I woke this morning at about 6 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. For those of you who know me, that’s a statement bordering on absurd. I do not awaken at 6, unless there’s a plane to catch, and when I do happen to stir I turn over and quickly fall back asleep. But this is not a normal morning. The time before last that I laid my head upon a pillow, it was in Singapore. I am profoundly jetlagged – enough to wake me for the day at 6 am.
This early November has introduced itself warm and wet to New England. Last night as I readied for bed the temperatures were clement and the rain tapped beguilingly on the roof and windows. I was alone in the bright, clean bedroom we’ve created – my husband being up in Vermont for a gaming convention. I cracked a window open and felt a familiar, forgotten sense of peace steal over me. You’ve heard so much about the attic project – the bathtub, the flooring, the way the house looks when it’s nothing but bones. But we all have secret agendas, and for me one of the great hopes was for the rain. You cannot hear the rain on the roof from the 2nd floor. But here in the eves of the attic, I hoped it would sound like when I was a girl. The very best sound of rain at night had come when we lived in a trailer in Mineral (you know, the trailer park type – but it was a double wide!). We spent only about a year there – a cold and snowy year. It was actually the manse for the church (housing provided to the pastor) – but the church was without a pastor and we were without a house, so it worked out for a bit. That was my 5th grade year, when I got chicken pox and had run-ins with my reading teacher. I walked across an abandoned baseball diamond to school through vast, spectacular forests of frost that rose 2 inches tall. The ice rose in columns of crystal, elevating clots of dirt skyward. I always felt bad stepping on them, even knowing they’d be entirely destroyed by mid morning and rise again the next day. I was young enough then to hear the rain and not the overwhelming thoughts of a busy mind.
There was a day, as spring edged into summer, when there was a knock at our trailer door. A lady we did not know stood there. She had heard we were looking for a house, and they were planning on selling theirs. Did we want it? That is, no joke, how my parents ended up in the house they live in to this day.
That house is a vast frankensteinian construction. It began life as a company house, alike in size to its neighbors. Those houses are very small. But over time new additions had mushroomed on various sides without any sort of plan or cohesion. A dining room popped out the front. Two bedrooms off the side. An inconvenient solarium off the back that was always too cold or too hot, depending on season. And most spectacularly a two story garage-and-cathedral-ceiling-living-room. The living room is made up entirely of window and is truly vast. My parent’s church easily all fits inside for worship service when the furnace fails to start at the church down the street (a more frequent occurrence than you might guess). But those vast windows overlook on the dark, ominous, steep sides of Stormking on the sunset side. To the North you overlook the town of Mineral up to the waters of Mineral lake, which would curl with fog in the mornings as the waters bequethed their warmth to the air. On the sunrise side of the house, if you can look past the wires and abandoned cars and abandoned houses, Mt. Rainier rises in all her glory above Round Top. I loved both of them with all the passion of my young heart.
Mt. Rainier is unbearably splendid in all seasons (when she can be seen through clouds). I loved the alpenglow of her pink shoulders when the sun had slipped behind Stormking. I loved her pale shadow against the rising sun – one cloud among many on the horizon. I loved her white and blue and green – like the wedding quilt my sister made me – in the bright days. One of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life, which struck my heart to its very core, was one quiet morning in high school when I arose while it was still dark and saw Mt. Rainier glowing with new snow in the predawn, a crescent moon rising above her and hanging brightly off the tail of that moon was the brightest gem of the night sky – Venus. Such loveliness can never be forgotten.
But for all my passion for Mt. Rainier, I loved Roundtop too. When the rains came, as they so often did, Mt. Rainier would vanish, but Roundtop would remain. The Northwest is an interesting place for a history lover. Gazing at the cliffs – golden or hoary depending on the light – you could sense the vast and boundless weight of history. But Washington does not know her history. The town was founded at the turn of the 20th century as a logging town (still is) and a stop on the railroad. My mother has mentioned with shock that she is the longest serving pastor in the history of our small white church. My parents have lived in Mineral, which seemed old before we came, for nearly a third of all the time it has existed. Before that, the lands had been the home of native peoples – likely nomadic in that region. I once found a hand adze in a stream, and I know that there was history in those mountains. Stories. Names. Legends perhaps. But I did not know them. It is possible that no one does – that they were forever lost.
When I went from girl to teen, I loved those quiet rainy days. I discovered an LP, and on those days where Mt. Rainier was hidden and Roundtop shrouded mysteriously with scraps of fog, I would put that record on the record player (entirely anachronistic – I also had the CD of the same album) and listen to the scratch and warmth of the vinyl. I would gaze at the mountains and wonder what their unknowable history was. My gaze would linger over the cliffs that had bested my attempts to climb them (honestly I’m lucky I didn’t die…). And my heart was filled with such unquenchable yearning and joy and longing and perfectness. The album was “Sounds of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. And when “Kathy’s Song” came on, “I hear the drizzle of the rain, like a memory it falls…” I was in unrequited love with the whole world and there was nothing short of poetry, song and mountains vast enough to contain it. It’s still one of my favorite songs. Better yet, it’s Grey’s favorite too.
Such passion is harder to come by for an ancient person like me. Forty knows much more than fourteen ever did. I probably have the tools now, if I so chose, to find out what legends are actually known about those views. My days are full of Things To Be Done. My heart, in these days of fear, is so full of anxiety and guilt and horror that there is little room to be slain by beauty.
But this morning, in the dark before the sun rose, I heard the rain on my roof like I did when I was a girl. There was no Roundtop waiting for me at the top of the stairs, but when I cast my eyes out the window they land on the 150 year old slate-roofed Hawkins mansion. The golden-glowing fountain of leaves falling like snowflakes from a gray sky lands on soil whose history half a millennium back is known to me. On the headboard of the bed above me, wrapped in a brown cloth backing with gilt letters, is the “History of Stoneham Mass” by William Stevens – a gift that made me feel profoundly known. (If anyone lands their hands on Silas Dean’s history I will very gladly pay for whatever it takes to obtain a copy!)
And for just a moment I can reach back through the veil of time and burdens, through the sludge of fears and sorrows, and touch the same inarticulate, joyful yearning in the rain.
I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls.
And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets
To England where my heart lies.
My mind’s distracted and diffused
My thoughts are many miles away
They lie with you when you’re asleep
And kiss you when you start your day.
And a song I was writing is left undone
I don’t know why I spend my time
Writing songs I can’t believe
With words that tear and strain to rhyme.
And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you.
And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but for grace and you go I.