The Rain Children


Dolores J. Nurss

May19, 2010


Summer becomes the most daunting time in the desert, the time when heat can kill, when every creature in the desert finds different strategies to survive.  Yet it also becomes a time of fearsome joy, for that is when we get the most rain in all the year.  Folks have called the desert pitiless, yet it gives us the mercy of rain right when we need it most.  The sky can look as blue and dry as turquoise in one hour, then come sudden winds so strong they can strip the roof off a house, and great clouds come riding in on them, thrice as tall as the mountains that they sail over, flashing with lightning in their bellies.  And with them comes the rain, the thunder and the lightning and the drama!

Sometimes the winds whip up great, scouring dust-storms first.  Sometimes the rain comes down so hot on the heels of the dust that for several minutes it rains mud.  One of the more surreal moments in my life came about during the Yaqui Ceremonies, in the final procession on Easter Sunday (where, every year, without fail, a wild hawk flies overhead, circling us with joy) when just such a sudden dust storm whipped up all around us.  We had thoroughly covered the grounds with confetti thrown during the Gloria the day before, so the wind whipped that up, too, till we didn't just march on doggedly through a haze of brown dust so thick you couldn�t see beyond your own part in the procession, we marched through a haze glittered in all colors, the confetti madly whirling all around us and over us and in between, like we swam through jewel-laced earth, while the chimes on the bier we carried tinkled wildly.

But oh, the living things do love the rain that swiftly follows!  You can hear no higher compliment here than, "You're as welcome as rain in the desert!"  Harsh, spiky, bonelike plants suddenly fluff up with new green leaves and blooms open up everywhere!  Javalinas feast on new growth and bear their children at this most prosperous of seasons.  Birds sing for joy.  And at this time of year the human desert world most richly overlaps the Sea Ania, the Flower World, what the English folk might think of as Faerie.

Like all things in the desert, it comes with enough danger to teach alertness and respect.  Our harsh gravel does not absorb water well.  Rain brings the flash-floods--sudden walls of death that come roaring and thundering down the arroyos strong enough to sweep away trucks.  Yet they also bring life, for desert seeds, thick-shelled against withering in the sun and heat, need the roughness of tumbling through these floods to pierce their armor and let them germinate--right when the moist soil finally becomes ready for them.

Never has any moment more filled me with awareness of the joyful danger of the desert than when I got caught out in a thunderstorm with my husband last year, and saw something of the other world that few have ever had a chance to see.  In temperatures above the most dangerous of fevers, under a clear sky, we took a dip in the pool--it tells you how hot it was that the pool felt refreshing at 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31.11 Celsius)  The clouds moved quickly.  We got out of the pool at the first drops, and had barely made it up to a half-covered patio by the pool to dry off, when the lightning started, trapping us in a little space under a low roof, but wide open to the world beyond.

O glorious, terrifying sight!  Rain you know, surely, lightning you have seen flashing in the window, thunder you have heard outside your walls--and even then it caught your breath.  Some of you have hastened under the storm's edge to get to your own safe home, or maybe more than that.  But how many of you have ever seen, unable to flee, the desert dance, as far as you can gaze, every bush and cactus, paloverde and mesquite tree, all whipping and whirling to the same rhythm as the rain comes down in waves, punctuated by the drumroll of the thunder, excited by each flash of light?  One bolt struck within yards of us!

But I have more reason than that to write of this for a magazine about fairies.  For I saw something else, there, something I will never forget: the rain children.  As I said, the rain came in waves. At first that's all I saw, well-trained by the dominant paradigm not to see what science can't explain.  But the longer I stood there, compelled to watch and not to turn away, the more the waves took the shape of children--or persons of child-size.

How many different tribes and cultures have described the same thing?  "Adult beings about the height of three-year-old human children."  And I saw them: the rain children, born that instant and as old as the world.  The more I stared, the more vivid they became; I saw their heads and their limbs and their joyfully running feet, as they scrambled down over the low stone wall of the patio, across the flags, up over the wall on the other side, and across the desert, thousands upon thousands of water elementals, rejoicing in the act of giving life to all who need the rain the most, while the lightning struck and the thunder roared with glee.

I'm sure most folk would tell me that I saw an optical illusion made more vivid with imagination.  I could not prove otherwise.  I am sure that what I saw, if you could freeze the moment in time and take a sampling, consisted purely of drops of water falling from the sky.  Yet that doesn't change the reality of what I perceived as well.  Why should the composition of a thing be all it is?  Can you describe me by speaking of blood and organs bone and muscle and skin?  Isn't it the lightning flashing through my nerves that makes me come alive, and think, and feel?  How can we dismiss the possibility that lightning might make huge synaptic sparks between the earth and clouds, that in watching the storm we watch Earth think?  Or feel, or revel in awareness.  And wouldn't so huge a knowing send off fractals of consciousness, instants of joy clothing themselves second by second in the raindrops shaped by the gusts of wind that breathe through them?

I cannot answer these questions.  I only know that I saw the desert at its most dangerous, and thrilling, beautiful and terrible and glad, in those hours of daylight sinking into sunset, when the colors flushed the thunderstorm, and on into the night, where at last the flashes faded back to where we dared to run home under the final, softer pattering of rain, kissing us all over our bare skin.