As Shakespeare’s romantic Twelfth Night draws to its conclusion, the melancholy comic character Feste reminds us in song that no matter what else happens in life, we can always count on it raining down on us in one form or another. He sings about the human lifespan, ending every verse with that ever-true line about life’s challenges: “… and the rain it raineth every day. It’s a thoughtful verse, somehow familiar and reassuring, because we know it’s true.
San Francisco’s weather is ever another character in its urban drama, and, along with the many types of weather she throws our way, I have come to love her rains. The flower boxes on our porch have been thriving in the mellifluous weather that soaked us in March and April. And I’ve been thriving right along with them. I soaked in the late winter downpours, luxuriated in each torrent.
Back in New York, I never gave rain much thought, except when it made it tough to catch a cab. If it rains during an outdoor performance of Joe Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park, the audience sprouts umbrellas like so many mushrooms, and wet or not, the show usually goes on. Rain is most often an occasion for grumbling, as busy New Yorkers scurry into the subways, (with their selfish, oversized golfing umbrellas, taking up most of the sidewalk real estate — a true pain, I must say), and city busses become packed like sardine cans.
But, in my experience, rain rarely came up as a topic of conversation. Or as an event. Rain gear, maybe — just how chic could your rain outfit and shiny boots be? And how dry might they keep you, even as they made you look fabulous? But otherwise, talk about the rain, consider the rain itself? Not often.
Then again, while I was there, New York was never caught in a severe drought, as San Francisco is now. There may have been times in my 40 Big Apple years that the upstate reservoirs were low, and we city dwellers may have heard about it in passing, but I never saw people on the street be glad it was pouring down. Never heard dialogue about how welcome the rain was.
Now I live where news sources keep our alarm level high, as we are told daily that no matter how much it’s been raining, the waters that soak us will hardly make a dent in the severe drought afflicting us. Hard to imagine, given the volume of downpour we experienced for days at a time. The mantra became: “Be thankful for every drop.”
And I am thankful for it. But not just because of the drought. I’m glad for the rain because it has shown me San Francisco in a new light. The March-April downpours gleamed up the streets in freshets of glistening water, as the city turned its face upward to catch each luscious drop. I felt it nourishing the dehydrated city from its inside out, and I adored sitting by the fire reading as even thunder and lightening accompanied the watery spectacle. I got out my mother’s old raincoat (why I persist in not buying one of my own is a mystery), and snuggled into its comforting, detective-story shape, collar turned up, with the sure knowledge that it would keep me dry, even as I got caught in surprise downpours.
The rainy time here was a good example of the adage, “You want different weather? Wait five minutes.” But there were also days when it rained from morning, through night. In my three years here, it never did that before. It was like living in an entirely new place. All winter, snow fell from the skies on the East Coast, but nothing fell from the skies here. Until the rains started. It gave the town a new dimension: from up to down. I know San Francisco now as place where weather doesn’t just float around me. I’ve been slightly re-located by the vertical nature of its rainstorms. Because I’ve had to slog through its downpours, I feel I know this city better. Maybe because it was the first genuine weather challenge I’ve encountered here. At first, the inconvenience of the rainstorms made me grumble like the old New Yorker that I am, but then? I began to like it, to relish each moist encounter.
Why? Because Shakespeare’s Feste had it right: Life’s rain does raineth every day, and we’re all in this beautiful ark of a city — this boat navigating through the choppy sea of life — together. And most days, aren’t we glad for that?