The West: first rains


That smell, the first rain smell, I love it, always have, always will.

When my boy was a boy and chose to live in the hills with his parents we would run outside with the first fall, tearing our clothes off as we ran.

Luckily for us his mother, Hildegard, descended as she is from a sensible line of Europeans, would always manage to convince us that wet nudity in a suburban street was probably a chargeable offense and it was best to run amuck with some covering.

We did our best.

Our best was not always good enough and Hildy, in an earlier year, could be seen running after us waving items of clothing.

Our first autumn rain this year up high in the Kalamunda hills was a beauty, a full 40mm they said in the all the places where they say how much rain we get.

There is nothing quite like sitting in your house safe and sound listening to the rain fall hard and heavy and relentless on your tin roof.

It conjures memories, visions and a kind of peace and quiet bound up in the knowledge that the long wait has ended and outside the parched earth is drinking and won’t stop until heaven has emptied itself.

There is, of course, a sound to dread.

That sound is the one that reminds you that you forgot to clean the gutters and the water has spilled over into your eaves and any second now the overflow will enter your house and drown you where you sit in front of your brand-new digital television set.

This is when I jump, as I have done on many occasions, remove my clothing with haste, don my Speedos and climb up in the drenching rain to work in the gutter where I belonged the week before and if I don’t clear the leaves, twigs and gumnuts Hildegard will make me live for the week after.

When I re-enter the house I bring water and blood and aching hands from thrusting into pathetically narrow gutters, stiffening knees from crouching low and a sore head from the inevitable bang on the solar hot water tank that has more peripheral piping than an aluminium smelter.

I am told by some of my neighbours that television no longer holds any wonders for them and they long for that first rain and the sight of me clambering up a ladder, soaked, shivering and near naked, stumbling, slipping and sliding on a roof they would not be seen dead on and they hope I won’t be either.

Hildegard often yelled and screamed but in both directions at the same time: Get on the roof and clean those gutters! Don’t you dare go on that roof dressed like that!

Hansl, the boy, would laugh and laugh and I’m surprised he didn’t drive up here that last good rain just for the sport and to watch his skinny father naked and wet and his mother yell and howl.

And it’s not just the roof. There is also the driveway.

The driveway drain is an ancient and unfortunate construction, built by a man who knew nothing of drains or water, or liquid flow, but everything about human drama.

This man built a drain that floods in seconds, allows water to run into the garage, my office, anywhere and everywhere but down the hill where it would logically flow if there was not a drain to block it.

This drain is, in fact, two drains.

Once again, almost naked, but full of the excitement of the chase, I follow the water from the driveway all the way down the hill, unblocking as I go and not resting until its body rests in the small gully we call Sleepy Hollow.

But not for long, because water waits for no man and in that one restful second I know the other drain has blocked, the driveway is again full and flooding and the neighbours on the other side of the house have not yet had their full of me ghostly white, shivering and splashed with mud and leaves.

But when the rain and I are exhausted and Hildy has forgiven me, we sit quietly with a window open, a cup of hot chocolate and smell that smell that rejuvenates, replenishes and turns prose into poetry.

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