Friday, April 04, 2003

April, the cruelest blog.

Spring is tugging at Winter. More signs of Spring all the time — buds on certain trees, brave flowers, a half-greening of the grass. At 7 p.m. CST earlier this week (before it clouded up yesterday), just after dark, I could see Orion firmly planted low in the southwestern sky. Orion is a Winter constellation, and it’s preparing a goodbye.

But Winter is still ascendant, for the moment. A namby-pamby Winter, one that never quite gets down to freezing during the day. But cold enough. Last night we had a middling thunderstorm, and thick fog and 40s F were the follow-up this morning. More thunderstorms hit downtown in the afternoon.

Middling would be about 5 on my personal scale of storms — 10 being the violent, loud, singularly amazing tropical thunderstorm I witnessed from under flimsy shelter at the Singapore Zoo on the afternoon of July 1, 1992. Rare is a storm in the 9 to 10 range: the big rain in San Antonio in May 1970; another spring storm in ’77 or ’78 that washed out our plans to go to a Night in Old San Antonio; and some Nashville rains, including a spectacular one in the spring of 1984. In the North, the spring rains are rarely so impressive, but the blizzards are another matter: the January 6, 1996 whiteout in Boston, and the January 2, 1999 big blow in Chicago come to mind.

One thing I’ve learned in the last five years is that big booming thunderstorms are more fun if you live in rental property. But I still enjoy them, along with more gentle rains, provided I don’t have to trudge through them. Saturday night rains are the best, now that I have little interest in or opportunity for venturing out on Saturday nights. The ideal time for it is when it’s warm enough to open the windows and listen to it while drifting off the sleep. (Provided all the electronic gizmos in the house have been shut off.) It’s only monotonous if you aren’t listening. It’s a harmony of several kinds of splash: straightdown rain hitting the ground, plus drops thumping against the side of the house, tap-tap-taping on the roof, trickling off the house and trees, and blup-blupping into puddles.

Summertime crickets are also melodious, as far as I’m concerned. Yuriko isn’t so taken with them, however.

In the summer of 1994, Yuriko and I spent two of the most aesthetic weeks of our lives in Bali. In the town of Ubud, we stayed in a brick shack off the main road, a very Spartan place. One room, one bathroom, a porch. But it had an amenity I’ve never gotten even in rooms costing 20 times as much, the sound of a gurgling creek accompanied by an army of singing frogs (or some kind of throaty amphibians) and a chorus of tropical insects. Every night, as soon as the Sun had set, the concert began. I like North American cricket-song, but somehow temperate-zone insects don’t give off quite the same vibe.

In Candi Dasa on the southeast coast of the island, the nighttime sounds were nearly as good. There we stayed in a hut that was slightly more upscale than the Ubud property. The bathroom was more presentable, and done in Balinese style too — that is, it had no roof. Trees shaded the hut, so when it rained you didn’t get a complete soaking while doing your business, but some drops still fell on you. About 30 feet from our front door, the land dropped away to a crummy little beach about ten feet below (the reason the room was so cheap). Every night the sound of waves hitting the land filled the room — echoing and coming from every direction, it seemed — and one night a storm kicked up and we had wind and waves and occasional thunder.

Of course there were other aural treats in the tropics, like the insects of Taman Negara or the call to prayers in the Cameron Highlands, both in Malaysia. More on these some other time; I’m going to call it a blog.