I wake up in my childhood bedroom in San Jose, California to the sound of rain pattering on the roof and the fiberglass awnings over the windows. I look out to see it soaking the cracked sidewalks and pooling in the bald spots between the tufts of grass that used to be lawn. It is finally raining in San Jose. My hometown has been plagued by drought for the past three years. Even when rain is predicted, with tiny clouds scudding across the sky, it has rained every place except San Jose.
This part of California is a naturally arid area, with an average of 15 inches of rain and 301 days of sunshine a year, but in recent years, the lack of rain has caused the city to institute rationing, even hiring “water cops” to make sure people aren’t watering their lawns or washing their cars. The reservoirs are dry and the underground water sources tapped out. Signs along the farmland between my father’s house and where my brother lives near Yosemite ask people to pray for rain. “No rain, no grain,” they say.
Meanwhile, where I live in Oregon, we average about 80 inches of rain a year. This year has been a little lighter but still more than we need.
The Bay Area TV newscasters are going crazy, talking about this rain as if it were an impending hurricane. The weather maps show tiny specs of yellow, unlike the massive patches that cover most of the Oregon map. I roll my eyes as people bundle up and think about canceling things. My father says I should stay longer because it’s raining. I’m from western Oregon, where it rains so much mold and moss grow on everything that stands still. We panic at snow and ice, but if it isn’t frozen, it’s fine.
I pull up my hood and load my car in the rain. Dad waves goodbye from the door. On the road, the rain streaks the dust on my windshield. Tires make tracks on the pavement that look like snow and are almost as slippery from years of dirt being turned to mud. This area is not engineered for a lot of rain; there’s nothing to absorb it, and people don’t know what to do with it. The slick mud makes me nervous, but not as nervous as some drivers I see white-knuckling their steering wheels, staring straight ahead in terror as they drive 20 mph under the speed limit. I used to be one of those Californians who would panic at rain, but not anymore. It’s just water. Much needed, blessed water.
Most days of my Thanksgiving week in California, Dad and I sat in the patio, soaking in the sun and watching the blue jays and squirrels. This is crazy. It’s November, we said. Now at last it’s raining. In Oregon when it rained, I would wave my arms and shout “go south.” Maybe it finally worked.
Newcomers to the Oregon coast look out at our sideways rain and 60 mph wind and ask, “Does it do this very often?“ Or, “Is this as bad as it’s going to get?” We just laugh. We take pride in our ability to deal with rain and wind, but we do panic at ice and snow. I’m sure those who are used to feet of snow roll their eyes at us.
My father says soon after I left the sun was shining, but the rain came back in buckets the next day. Maybe all of us Oregonians traveling home for Thanksgiving brought the rain. If so, you’re welcome, California. Enjoy it. I’m back home with Annie now, grateful for Thanksgiving and ready to buy a Christmas tree.
Rain fans might appreciate local writer Matt Love’s ode to rain, Of Walking in Rain, available from Nestucca Spit Press.
For some impressive pictures of the California drought, visit http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/California-Drought-Water-Rain-Weather-281771491.html.