Friday, September 13, 2013

When it Rains Five Days and the Sky Turns Black as Night

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So perhaps you've heard about the little rain storm we had here in Colorado?

Oh, petticoat rustlers! It has been a wild month. First, the semester launched at full speed-- I'm teaching a brand new class and taking several wonderful seminars, in addition to helping to run the Portuguese conversation groups on campus. Somewhere in there, I'm also doing tons of reading to try and understand more clearly how this whole dissertation is going to unfold. And alongside all that, I'm training for a back-up career as a circus strongwoman (inspired by my spirit animal, Vulcana).

But over the course of the past week, the sky has remained ominously black and low, heavy and overflowing with constant rain. Two weeks ago, we started to get short, daily bursts of rain that were lovely-- they cooled down the 100 degree heat and helped keep the mountains from starting on fire.

But then the rain started to get heavier and more persistent, with more and more of the day remaining dark and soggy. Finally, the sun stopped peaking through the clouds at all, and yesterday was unlike anything I've ever seen before.
Photo Source
The National Guard, heading into Boulder. Photo Source. 
Torrential rain fell over our town (and all the surrounding towns) for about 16 hours straight. In 48 hours, 14.5 inches of rain had fallen on us (the annual average rainfall here is 24 inches). It was Old Testament. It was apocalyptic. Basements turned into ponds, roads turned into rivers, rivers turned into raging, destructive forces that pulled down highways, swept away cars and houses and trees.

Emergency sirens started blaring through the city on Thursday night and continued through Friday night ("MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND, REPEAT: MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND.") Firetruck and ambulance sirens screamed above the wind and constant sound of rain hitting water, rain hitting roofs, rain trickling slowly into every crack.

The National Guard was called in, the President allotted funds to help with disaster relief. The University has been closed for two days and will be closed through the weekend while they assess structural damage (here's hoping the library was spared!).

In honor of this powerful storm system and surreal past couple of days underwater, I'm dedicating today's post to--first and foremost the emergency workers and folks who lost their homes--but also to some of my favorite passages from literature on rain, storms, and floods...

"Exploración de las fuentes del río Orinoco" ["Exploring the Sources of the Orinoco River"]
Painting by Remedios Varo.
Water dripping from the roof tiles was forming a hole in the sand of the patio. Plink! Plink! and then another plink! as drops struck a bobbing, dancing laurel leaf caught in a crack between the adobe bricks. ...  For a long time, he lay listening to the gurgling of the water; then he must have slept, because when he awoke he heard only a quiet drizzle. The windowpanes were misted over and raindrops were threading down like tears...I watched the trickles glinting in the lightning flashes, and every breath I breathed, I sighed. And every thought I thought was of you, Susana. 
(Excerpt from Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden).

I awoke to find the pipes had burst. Somehow, I'd carelessly left the water running in the kitchen; it flooded the floor and poured into the cellar before I'd noticed it. The dampness didn't damage the Chac-Mool ... The moaning at night continues. I don't know where it's coming from, but it makes me nervous. To top it all off, the pipes burst again, and the rains have seeped through the foundation and flooded the cellar. ... This is the first time the runoff from the rains has drained into my cellar instead of the storm sewers. The moaning's stopped. An even trade? 
(Excerpt from "Chac-Mool" by Carlos Fuentes, translation by Margaret Sayers Peden).

And at last the house surrenders its silence.
We enter and pace the abandoned rooms,
the dead rats, the empty good-bye,
water that wept in the gutters.
It wept, the house, night and day,
it groaned with the spiders, ajar,
it shed itself through its dark eyes.
(Poem by Pablo Neruda, from the book Absence and Presence, with translation by Alastair Reid).

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
(One of Lear's lines from King Lear by William Shakespeare). 

When it rains five days and the sky turns dark as night, then trouble's takin' place in the lowlands at night. 
(Line from American blues song, "Backwater Blues," written by singer and composer, Bessie Smith). 

The birds sang because they lacked understanding; the heretics ridiculed us because they had no faith; and we who had both faith and understanding shouted to the heavens, struck our chests, and cried for our sins. 
(Excerpt from Antonio Vieira's sermon, "Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Lent," delivered in 1665, in which he describes his ocean-crossing journey on a ship filled with tropical Brazilian birds in cages, as they and other passengers were transported back to continental Portugal in the midst of an incredibly tumultuous and dangerous storm just outside of the Azores. The rest of the sermon is quite incredible-- he describes the raging seas, the way the "faithless" clung to the side of the boat, crying that all was lost, the song of the frightened birds barely audible above the thrashing waves, and his own desperate pleas shouted to God as the boat listed threateningly to one side...)

What are your favorite passages about storms in literature?? Have you lived through a natural disaster recently?? Until next time, fair petticoat rustlers-- keep rustling!

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