a paper on the Greenhouse Effect on the first Earth Day in 1970.

I tried so hard to remain in denial. I cheered at every rainstorm and snowfall. I breathed in the heady, promising scent of many first rains after dry spells, known as petrichor, from the Greek for “blood of stones.”

I’ve danced with arms outstretched in the monsoon storms, and jumped gleefully into muddy puddles like a small child. I’ve danced barefoot in the snow in gratitude, as recently as February. But with humidity in the single digits and fierce daily drying winds, I can’t believe that that snowstorm wasn’t decades ago.

We really do have puddles sometimes. Really.

I grew up in Southern California and as a small child used to love going up to the snow at Mount Wilson. My mom would usually take me and a friend in the days between Christmas and New Year’s, when there always seemed to be rain in L.A. and snow on the mountains. The summers did not seem harsh, but by the time I was in high school I was longing for the fog of the Bay Area. I was enraptured by my first visit to San Francisco just before I turned 16, and resolved to go to UC Berkeley, primarily because it was political but also because of the cooler climate. An artist friend who went along on our family vacation painted me a picture of a San Francisco Victorian house in fog, with the words, “Yes, Debbie, it’s beautiful there.”

In the two years I lived in Berkeley, I reveled in foggy mornings that gave way to pleasant afternoons. I loved the dampness of the great redwoods of Muir Woods, the seductive moisture of Stinson Beach.

When I moved to England in the mid-70s on UC’s Study Abroad Program, I never minded misty, drizzly days. I went for long walks on the Sussex Downs wearing my gray wool cloak, pretending to be a character in a Romantic novel. I never quite understood my English, Scottish, and Irish friends’ rapture at sunny days—though in those days the summers of the British Isles were gently warm, not the unbearably stifling hot that they’ve become in recent years.

No, sorry, as a confirmed pluviophile I just don’t get the worship of relentlessly sunny days, though I know I’m in a minority. Could I live in British Columbia’s temperate rainforest climate? You bet! Could I live in Scotland, or in Alaska with its once-deep snows and months of below-freezing winters? Well, the darkness of the short winter days would give me pause, but not the moisture.

Alas, I am suffering from solastalgia. Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term, meaning a longing or nostalgia for an environment that has changed out of recognition while one remains in place. My Land of Enchantment is gone, at least for now. Some 53% of the state is in Exceptional Drought. For those of you who don’t know, that’s the worst category, even worse than Extreme Drought.

Every drop of water is precious. Rain chains direct water to my water collection basins that lead to an underground cistern.
But you need rain or snow to fill the cistern.

In spring of 2019, when I returned from the Climate Change and Consciousness conference at Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, northern New Mexico was emerging like a splendid butterfly from a wet fall, winter, and spring. I delightedly marveled at the tall waving grasses and the wildflowers I had never seen in the 24 years I had lived here. I hired a Permaculture specialist to walk the land with me and teach me about regeneration. An Anglo who had married into one of the Pueblos, he knew the history of the land and the uses of plants from Indian rice grass to wolf berries.

Optimistically, I bought a big bag of native blue gramma grass seed in hopes of starting the restoration of the land on which I live, which I view myself as humbly guarding.

It remains in a bag in a bin, unscattered. I kept waiting for good rains. That summer’s monsoon was anemic, but it was positively bountiful compared to 2020’s “nonsoon.” It was the hottest summer in 12,000 years, and one of the driest periods in the Southwest for 1200 years. And we were stuck at home because of the pandemic, so I ran the mini-split air conditioning from noon to midnight almost daily.

In a good monsoon year, the rains come nearly every day and significantly cool the air. One can open all the windows and screen doors, turn off the AC, and get a cool cross breeze filled with the scent of moisture.

Not last summer. The rains were so parsimonious that the grass barely grew. A friend in Tucson told me that the rainfall stood at three inches—and the wetter parts of the Sahara get four. According to my rain gauge, the 2020 rainfall total at my house was 6.69 inches.

I’ve blown the conch shell (a Tibetan Buddhist practice), and prayed the Mist of Great Blessings. I’ve beaten the drum that I painted some years ago with a rainbow Thunderbird after being gifted it by my Cree Medicine Woman friend. I’ve made tobacco offerings, and shaken rain sticks. I’ve lit St. Jude candles, as he is the patron saint of causes despaired of. I’ve washed windows, over and over again, mostly removing the dust that had settled, but couldn’t take the car to a car wash due to the pandemic until recently.

No visualization or prayer or superstition—depending on your viewpoint—has yet helped. I’ve written “storm missed us” (I’m omitting the obscene adjective that begins with “f” that precedes it) on my calendar week after week as storms have gone too far north, and we have gotten nothing but wind and maybe a few drops of rain or a snow drizzle.

Intellectually, I understand the reasons. The heating of the Arctic, which is happening two to three times as fast as the rest of the Earth, has caused the jet stream, which normally gently meanders and brings storms to temperate regions, to break down. Its pattern is now like the path of a drunken lout, lurching north and south, looping back on itself, bringing extremes of snow or rain to some areas and punishing, crushing drought to others. It is even thought to be the cause of the great freeze that paralyzed Texas in February and brought a few inches of desperately needed snow to New Mexico.

Many have observed that drought, unlike other natural and human-caused disasters, does not bring people together in the way more immediate disasters do. As a slowly unfolding disaster, often punctuated with wild moments of hope at every rainfall or snowfall, drought does not make its presence and persistence evident until well into the disaster stage. During and in the aftermath of other elemental catastrophes such as floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, windstorms, earthquakes, and tsunamis, communities come together to help each other out. But by the time people realize the severity of a drought, we are already in such serious trouble that competition for scarce water resources may be more likely than cooperation and sharing.

Emotionally, I rebel, I deny, I cry, I anguish. And then I go back to visualizing and praying. Again and again, I trust that Consciousness is the wild card that can bring about change, that balancing our Inner Climate can bring about balance in the Outer Climate.

We have, after all, had a drought of love and empathy for the past four years. Fires of anger and hatred have burned and been fanned from podiums of power. The poor and people of color who are suffering the most from both the climate emergency and the interrelated pandemic, have been disrespected and marginalized in the rooms where policies were made and legislation voted on.

And now is the time of change. Now is the time to let the healing waters of love and empathy flow and replenish not only all fellow humans, but ALL our fellow companions on Earth, including the beings of the animal and vegetable kingdoms.

Perhaps I am in profound denial, or perhaps I am an optimist (but never a Bright Sider or a Spiritual Bypasser, I hope). I simply refuse to believe that it’s too late, that it’s all over. I refuse to believe that my beloved high chaparral oasis has turned into a permanent desert. I conjure the cooling waters of love to once again flow over our land and reach out to the world. As the humidity falls into the single digits once again, still I blow the conch shell at sunset, still I visualize and feel the miracle of rain, enough rain, enough snow to replenish the land, to make the grasses and wildflowers grow, to provide sustenance for the wild creatures, the birds, bobcats, coyotes, badgers, snakes, bees, and others who inhabit our land.

A few weeks ago, just after midnight I heard a tapping sound and realized it was rain falling. I ran outside and saw that the ground was wet. A friend who lives nearby emailed me, “It’s raining!” It stopped after about five minutes, but I will keep stubbornly calling in a miracle, hearing that sound, smelling that smell, seeing that sight, feeling that joy and gratitude until it becomes reality once again.

If you want to help bring our climate into balance, please listen to the Climate Healing Meditation that you can download for free from this website, and use it. It is designed in such a way that we are not trying to “control” the weather in a given area (tempting as it is, if one could do it, it would be a type of human hubris rivaling geo-engineering). Instead we are intending to bring about planetary climatic balance by bringing about balance within ourselves. We may fail or we may succeed in influencing the climate, but if we change and calm and balance ourselves, it is still a sort of humble victory.

Debra Denker is the author of the time travel novel Weather Menders,
a cli-fi novel for the hopeful.

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