The Sound of the Rain
In his classic book, The Outermost House, Henry Beston claims that “The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on the beach.” He further claims that “of the three elemental sound, that of ocean is the most awesome, beautiful, and varied.”
It is not my intention to dispute that claim, and Beston makes a strong case for his preference, lyrically analyzing the “many voices” of the sea. I grew up far from the open ocean, and though I have often been moved by the various sounds of the surf, I did not imprint on them the way those who were born to its sounds did. Nor did I ever live on the Great Plains, where the unceasing lament of the hollow winds is the stage on which all other sounds take place.
I grew up in the Mid-Ohio Valley, and the sound that shaped my sensibilities was that of the rain, especially that of the summer thunderstorms. The sound of rain is equally varied to that of the surf, and depends on what and on how the rain falls. It can begin gradually and fall steadily, straight down, growing in volume and intensity, rat-ta-tat-ing on a shingled roof, or tap-dancing on the asphalt surface of a road. Or it can suddenly attack you, as it did once when I visited a friend who had a mobile home near Tampa Bay, known as “The Lightning Capital of the World”. A major thunderstorm hit that night, and the reverberations of rain pummeling the metal roof were so loud that we couldn’t hear each other speak. The opposite of that—and one of my favorite rain-sounds—is that of rain falling on the calm, flat surface of a lake. That sound is musical, like a thousand fingers plucking a giant dulcimer.
But the sound of rain is most evocative when it comes after a prolonged drought or heatwave. We had both of those conditions last month, and after weeks of virtually no rain and several days of high temperatures in the 90s, we were ready for rain. And when it came that first evening in July, it came as a blessing, beginning with tiny light raindrops that fell briefly, then stopped, so that we were afraid it was just tantalizing us, getting up our hopes, only to dash them. But by bedtime, it had become a steady, reliable, quieting drumming to which we surrendered ourselves.
There is nothing more soothing to body and soul than lying in bed at night listening to the steady drumming of the rain. We made up our bed on the screened porch and lay there as the rain fell on the roof, the sound of it softly, gently, tenderly pressing us down, as if with a thousand delicate fingers. We fell asleep to its sound and, as an added gift, the rain was still there when we woke in the morning.
e.e. cummings has a love poem that begins, “somewhere I have never traveled,” and ends with the line, “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.” It’s a lovely poem, but cummings is wrong. Nothing, not even my love, has such small hands as the rain.