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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e    August 2008


Grumblin' in the Rain

Learning to love monsoon season, one drip at a time.

Rain and I have a relationship you might describe as, at best, ambivalent.

I blame my eyeglasses, which are roughly as thick as the bulletproof glass that surrounds the occupant of the "Popemobile." When I'm out in the rain, drops inevitably drip onto my lenses, which leaves me seeing the world as a bleary smear. (Or, I should say, an even blearier smear than usual.)

The non-bespectacled just don't understand. "I haven't shrunk yet," my wife will say cheerily as she strides out into a downpour. Yes, she wears glasses, too, but without them she can still navigate, so they don't count.

I could wear contacts, of course, if not for my unconquerable squeamishness about touching my — I feel a little woozy just typing this — eyes. I once nearly fainted at the eye doctor's office when I was a kid. Even today, simply getting drops to dilate my eyes for an exam makes me want to knee the ophthalmologist's assistant and make a run for the exit over his or her prone, groaning, lab-coated body.

Lasix surgery is out, too, and not merely because there aren't enough tranquilizers on the planet to get me into that chair with metal thingies holding my eyelids open while a laser takes aim at my orbs. My extremely nearsighted and astigmatism-plagued eyeballs are already under enough pressure to pop the occasional blood vessel, and evidently the surgery requires further increasing the eye's internal pressure. The scientific terminology for the result, in my case, is "popping like a tomato under a Humvee's tires."

But I digress. This is supposed to be about my difficult relationship with rain. Besides effectively blinding me, rain plasters down my hair, makes clothes stick uncomfortably to my body, endangers my shoes and otherwise turns me from a dapper fella into a lurching, sodden, myopic mess. How Gene Kelly managed to look suave while singing in the rain, I'll never know. I'd be putting up that umbrella and sprinting for the cover of the nearest shop awning, singing and dancing be damned. (This may explain why I've never been asked to star in a major Hollywood musical.)

Part of the attraction of moving to the desert Southwest, in fact, was that whole "desert" part. Desert Exposure is the perfect publication for someone who prefers life on the dry side. See, growing up, I always thought it didn't rain in the desert. No rain? No drippy smears on my glasses? Sign me up! Which way to the cacti?

Only after moving here — arriving in a downpour in February, of all times — did I learn about this whole "monsoon season" nonsense. Our real-estate agent, in fact, belatedly informed us that the monsoons typically arrive in Silver City just in time to spoil the gala Fourth of July festivities. He sounded strangely chipper about the annual prospect of a park full of Independence Day celebrants fleeing for their cars, the booths of holiday vendors being lashed by rain and, in a really good monsoon, hail. Throw in a few kids struck by lightning while eating cotton candy, while you're at it, and a float full of flag-waving cheerleaders swept away by flash floods. Now that's a holiday!

But that's the thing about Southwesterners and rain: They welcome it. No matter how inconvenient, messy and muddy, New Mexicans and Arizonans delight in this eagerly anticipated break from the sun-baked oven of early summer, from the long, parched months of mostly beautiful weather and crystalline, cloudless skies. They hold their collective breath through the arid fire season, when brittle branches stand like so many matchsticks waiting for ignition and the world turns various shades of brown. They pray to the spirit of Smokey Bear (a New Mexico native, after all) that the rains will come before the fire does.

And when the first clouds peek over the dusty horizon, in late June or early July, you'd think Christmas had come half a year early. It's as though people had never seen moisture in the air before, as though they feared it had forgotten how to rain. (And each year you think: Maybe it has!)

What still amazes us, even going on our sixth year here, is how that one puny cloud can mushroom over the course of an afternoon into a black wall of clouds and rain. From the ridge we live along, we can watch the clouds grow like a stain across the sky. We can see the gray curtain of rain in the mountains and over the town, long before it reaches us — if it ever does, as our ridge seems to be the driest point in Grant County.

Rain happens fast here. One day we were downtown having lunch with some folks from Las Cruces. It had been a lovely blue morning, so we put the top down on my wife's little convertible for the drive to the restaurant. But just as luncheon was served, we heard a roaring sound from the street. The sunny day had turned into a downpour, and within minutes water was sluicing along the curbs — reminding us why Silver City has such oddly high curbs on its downtown sidewalks.

Am I a terrible person for not volunteering to rush out and slam the roof closed on the convertible? It is my wife's car, after all. And did I mention how the rain messes up my glasses?

Like a true New Mexican, I'm learning to love the rain — really I am. I bought a high-tech weather station that lets me measure (from the dry comfort of my kitchen, of course) each drop of precious moisture that falls from the heavens. I get giddily excited as the LCD numbers climb from their accustomed position at 0.00.

"Two-one-hundredths of an inch!" I'll holler to my wife with a sort of rapturous excitement that might lead you to conclude the Second Coming had just arrived out in our barbeque pit. Breathlessly, I'll add, "It's raining at two-tenths of an inch an hour!"

The other day we returned from a trip during which we'd heard that rain had visited itself upon the region pretty heavily. Coming in our door, I dropped the bags and ran to the rain gauge for a full digital report. Happily, this gizmo records not only the current shower but also a running total since the "rain storm" began, so I was able to glean the information that we'd received a total of 1.16 inches of rain. A veritable deluge! Honey, start building that ark!

This figure would be barely a drizzle in other places we've lived, hardly worth the trouble of opening an umbrella. To put that 1.16 inches into perspective, though, consider that it brought the total for the entire year to date up here on Dry Ridge to 2.65 inches of precipitation.

But, now that the monsoon season has arrived, each day brings the prospect of adding a little more to that tiny total. Why, just yesterday we racked up a whopping .04 inches of wetness during a brief suppertime sloppy spell. (The timing of monsoon rains tends to play havoc with my grilling plans for dinner, by the way, but I'm trying not to complain.) Sometimes the morning dawns with a thick buffet of clouds, as if asking us to pick which might bring rain and which will simply float away. Other days follow the more classic monsoon pattern of blue-sky mornings with an ominous buildup of cumulonimbus in the afternoon. (Yes, just in time to douse me as I try to grill those chicken breasts — but you don't hear me complaining, no sir!)

Indeed, I just heard the afternoon's first grumble of thunder. Here we go again, and I for one couldn't be happier about it.

At least, that's what I tell myself. Singing in the rain, that's me!

Can I just point out, though, that Gene Kelly didn't wear glasses?

When he's not playing meteorologist,
David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure.


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