All morning the blue sky had been sharp and the sun had been hot.
Halfway through our ride, a cluster of clouds began creeping in. Soon they leaned over everything like a dark bowl, ready to crack and spill down on us. When a drop of rain nipped my arm, I stopped my bike and turned it off. We stood for a moment, watching the clouds.
“Hear that?” my brother asked. The rushing sound, not unlike wind, seemed to be getting nearer. We turned to see an isolated wall of rain drifting across the sandstone toward us. We moved the bikes up under a rock outcrop and huddled beneath it. The sheet of rain passed over us as though we sat in a car wash, then the clouds above broke and poured down in earnest.
After a few more minutes, another odd noise could be heard. It was a skittering sound, like rough sandpaper on a smooth surface. We looked below us at the sandy oasis carved into a deep ‘V’ in the rocks. There a stream of water was beginning to move. It was not a continuous flow; it moved like a snake with its head slithering along in the sand and its tail flicking behind it. In a moment, the snake-stream had passed and the oasis creek bed was empty again.
“The waterfalls will be flowing soon,” my father commented. Climbing out of our rock shelter, we made our way to the cliff edge. The rain had now filled each pothole one by one and like a bathtub they overflowed. First the largest filled then spilled. Its contents filled the next below it and so on. At a steady stair-step pace the water moved down toward the cliff. We watched as the stream finally launched itself off into the air, then dissipated into mist before hitting the ground. The rain was slowing to a half-hearted drizzle when we got back to our bikes. By the time we pulled into the driveway at home, the sun was bright against the blue sky.
I grew up in a drought. For much of my childhood, rainstorms were a rarity, and watering the old maple trees with leftover cooking water, a necessity. After so many days of sunshine, a sudden downpour was an incredible event. It was only natural, then, to see desert storms the same way. When the clouds rolled in, we went out to watch. I have to imagine that for many of you it’s the same: rain in the desert, sudden and so needed, is like a gift.
For our honeymoon, my husband and I decided to go to the ultimate rainy destination: Scotland. We packed our gaiters and dry bags (did I mention that this was a Scottish camping honeymoon?) and we were off. Now, I wasn’t under the impression that this was going to be Moab blue skies and sunshine. We were heading to Scotland in autumn. We were going to get wet. But I loved the rain, didn’t I? It was a surprise, then, to find that when tucked into my sleeping bag listening to the raindrops pitter-patter on the tent I just wished it would stop. The sound of the rain kept me awake for some time, and by the morning I was sniffling and sneezing. The rational part of me understood that I likely caught the cold on the airplane, and not from sleeping on the damp ground. The irrational part of me, quite upset to be sick on my honeymoon, blamed the rain.
And so for the first time in my life, I did not feel a thrill at the sight of a storm cloud. Instead, I wished it away, urging it back out to the ocean or off toward someone else’s picnic. Unfortunately, this attitude wasn’t going to get me very far on the Isle of Skye, where Samuel Johnson said, “a dry day is hardly known, except when showers are suspended by a tempest.”
In the end, I wasn’t able to love the rain – not as I do in the desert. The best I could do was navigate it: When it stopped, we grabbed our boots and headed out. When it started again, we dug out our rain jackets. During one soggy hike, I found myself thinking of the rainstorm ride in Moab. The scene around me, so saturated and green, could not have been more different. Yet the excitement I felt at the briefest glimpse of sunlight through the clouds was identical to the feeling of watching the desert rain. And the rain itself, such a thin mist, brought the same sense of calm I feel when I close my eyes and tip my face up to the sun. By the time we got back to the car, the sun had tucked itself into the clouds again and large raindrops had begun to fall.
Suzanne Klein is from Boulder, Colorado, and has been exploring the Moab desert for more than a decade.