By Robert Bradley
CuencaHighLife noted that this “rainy” season’ is the wettest in 30 years. I wouldn’t know anything about that because I just got here. And besides, I hail from the Pacific Northwest so rain is second nature to me. And, honestly, I love it. I love living with consuming rain that dominates all else and fully embraces us in hands far greater than our own.
When I look down on the churning El Rio Tomebamba carrying dirt and stone and brush scoured down from the mountains, I am reminded that the Gods of Fertility and Loss, joined together in their enthusiasm to enrich their soil, can flood our frail dreams and simply wash them away. We are but a blink in their towering watchfulness and they care nothing of our meager goings on.
This special place would not be what it is without bountiful replenishment and the robberies of the rain. The land we depend on for our survival requires concentrated support and I am thrilled that the message is so undeniably strong and true.
I do love this season. The city sleeps under a light gray blanket of cloud most evenings. When the sun gets up, the thinning blanket is tossed aside to reveal a nearly cobalt sky hosting vast sails of rising clouds floating in waves across the valley. As the air warms, the clouds build to an armada of sizes from gunpowder puffs to rising giants, vast soft ships of the sun. When the soothing clouds are cast adrift around mid-day, or so, the gods — determined to rain — begin to stir.
It is sometime after 2 pm that the dark intentions of the gods become apparent. If you pay close attention, you can see them preparing themselves far off in the distance — like an unruly mob they drape themselves in charcoal gray cloaks of the most voluminous sort — (not the kind one would expect for strenuous activity), but these are gods who do as they please. And this is the season where they reign. Within the hour they are ready.
The first rolling thunder seems far away, an errant ball rumbling down a resonating lane somewhere and of little interest to us in Cuenca. But then the atmospheric pressure begins to drop and the air becomes dense with impatient anticipation. The rolling, expanding clouds are no longer gray. They are gunmetal. And then, the gods arrive and the sky is lit up like a proclamation. An explosive crack of thunder announces their arrival.
“This is our land! We are here and we will hold nothing back.”
The thunder becomes a roll call, a drumbeat, a freight train, a furious explosion insisting to dominate everything else. And then it comes. A rain as hard as the reign of the gods. What a grand display of electrifying energy and power to demand that all else retreat or succumb to her mighty presence. The rain isn’t everything; it is the only thing.
It is time for a cafe con leche.
I prefer the deft craftsmanship of Greg at Casa Azul Galeria Cafe on San Sebastian Plaza while sitting under his comforting and broad awning. It is here, warmed by the radiance of his heaters, that I can safely wonder at the possibility that rain could fall any harder.
And then it is over. The gods are spent for the day. They retreat; their wrung out cloaks now flung like unwoven wool on the jagged edge of distant mountain tops where the rain is brewed. What remains is exhausted water dripping from leaves and branches, posts and awnings, resting at last, in cobblestone shaped puddles reflecting the surprising light that surrounds them.
I finish my cafe and head off. The air is fresh. The scent of flowers is reawakened. A spinnaker of a brilliant white cloud is unfurling in an emptying sky.
But, it is not always like this. Sometimes the rain is later, much later. And softer, much softer.
The other night, really 2 in the morning, I was awakened by a small incessant sound, perhaps a mouse or a nocturnal bird poking around. It was a soft inquisitive sound, probing and determined. But it was neither a mouse nor a bird. It was rain.
My roof is leaking again. Time to get up, move the bed an inch or two and place a small bowl on the floor to catch the drops that will tick tick tick deep into the night and into my dreams. This is water that has successfully probed ever downward. That is what water does.
My place, like most of the neighboring places, is old. Really old. Wattle and daub old. The superstructure is made of reeds (wattle) woven together and filled in with soil, sand, and straw (daub). Over the years this place has been plastered and slathered, bricked up, smothered in concrete and whitewashed, all to preserve the integrity of this building that has been someone’s home for well over two hundred and fifty years. It is not a quick fix. You must work with nature and rely on the tools she provides to support it. Wattle and daub.
You also have to wait for the dry season. Once the wattle and daub are dried out, you can begin the task of repairing the place just as others have done for a long long time.
Meanwhile, here I am, late at night, almost 3 in the morning, sitting at my desk listening to the tick tick tick of water drops falling into a small bowl. I had thought I heard a soft inquisitive sound, probing and determined. I thought the small sound was perhaps a mouse or a nocturnal bird. But it was neither mouse nor bird; it is rain.
It has come inside to visit me.