Drought

When leaves show their undersides, be very sure rain betides. (Farmer’s Almanac)

“I think of aspens as a good canary-in-the-coal-mine tree. They’re a wet-loving tree in a dry landscape. They may be showing us how these forests are going to change pretty massively as that landscape gets drier still.”  (William R. L. Anderegg quoted in NYT, 2017)

My daughter hammers a rainstick in the hot autumn sun of Napa 

sending beans zigzagging through nails to create that shushushushushhhh

In our backyard we shake the four species of the Bible under orange skies,

palm, myrtle, willow, and citron, in 6 directions, east, west, north, south, 

up, down and to the heart, the rustling mimicking rain in our branch-roofed hut.

So, too, percussive instruments strapped on ankles, little beads woven through nets 

in ritual rain dance. Why do we pray for rain by making the sound of rain?

What else do we pray for by imitating its sound? Would we thwack 

flat spatulas on jello to mimic the sticky suction sounds of sex 

in order to attract a suitable lover? How does this work, anyway? 

Will sound call the rain down out of peer pressure – everyone’s doing it – 

or is it like how hearing faucets running invokes a need to pee?

Maybe it’s like the mating calls of birds – the coo coo of the dove 

inviting the distant mirroring coo coo of its mate?

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If so, when else does humanity, with less intention, make it rain?

Let’s listen to the sounds as the world shuts down in self-imposed shmita:

Parents shaking rattles and shushing their babies, 60s beaded doorways 

set swaying when someone crosses through, my daughter’s Slinky 

slithering headlong down steps, well-placed dominos tapped, 

tandoori meat and peppers in the iron skillet, raking leaves on my front walkway, 

that gentle scraping and combing of cement, swish swish of the broom, 

tennis rackets following through on air, snip snip of scissors cutting cloth,

my dog eating an apple, a soft sound like the storm is coming 

but still miles away. And still the rains don’t come. Dry grasses ignite.

If this is our climate strategy, can we admit trees do it better? 

Observe the quaking aspen, its round, saw-toothed leaves dangling 

like miniature fans, whispering on the slightest breeze, that furious snap and whip 

of limber ballet limbs, setting the leaves flipping in frantic, twisting motion,

shushushushhhing wildly in the wind, rain dance rattling nimbostratus clouds down. 

What do we humans add with our frail fronds and sticks? Not the sound.

But the intention, the kavannah, that we gather to do it, tune our voices 

to prayer-pitch, bodies twisting to send beads cascading down in hissing rivulets,

shivering ourselves awake until we remember that we are the gods we pray to. 

We are the withholders. Prayer for rain is our love song to the plants, the animals, 

the earth, ourselves. A shift from call to response to shofaring a new call:

Symphony of land and sky: help us help the rain to come. Rain and its deep

fertile smell, rain and the wails of mourning and loud love-making, 

rain, rain, and that shushushushing rush of wings, knowing we and the trees 

and the whole thirsty earth are listened to, not caring by what or by whom. 

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