This is perhaps the first time in living memory that I have truly craved rain. I’m not talking about a half-hearted desire for precipitation, but an ardent anticipation for rainfall; something that has built slowly and steadily over the last few weeks. A genuine groundswell of feeling within, that something is amiss, not quite right: an intuitive absence.
These are strange words to express as an Englishman, and sentiments stranger yet to actually feel. But the recent ongoing heatwave has deprived us of a natural feature of life here in Britain, one that feels so intrinsically part of our shared psyche and experience. Perhaps it is the (albeit temporary) loss of this that makes it feel so jarring.
One Friday evening in mid-July, the rain comes at last.
Characteristic of most summer rain, its imminent appearance is signalled through the sense of smell. Suddenly and without warning, it’s as if the thick and heavy fabric of the air has ruptured, torn, and released that unmistakable scent into the air with a relieved exhale. I say scent purposefully: it is a smell not of fragrance, but a sensory stimulus: a primal smell that is known intimately and understood just the same.
Then it is visual. The first few drops betrayed by the sudden twitching and shaking of leaves that quiver silently in anticipation: you can see the effects of rain before you can pinpoint the raindrops themselves. The whole garden starts to animate, as seemingly disparate and far corners appear to converse and signal in unison, waving and beckoning to each other.
The rain falls in earnest, and everything revels in release.
I have absolutely no doubt that its longstanding absence forces me to experience it not necessarily through fresh eyes, but with a deeper attunement and quietude. So often our experience of nature is less the receipt of external stimulus, but more the outward projection of perception.
I view the welcome rainfall from the (relatively) dry confines of my battered old shed, sat on a rickety old foldout chair, and marvel quietly, as the world also hushes around me. I watch the garden plants and the jerk of their movements, consistent and unified now, as they are triggered and animated by the rain.
Sat here, I feel as if I am observing a natural piano that has had its back removed: the leaves jolt and move like keys, played by an invisible conductor; an unseen orchestra pulling all the strings.
Blue lobelia hangs nonchalantly over the lips of various plant pots and containers, simultaneously a contradiction of visible weight and lightness. The plants clutch onto the side of their pots like a curled hand, fingers now adorned with the purest jewels of rainwater.
A thousand shades of green layers all move differently. Huge fig leaves sag, almost like a diving board: weight received, and then expelled with a spring-like force. Camellia leaves reverberate: a soundwave that moves back and forth, before slowing.
Ferns dance visibly, sprightly and light. They accept the rain and appear almost to challenge it back, playful and flexible. The bulb-like yellow flowerheads of coreopsis ‘sunray’ take on their own raindrops and transfer that energy to their stems: great laborious sags, a slow arcing bend and then a release.
My rhus (Typhina Dissecta) is humanlike, with stems like a ribcage. Rain triggers individual leaves: like a human finger, they curl, as if playing notes on their own invisible instruments. The delicate pale green leaves of my runner beans, so fragile for their size, weigh in with a faint flicker, as if desperate not to be ignored in this watery symphony.
We always refer to rain ‘falling’, and limit its passage to a linear corridor, that of travelling high to low. But sat here seeing with a different perspective, I realise that rain’s true magnificence is its infinitesimal life – mere milliseconds – in the small band of space that lives just above the ground, in our plants, trees and vegetation.
Even the most gifted musician needs instruments through which to express their vision and create. Rain in the air is just water in the atmosphere: when it meets with life on the ground is where it becomes animated and alive; full of magic and meaning.
A sudden flurry of orange and brown catches the corner of my eye, and I turn to see a huge moth, desperate to escape the aerial bombardment. It settles on a well-covered magnolia leaf; part of the garden where this tree, thick in leaf, but long abandoned by bloom, meets with the flowering hydrangea beneath it.
We both settle in stillness, seeking shelter, yet sharing the experience of this welcome rainfall. We are both in it, and part of it, and for a few moments, we share this common bond that shows the interconnectedness of us all.
The rainfall slows gradually, and I stay outside for several more minutes. The cracked and yellow earth pauses to absorb the refreshment it has been longing for so silently and diligently.