liberty and dampness


(Originally published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reprinted by permission.)

If you’ve been up here on the Mountain during the last two weeks, then you’ve probably been in the rain.

Last Saturday morning at the customary time we leashed the dogs, put on rain shells, and went, not heeding the rain or the forecast. The showers rattled on the leaves beside and above the trail as well as on the hoods of our jackets; the customary forest-sounds were driven out by the noise, and in their place, as though to compensate for what I couldn’t hear, I noticed distinctive water-borne smells – wet clay, rotting leaves, spongy bark.

Instead of dancing around the edges of puddles in the trail, I splashed directly through. Not caring because I was already quite wet, I sloshed up the newly-created stream filling the trail as it angled sharply downhill.

At some point on the walk it occurred to me that over time, without realizing it, we had acquired the habit of watching the weather radar for breaks in the rain; those green, yellow, and orange blobs on the map had come to decide our actions. We had handed over our sovereignty to an external force.

By contrast, going out heedless of the radar, as we did Saturday, frees us up, makes us independent of the weather’s authority. It’s a declaration of independence, of autonomy. You don’t have to watch the radar: you are in charge! You can go when you want!

Don’t tread on me,

Meanwhile, out on the trail, the downpour intensified, as if to say, “Oh yeah? You think you have some control? Watch this!” Oak leaves were like drum heads reverberating with the pounding water; the entire path was becoming a creek. The woods had become a drive-through carwash.

To be outside in such a rain is to understand why we use the experience of being enveloped by water as a metaphor – “I was totally immersed in this book.” The very atmosphere surrounds and submerges us in sensation. The border between self and nature – always less tangible than we think – almost disappears as we merge into the world around us. We’re water and air, sound and shadow.

Eventually, we emerge from beneath the water. Squishy shoes, sodden socks, dripping rain shells. Going back into the house is like closing the hatch on a submarine. My clothes won’t be dry again for days.

But I’m exhilarated at having encountered the outdoors in one of its more raucous moods. I’ve had another lesson from the Book of Nature, and been reassured that there are new sensations to be had, insights to be drawn, freedoms to be found, just by going out there.

Or, to use a quotation of uncertain origin, “Some people walk in the rain. Others just get wet.”