On this hot, hot day I rummage through old pictures, think about rain, the hardest rain I can remember…
I thought the sky was falling our first night in Tortuguero. Awakened by the rain pounding on the tin roof, I slipped up and sat by the window to watch. We were staying in a casita with one room and a bathroom barely big enough to turn around in. The big windows had no glass, but they were covered with screens and heavy wooden shutters. I opened the shutters slowly so as not to wake the others and stared out into the night, hypnotized by the blurry outline of jungle and the flood of water falling through the trees. There was no wind, so the rain came straight down as if a giant spigot had been turned on in the sky. The ceiling fan that had whirred us to sleep now moved in silence, its sound easily drowned out by the storm.
Our casita was perched on a sand spit at the eastern edge of Costa Rica. A three-minute walk in either direction led to water – the Tortuguero River on one side, the Caribbean Sea on the other. I had read about the extraordinary drama of lightning and thunder and torrential downpour of a rain forest storm, but nothing could have prepared me for this awesome spectacle of nature.
Suddenly, sitting by that window looking out at the rain, I was overcome by a strange feeling of déjà vu. I had never been here before, but there was something familiar in the air. I’d felt it in other tropical places, too, but could never figure out why. This time I knew. The open window let in the rich scent of the jungle, and it smelled surprisingly like my childhood home — the Kentucky woods after a hard summer rain.
I realized that I had seen and smelled and felt this place long before coming here, but I had no idea how sharply it would connect me to home, to my own growing-up years in the Kentucky woods, lying awake at night after a summer storm with the window up and a cool breeze slipping through, bringing that same scent with it.
Many times over the years I have found myself in foreign places that were made familiar by the raw, natural scent of earth and rain. These times hold some of my best memories. There is a saying that has been attributed to various people over the years, including Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Roger Miller and others. It goes like this: “some people feel the rain; others just get wet.”
You know who you are…
Though I enjoy having photographs to slip back briefly to places I long to visit again, poetry works, too. I first read Ernesto Cardenal’s work back in the 80s, and I’ve never found another poet who expresses more intense, realistic images of the jungles of Central America with all those wet earth and good scents. “Green” scents, he calls them.
“Verdes tardes de la selva; tardes/tristes. Río verde/entre zacatales verdes;/pantanos verdes./Tardes olorosas a lodo, a Honjas mojadas, a/helechos húmedos y a hongos…”
(“Green afternoons in the jungle; sad/afternoons. A green river/going through green pastures;/green marshes./Afternoons that smell of mud, rain-soaked leaves, of/wet ferns and mushrooms.”)
Cardenal repeats the “green” images – the “moss covered sloth,” the shad leaping from the green river, the “din of monkeys” throwing green soursop peels at each other, the spiny iguanas like “dragones de jade,” the green palm trees and islands and volcano, the plantain groves and papayas, and the “dazzling verdure” of vegetation growing on the tiled roofs “like a fire burning green.”
With the temps in the 90s and the heat index soaring above 100, I’m green with envy of folks in cooler, wetter places. I’m ready to feel some rain!