Rain in the Desert

“What is that sound?” The librarian asked as she was checking out books.  We all looked around the room with her. Then she said with a knowing smile, “Oh, it’s raining!”  

Everyone in the small library smiled back at her.  It was raining! The kids in line to check in with the summer reading program became excited and agitated.  They asked their mothers if they could go watch the rain from the breezeway windows. One little girl started walking all the way outside before her mother called her back.  “No, sweetheart, stay in the breezeway and watch.”

Adults came in the library through the breezeway and smiled.  Their shirts were speckled with rain. Others finished checking out their library books, looked out at the pouring summer rain, and went outside to their cars with big grins on their faces.  Rain is something special in Twentynine Palms.

The average yearly rainfall is 0.51 inches and the average snowfall is 0.0 inches in Twentynine Palms (US Climate Data).  It’s exceptional when anything falls out of the sky. It actually hailed this past summer and I showed my kids just so they knew what hail looked like (small frozen pellets of ice in case you forgot).  

Kids of all ages clamour to go outside and look as soon as there is precipitation in Twentynine Palms.  Young children perform a wild version of a rain dance as they prance about their wet yards. They skip about the sidewalks and look like they are about ready to sing “Singing in the Rain” like Gene Kelly.  Teachers at all schools know little instruction will happen once moisture starts falling from the sky. There was once a mixture of snow and rain coming down and the high school students asked if they could just please, please open the class room door and look?  The door opened, a few students looked, and like magnets they were pulled outside to feel the magic of cold moisture falling from the sky onto their faces. The whole class soon poured outside. Big teenagers performing their own version of the rain dance.

Rain makes everyone giddy in the desert.  Children at home rush to ask if they can use the umbrella outside in the rain.  The parent does not know where the umbrella is but the kids pull it out from the back of the closet.  They hide under it as the rain pours down, delighting in the novelty of using the umbrella as protection against rain rather than protection against the sun.  Meanwhile the family dog bounds about in the yard and barks at the sky. He’s bewildered and wonders why his head is all wet even after he gives it a good shake.

Rain in the desert often comes in fast and strong.  The roads become small rivers once it begins to rain more than a few sprinkles.  The desert sand cannot absorb much water. That is why there are such high berms along the streets.  Rain water gets funneled along the streets where it is channeled to many of the washes throughout Twentynine Palms.  Sometimes the rain comes down too fast and the channels can’t keep up, creating massive flooding in some parts of the city.  Locals know never to drive through those fast-moving mini rivers. The floodgates on Split Rock Avenue get shut to allow the torrent that flows through there free passage through the city.

The desert is clean after it rains.  It’s as if the desert itself took a shower and scrubbed away all the dust and dirt.  It smells clean.  The creosote bushes gives us their perfume like a natural aftershave.  The mountains glisten and sparkle in the distance. There is no puff of dust as you step on the desert sand.  God watered his cactus garden.

I knew I lived in the desert a while when in the early morning, getting ready for work, I became conscious of a strange sound.  I paused and listened carefully.

“What is that sound?” I mused.

It took me a moment to identify it as the sound of rain falling from the roof onto the ground.  

“Oh, it’s raining!”

A small smile appeared on my face unconsciously as I performed my own rendition of the rain dance.