LOCAL VIEW –Thirst Speaks–

Weather is unfair. Some get rain and some don’t. There is nothing particularly evil about this unfairness. It is just how the Creator made creation. Sometimes you get a bumper crop, and sometimes you are lucky to get a single turnip. The politicians in Washington can legislate all they want, but they aren’t going to alter the fall of raindrops from the clouds. Prayer might work, but legislation doesn’t.

One interesting thing about droughts is that they tend to perpetuate themselves. The dryness creates hotter temperatures which deflect moisture around the periphery of the core. This is quite obvious when the drought is gigantic, as the Dust Bowl was in 1936, but even in the cases of smaller and more local droughts rain has a strange propensity to snub those who need it most.

A current drought afflicts southern Vermont and New Hampshire, along their borders with Massachusetts, and today it was uncanny how the thunderstorms, moving east to west, avoided the lands that thirsted most. There were flash flood warnings blaring from the weather radio, as we dealt with dust. Here is a radar map of rain from this afternoon.

The impressive storms south of Boston and Albany and over Springfield were moving west to east, as were the string of lesser showers to the north approaching Concord. But most irksome to me was the storm right on the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border, approaching the coast. It was a cluster that had looked hopeful as it entered Vermont in the morning, but “dried up” and vanished from the radar as it crossed over me, and only reappeared and blew up to a big thunderstorm as it neared Portsmouth on the coast. Is that fair?

I know, even as I grouse about the extra work I must do watering my plants, that it is fair. The actions and reactions of nature are not only fair, they are beautiful. They are incredible harmony, and the only reason we complain is because we are not in harmony with the harmony. We have our own specific desires that are blind. For example, I transplanted some wet, cucumber seedlings into dusty soil, and failed to immediately water them, and the next day it was too late; they had withered and watering didn’t revive them. Never in my experience have cucumber seedlings needed to be watered so immediately; this June is “A First”. However I didn’t blame the drought; I blamed my inability to adapt to the “sumptuous variety of New England weather”. The weather itself is fair; what is unfair is our responses to it.

Sunday is suppose to be a Day Of Rest, and therefore I suppose working in my garden makes me a sinner, but I tried to lessen the eventual penalty I must pay by making my work into a sort of worship. Rather than cursing the drought I was praising the Creator for the amazing variety that makes my fingerprints different from all others, and also makes every summer unique. Not that I didn’t hope for rain. I hunched my eyebrows to the west, seeking the cumulus that was building.

Storms can build up from innocent-looking cumulus with surprising speed. In fact the vast expenditure needed to create the Doppler Radar produced images which shocked the indoors meteorologists who lobbied for it, which leads me to a bit of a sidetrack.

Back in those days congress didn’t just print money when they needed it, and they told the indoors meteorologists they needed to cut their budget in some areas before they would fund the expensive Doppler Radar. So what the indoor meteorologists did was to fire hundreds of outdoors weather-observers. They figured it was worth it, for they figured Doppler Radar would allow them to track individual thunderstorms in the manner that individual hurricanes were tracked. But what the Doppler Radar revealed was that there is no such thing as “an individual thunderstorm”. A storm was a “complex” of updrafts and down-bursts, forming “cells” of various types, sometimes fighting each other and sometimes assisting each other. The Doppler Radar revealed that, rather than a swirl like a hurricane that could be tracked, a thunder storm was a pulsating blob that made dividing amoebas look dull: breaking in two or into three, or becoming mega-cells, or vanishing, in a manner which was basically impossible to predict, from indoors. What was needed was outdoors observers, but those good people had been fired to save money. It was sort of funny to watch how the indoors meteorologists tried to save face. They made it sound like they were doing the public a favor by enlisting them as “volunteer” observers, called “spotters”. A job taxpayers once payed for is now done for free, but you get what you pay for. Around here a “spotter” caused complete chaos in early June by thinking a shred of cloud was a tornado. I’d take an old-fashioned outdoors observer any day, as some had decades of experience.

A further disrespect towards the old outdoors observers involves indoors meteorologists “correcting” the records they kept. Dr. James Hanson was notorious for such fudging of facts. I think it was done to make modern “Global Warming” look worse than the murderous heat and drought of 1936, but that gets us into politics, and it is unwise to go there.

I’d do the job, if only the indoors meteorologists would get off their high horses and confess Doppler Radar only proved they were ignorant. They closed hundreds of valuable stations, run by valuable outdoor observers, to get a gadget that basically tells you a thunderstorm is bad after it already is bad. An outdoor observer can do the same. But hell if I’ll do it if the people I do the favor for behave as if they are doing me the favor. The fact of the matter is they are not God, they have no control of the weather, and it is far better to be humble in such a situation than puff your ego on a high horse.

Not that I blame them for liking Doppler Radar. It is a cool gadget. Another cool gadget tells you just when lightning bolts hit, and even when you can expect to hear the thunder. I actually like this particular gadget more than Doppler Radar, for it will inform you the moment a ordinary shower becomes a thunder shower. You can even set it to make an audible click, the moment a nearby cloud first makes a bolt. This gadget produced the map below, as the Doppler Radar produced the map above.

This is a wonderful gadget, because, when you focus in on your local area, it not only shows you where the flash you just saw, arriving in your eyes at the speed-of-light, hit he ground, but also shows you a slowly enlarging circle, expanding at the-speed-of-sound, to tell you when to expect to hear the thunder. However even this gadget has its weakness. As an outdoors observer, engrossed with worshipful weeding of my garden on Sunday, I noticed I was hearing thunder this gadget didn’t admit existed.

The reason I could hear such thunder was obvious to me, although I am no Sherlock Holmes. Not all lightning hits the ground, but such lightning makes thunder. A storm can shoot bolts cloud to cloud, ten or even twenty miles from it’s core. Soft, cloud-to-cloud thunder can be heard by outside observers like me, even when gadgets are deaf.

I was in some ways glad it didn’t rain, as I had to weed the beans, and you can’t weed beans in a wet situation because doing so causes problems with a virus attacking the bean’s leaves. (No, it is not the Corona Virus and no, you don’t need to wear a mask. You simply weed when the leaves are dry).

Although drought may be good for beans when you weed them, after weeding they thirst for water. I had to water some flats of seedlings I intend to soon transplant, even as soft thunder muttered from both the north and south. The carrots and tomatoes were crying out for weeding, but I had to water first. It isn’t fair, but is just is how things are. And I eventually did weed some carrots and all the tomatoes, and also the peppers, as daylight faded and you actually could see the lightning to the north and the lightning to the south, which went along with the soft sky thunder. Yet still we remained dry.

As the late day June sun settled and the mosquitoes came out I decided enough worship was enough, and headed to my front stoop to relax with a worshipful beer. And it was then I felt I became a most blessed outdoors observer. I was witnessing stuff Doppler Radar misses.

Some storm to the south was a little closer than the others. The thunder was still soft, but a few flashes of lightning seemed brighter. And then I noticed, against slow moving higher clouds, speeding scud.

There was hardly a draft down where I sat, but the outflow of distant storms produced a wind, around a thousand feet up, of marvelous speed. (I can’t recall ever seeing scud moving so fast, outside of hurricanes). With an imagination like mine it was easy to see an angel on a speeding horse.

What this outflow did was to uplift a local cloud just enough to make it shower. At first it was just a few big drops, platting here or there, but then it became a soft roar in the crisp June foliage of parched trees, at first far away like a whisper, but then edging and sidling closer, until a brief down-burst hit the stoop I hearkened from.

In India they celebrate a monsoon’s first rain. The evening chorus of songbirds hushed at the approach of a downpour in a drought. It began as a sigh on the very edge of hearing, but became an approaching roar. All became giddy in a way only drought knows. My wife came out and stood beside me as the flooding baptism approached, and then began splatting fat, warm droplets down in a way that raised tiny clouds of the dust it pelted. And then all too soon the sigh faded away through the darkening trees. I looked up through parting clouds and saw the high heavens feathered with sunset’s crimson cirrus.

Through parched trees comes the sigh of marching rain,
And even evening birds bow heads, made mute
With gratitude. The drenched do not complain
For it’s been so dry that sunbeams refute
Green growing, and, as first fat drops pelt
The dirt, small puffs of dust are arising,
And now the sigh surrounds. I once felt
This way when a kiss brought a surprising
End to loneliness. But this shower’s brief
And already the soft sigh slides away
Through dimming evening; sweet mercy’s relief
Fades to memory’s grief, and dripping leaves pray
The way men pray when they confess they lack:
“Oh Lord, come back. Come back. Come back.”



On Monday we got a mini-monsoon. The heat encouraged a general updraft to form a weak low over southern Maine, which sucked cool and moist maritime air inland and then south towards us, where it clashed with muggy air. At first the showers continued to dry up, as radar showed them approaching, but thunder thumped all around, and finally we got a few more showers. Around sixty miles to our south one locale got four inches and suffered wash-outs, but for the most part we dripped in a delightful summer drizzle. Who would ever think I could delight in drizzle?


I awoke stiff and sore from hoeing the weeds from the corn yesterday, and heard the sound of rain on the roof. I had mixed feelings. The rain will allow some of the weeds to re-root. But also the rain means I don’t have to weed. You win some; you lose some.

There is something very soothing about the sound of rain on the roof. (Unless, of course, the roof is leaking). I lazed and thought about composing a sonnet about the sound. But as I drifted back towards sleep my mind went in an unexpected direction, as happens when dreams start to mix with waking thought.

You win some; you lose some. When you write a sonnet it is a bit like swinging at a fastball in the game of baseball. You obviously can tell if you connect with the ball or miss it completely, but you also can tell, by the “feel”, how solidly you connect. Oddly, when you can really feel the connection, and the hit feels so solid that your hands sting, it often isn’t a very good hit. When you barely feel the connection, and you only feel a sort of effortless “snick”, you know you’ve hit with “the sweet spot”, and the ball is going for a ride. It is then that sluggers stand at home-plate and, rather than hustling to first base, just watch the ball with an ear to ear grin as it soars off over the fences.

The same seems to be true with writing a sonnet. You know when you’ve hit a home run. And you know when you’ve stuck out, or hit a foul. But, if you are attracted to the sport of sonnet-writing, flubbing a lot doesn’t make you quit. You just tell yourself Babe Ruth set records for striking out, as well as for home runs.

Also poetry is a form of self-expression, and the simple fact of the matter is that sometimes the “self” you are expressing isn’t the “self” at its best. Some days the “self” is more like a strike-out than a home run. Therefore a terrible sonnet might be an excellent self expression, if you are in a terrible mood.

When a baseball player is in a slump he usually still wants his time at bat, and dreads being benched. In like manner, a sonnet-writer usually would rather write a dreadful sonnet. It is a bit like “it is better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.”

Ball-players are notorious for turning to superstition to explain the difference between a slump and a hot-streak. The difference between a home-run and a pop-out is a matter of millimeters, and when you are timing a 100 mile per hour fast ball, this difference encroaches upon the limits of measurement. It trespasses beyond the borders of control into the landscapes of intuition and instinct, so of course superstition arises.

One ball player hammered a cobbler’s tack into his shoe, before a good game, so the next day he tacked another nail into his shoe, and had another good game. It was the start of a thirty-game hit-streak, and by the end the poor fellow could barely walk, he had so many cobbler’s tacks in the sole of that shoe.  In the thirty-first game he was limping so badly he struck out four times. (Moral? Don’t over-attack the soul.) So we laugh at superstition. But this is not to say there aren’t subtle Truths our intellects can’t grasp.

Writers aren’t all that different. They speak of stuff difficult to measure or give scientific credence to. They speak of “the flow” and of “channeling” and of “muses”. Of course, I would never indulge in such guff and fiddlefaddle in polite society. But, in the company of other writers? Or, when half-awake with rain drumming on the roof?

As I fell back asleep this morning my mind slipped from composing a sonnet to thinking about the source of sonnets. There does seem to be some sort of well-spring, and when you tap into it you simply “burst into song.” The music appears already-written, as it does when a musician is improvising well. When a musician is improvising he is not reading a score someone else wrote; he is tapping into spontaneity.

In a manner of speaking, the artist at this best is getting-out-of-the-way. Rather than the source he is the conduit. Then, when his self-expression produces a rotten sonnet, it is because he can’t get out of his own way. Like a slumping ball-player, he is clumsy, or just clumsy enough to miss a hundred mile-per-hour fastball. He is perhaps getting too much advise from all sides, and forgetting the source. He is not quite keeping his eye on the ball.

It is tricky, being a conduit. There’s a hair’s breadth of difference between flowing and being blocked. This morning it seemed very logical to me that, when the flow stops, I should go to the Source.

Good morning, my Master. I turn to You
Rather than art, for I know where things start.
You’re the Creator. I’m just the kazoo
You’re playing, moving my stubborn old heart
Towards saying things I could never think of;
My graying head’s too slow; I cannot know,
Using my thumbs, the gushing springs of love,
Nor engineer cramping dikes to aim the flow
Of sparkling poetry. Men credit muses,
But what are they? Just angels of Your will.
I like Your servants, but what man chooses
The cups over the Wine-pourer? I thrill
At the thought I’ve received Your invitation,
And rush to the Source of all inspiration.


Get out of my way, you who think it wise
To stifle; you traffic cops of nonsense.
Do you think you can stop the wind? Use your eyes,
You regulators of laughter. On fence
I shall sit, as you seducers recruit
Foolish youth. They march about demanding
Spontaneity be sized like a boot,
As if Love obeys their commanding.
Is that how we work? Use your foolish brains
To see math has its place. Does it belong
Beyond its scope? Gardens need soft rains,
Not budgets. Do any burst into song
Because song is scheduled? You create thirst.
Robotic song is but song at its worst.


Be still, old brain, and let the first bird praise
The dripping dawn. Turn your pillowed face
From the wet window, for you do not raise
The covered sun, nor can your commands chase
The clouds from the sky; yet keep your ears alert
To the rain on the roof, for that drumming
Is like the beat of your heart, and all hurt
Can be soothed by such sounds, and coming
to your senses can lift lids in a new way.
Listen to the sighing of the summer rain
And hear the thankful leaves begin to play
Their songs of quenched thirst. Where is the strain
Of starting a day by staying in bed?
The heart becomes full when there’s peace in the head.