After a long, dry spell during which the lawn browned, the tomatoes wilted, and the pond receded, last night the heavens opened with a drenching, purifying rain – a rain that silenced the birds who normally welcome each dawn. The metal barn roof thrummed beneath the onslaught as the gutters overflowed. I yawn and stretch and survey the wet gray world through the screens. Willie hops down off the bed and yawns and stretches, too, then looks at me, expectantly, signaling me with a single wag of his tail.
“Okay,” I say, pulling on a pair of khaki shorts and a polo shirt. “Let’s go.”
Downstairs, I reach for my red “river driver” raincoat and step into Richard’s orange Crocs – a pair of big rubber clown shoes. For the first time since deep winter, I also put a rain jacket on Willie before clipping the lead to his harness. I open the door and hesitate for a moment beneath the dry cover of the porch, surveying the sheet of water draped from the edge of the corrugated metal shed roof. We are inches from this wall of water, standing behind a waterfall as if we were in Hawaii or Costa Rica instead of New York’s Hudson River Valley. I smile at Willie, pull up my hood, and the two of us step out into the rain for our usual morning walk.
Except there was nothing usual about it, this morning soujorn in a drenching summer rain. In seconds, Willie’s head and hindquarters are saturated, along with my legs and my khakis and my undershorts. Rain drips from the “visor” of my hood, and the Crocs on my feet squeak with every step. Rivers run this way and that across the new blacktop the county laid down and painted last month. On this gray morning, the fresh double yellow line running down the road’s center appears illuminated, fluorescent, phosphorescent.
The smell of cool, wet, grateful earth rises up, and the leaves of the trees flutter all around us. Willie trots along, blinking, all business, and I watch the water flowing through the box culvert beneath the road, watch it drip from my hand onto the saturated leash as I consider how long it’s been since I’ve taken a walk in the rain.
Sure, I’ve dashed from the house to the car many times, or walked down Madison Avenue shielding myself with an umbrella. But this morning’s walk transports me to childhood – and to walks back and forth from elementary school in a yellow rain slicker and black boots, carrying a book bag wrapped in plastic. It was a time for jumping in puddles, and not caring that my head was wet, not caring that water dripped down my neck and soaked my clothing. It was the time I turned my face upward and opened my mouth to let raindrops fall on my tongue.
Willie stops, sniffs, circles. And as I stand and wait for him, feeling the cool rain on my hands and legs, the countless drops pelting the hood of my jacket, I consider what it means to be alive, and I acknowledge I would not have voluntarily taken an early morning walk in a summer rain without necessity, would not have experienced these moments were it not for my obligation to this dog, to this small gift in my life.