This is the second December in a row that it’s stormed like crazy in California. Last year, the highways flooded. The roads just couldn’t handle this kind of global-warming-infused El Niño downpour, and so the cracks grew and grew until 101 North split down the slow lane. I was home, slouching on the sofa in just my giant “Make a Splash” shirt with no hint of irony. The Channel 3 news caught my attention when a man in a full-hooded wetsuit popped onto the screen. He was beaming in his lime green kayak. Couldn’t stop yelling happy things. The camera panned out to the enormous Safeway on Marina Boulevard, revealing two more kayaks in the background, orange and blue. They were floating around in the Safeway parking lot. In the Safeway parking lot!
I don’t know how big the flood that called Noah was, exactly. I mean, I guess it filled the whole world, which has got to be a hell of a lot of water. This, though, this felt like a call to build an arc if I’d ever heard one, or at least to get out there with the other fools who thought they were Noah, too. I ran down to Robin’s house on 28th. Houses are packed in tight in the city, but somehow friends live far down streets. A friend who lives close is essential in a rainstorm. Robin opens the door for me and I am already dripping on her family’s welcome mat. “Hey Rob, don’t you have a sailboat in the garage?” She grins.
“You’re a fool,” she says, and leads me back out into the rain.
Out in Big Sur the sky was filled with water. It didn’t stay in the sky for long, though; everything filled with water that day. My shoes, my hair, the dirt on the trail dissolving into mud, my rain jacket soaked all the way through, and my pack – this was not a good day to be backpacking through Big Sur.
“Hey Patrick, why’d we do that rain dance again?” We all turned to our leader and chuckled. Patrick was only a few years older than us, – he graduated from our high school in 2009 – so we had license to make fun of him as one of us. He was one of those pure souls with a supreme sense of responsibility to the wild, or the “willy wags” as he calls the piercing green out here. He laughed hard then, yelling to us and the sky, “we’re in a drought – this is wonderful!” I love a good rain dance just as much as any other drought-fearing Californian, but we were in the open, two days and twenty miles out from the trailhead, and drenched.
Ten eighteen year olds and a college kid (he used to be a boy scout, he qualified) in the storm of the decade. We just had to keep hiking. Stop, and hypothermia could hit, fast. We would ride out the pounding rain on the move and try to make it home by morning. We slowly hiked out on the dark, cold trail, telling our best jokes and debating our worst fears until our greatest fears came out like jokes because we were so far out there, in our own world of the wild.
In the rain, all that was visible were each other’s eyes under headlamp light. We were two days and twenty miles out in the wilderness, but we were howling with laughter. From the trailhead come morning, you could see twelve dancing figures in the green blur of a flood rolling through the willy wags.
I’m swimming when the power goes out in Hanover. Jess and I had gone down to the river after class, dreaming of New England summer camp. We bob up and down looking out to the muggy skyline, two girls displaced from our coast. After a few hours, the first thunder hit. Then lightning, then thunder again. Yep, time to go! We run up the road as fast as we can in our bikinis, towels riding out behind our backs like capes. The rain comes down hard, and we stay swimming, running through ponds in front of the dorms. It’s dark and we’re laughing hard, spinning in the mud as the sky shows us its contents. The others begin to come out. Running out of dorms with no jackets, unafraid of a little, or maybe a lot of rain. We all needed a good rain dance that year.