I love the rain, at least most of the time. It brings with it a sense of change, starting over, and a fresh feeling of ‘new’. Not all rain is equal, of course; sometimes it’s miserable and cold and gets in my way. But there are those times when the conditions deliver a peaceful experience, when the air is calm, warm, and carries a bouquet like no other. It is inviting and begs me to head outside to find a quiet path, trail or street in which to be alone with the sound of each falling drop. I have walked often and far under these conditions and, for some reason, a casual and random walk in the rain has the ability to stick to my mind just as much as a trek among historic monuments or venturing through epic landscapes, if not more so.
I write this, of course, after walking through an early November downpour, inspired and full of recollection on some of the loveliest moments of my life. Here are just a few that come to mind:
Annecy, France, 1995
In the earliest parts of my high school career I participated in a two week French exchange program. It was an experience I can only hope my kids get to experience, if not through school then through some other means that Alison and I would happily explore and foster with them. It was my first time out of the country and there is no shortage of stories, memories, or firsts that I could share, but the thing that stands out to me today is the one random day, with no particular big event behind it, in which I found myself walking solo from point A to point B when the rain started to fall. It wasn’t epic, thunderous, or in any traditional way memorable, but it is perhaps the most vivid of all moments from that entire trip for me.
I was walking by an apartment building when it started and I paused because there was a feeling in the air; fresh, clean, like nothing I’ve ever caught before. It caused me to stop in my tracks, look up and close my eyes and say to myself: “This is what rain will smell like for the rest of your life, and every time it pours, this is a moment you’ll remember.”
Barrie, Canada, 2005
Much of my time in Barrie was spent inside the halls of The Bayfield Mall; more specifically, as one part of a rag tag team of staff at Sunrise Records. Oh the stories I could recount from the days we spent listening to music and cursing Ticket Master customers, but that’s another blog for another day. In my time employed, two major events occurred during one of my many, many shifts. The first was the great power outage of 2003, the other was the flashflood of 2005.
It was an eerie event that crept out of nowhere, as it went from a calm and quiet Thursday afternoon, to the innocent question from one employee to another: “do you hear that?”
Before we knew it, water was coming up through the floors, the ceiling and cars were drowned in the parking lot. 150mm of rain fell in about 20 minute; it was nuts. That said, it made for an afternoon off work and great opportunity to walk (swim?) through the streets in a way that I’ve never experienced before or since. Nobody was hurt, though I can’t imaging the damage done to homes and other property, which is something I’d wish against no one, but it was no less memorable and provided me much time to collect my gratitude for the things and people I had in my life at the time. It also gave me pause for appreciating where, geographically I lived and that the “major event” for Barrie, paled in comparison to the devastation that occurs in so many other areas of the globe.
Dujiangyan, China, 2006
In a year of self-discovery I ventured solo into a “small” town in rural China to teach English to college students. Oh the stories I can share. But, again, today there’s one seemingly mundane event that jumps to the front of my mind, when an evening of mid-summer rain began to fall, calling me out to explore a version of the town I had not yet seen.
Any town, city or locale looks different under the veil of rain. The reflections, the lights, the people, all of it changes in the slightest of ways, opening you to new perspectives. My students who watched me leave my apartment to go explore, could not understand at all what I was saying, perhaps a reason I didn’t stick around for another year, but I was determined to check things out through a new lens.
I walked for hours up and down the streets, soaked to the bone and breathing in every moment with an essence of that time I spent in France.
Tired and hungry I ducked into a small noodle bar where the woman shaved noodles from a giant ball of dough she held in one, while yielding a razor sharp butcher’s blade in the other. One by one the noodles fell into a boiling hot pot of “whatever” which she then scooped up and tossed into a bowl with some magically spicy broth, vegetables and animal parts that I couldn’t name but I also couldn’t care. It was f@#$ing delicious and warm and a perfect compliment to the rain which continued to fall without care.
It stands as one of the most memorable meals of my entire life.
Riomaggiore, Italy, 2013
Not to be overshadowed by the rain, marrying Alison in the fall of 2013 is the real highlight of this particular collection of memories. That said, I confidently know she wouldn’t disagree that the storm we experienced while on our honeymoon touring Italy was something of note. It was already a beautiful day full of adventure, food and sights like we’d never seen, but as we settled back into our little Air BnB along the Ligurian Sea, sipping limoncello on our balcony, there came a sound that carried itself from the far away origins of the sea and slowly crept toward us. We watched the sky shift and chameleon itself through colours of the rainbow we didn’t know existed before lighting started to paint the darkness in between and the sound of thunder succumb to the sound of seemingly infinite water droplets merging with the sea.
It was a spectacle if there ever was one; a perfect panorama of sound, light and colour. Nature presenting itself as everything else stood still. Our wedding was epic. This was other-worldly.
Elora, Canada, 2022
Sitting in a cafe on a lovely Saturday morning, Alison and I enjoying our cappuccino, the kids invested in their pastry and hot chocolate, I find myself ‘arguing’ foolishly with my lovely bride. “The app says it’s not supposed to rain for at least a few hours” I protest. It’s a weak argument to try and claim technology is more accurate than the looming, devastating-looking clouds physically rolling towards us. Finally, I give in and admit that, perhaps, the rain is going to hit sooner than our friends at the weather network predict. We leave the cafe and begin our march home.
At precisely the halfway mark the sky opens up and rain like I’ve never experienced before begins to hit us hard. We pickup our pace and dash towards our house, soaked in every way a person can be soaked. That’s when the lights went out and the sky turned a shade of fierce I didn’t know possible. This was not an ordinary storm. This was serious.
We tucked into the basement and waited out the next 20-minutes of intense, loud, and scary weather patterns.
When the skies seemed to clear, we re-emerged to take stock of the damage, which fortunately claimed no lives, but certainly took out a few roofs, cars and infrastructure in the area. We learned later that it was a downburst and, in hindsight, we should have stayed back at the cafe. It wasn’t perhaps the nice ‘stroll’ through the rain, that previous experiences painted, but it was memorable to say the least, and the sky as it presents itself outside the window tonight, brings back some pretty vivid memories of that…so I’m just going to stay put until it passes.
While these memories are strictly my own and perhaps not as engaging or meaningful for others, what I’m hoping to convey here is that when it comes to rain, snow, or any other form of “stay inside weather”, sometimes avoidance isn’t always the best. Be smart, be safe, but also don’t be shy. Dress for the role, embrace the scene and discover or experience something familiar in a different kind of way.