There Will Come Soft Rains and the Smell of the Ground

There Will Come Soft Rains
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The rain began, where I live, about 7:15 this morning. The light in my bedroom changed suddenly from yellow to gray-green, and aluminum awnings over the front windows began to ping dully with the first drops. As the band of rain settled in the awnings rattled steadily, like someone shaking dice in a metal box.

I got out my raincoat and umbrella.

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It's a folding umbrella, but not one of those the size of a handkerchief and only good for one to two trips from the nearest parking place to the nearest doorway until it's forgotten under the seat of the car. I have a hiker's umbrella, almost big enough to walk under fully, and sturdy enough in a stiff wind.

The raincoat is a Burberry, bought when I went to England in 1984. It's missing buttons and it's as filthy as nearly 30 un-dry-cleaned years of rain and walking could make it. It seems to have lost most of its waterproofing, so much that the back of my hand in its left pocket is wet through the fabric. When the rain sheers in at an angle, the drops run down the front to drip off the hem onto the wetter and wetter knees of my trousers.

The rain came down hard at 7:45, backed by wind that blew from the north and then west. Drops splatted on the umbrella as I walked, some blowing under, and the knees of my trousers were wet.

The drops that fell in the gutter on my right made intersecting concentric circles in the water running to the storm drain at the end of the block. Almost everything was wet, except for the inexplicable dry patches of sidewalk where the rain had not yet reached through the trees to the ground. The trees are hardly in full leaf yet, but that was enough to leave ragged spots of white cement.

The wind, blowing more from the west, was behind me when I turned the corner of my block, and the umbrella shook at little. The cars on South Street hissed by. The rain gave the faster traffic a characteristic shrillness. The sounds were loud enough for a noticeable Doppler effect, the pitch of the sounds higher as cars approached and falling lower as they moved past. The noise made even a meek Prius seem aggressive.

North and east of me, some of the morning's rain was settling into the aquifers that feed the Central Basin. I'll drink that water one day. Some of it, nearer to my house, was running away into Coyote Creek and the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers.

The rain mostly blew out by 8:30, leaving a question behind: to fold or not fold my umbrella. Walking with an umbrella when it's not really raining seems conspicuously foolish. But what if it's nearly not raining? Only half foolish?

Cars drove by without their windshield wipers running. I folded my umbrella.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus and 1st and Spring blogs.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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