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Having a Swell Time : Rhythm of the Rain

So Cal Surfers Are Gearing Up for El Nino and Recalling Other Days of Heavy Weather and Towering Waves

September 17, 1997|DUANE NORIYUKI | Times Staff Writer

As a child, my wife was informed that raindrops were tears from God, and so when buckets poured from heaven, she would wonder why there was such despair beyond the darkened sky. Even now, I sense a melancholy when such tears fall upon her.

I recall no such stories from my childhood, but being raised on a Colorado farm, rain was significant in my life. To hear it tapping against the roof and my bedroom window was the gentlest of awakenings, since the alternative was my father's voice, beseeching me to begin long days in the fields.

But when the ground was appropriately soaked, the music of rain meant we were first to dig worms, then go fishing, which was about all we did when we weren't working during the summer months. And, even now, with the farm as distant in my past as childhood, I am comforted on such mornings when I hear the sounds--with my eyes still closed and dreams still near--of rain.

With the anticipated arrival of El Nin~o, so named by Peruvian fishermen 200 years ago, children will build their own lasting relationships with rain. Unless they are going fishing, some might be disappointed at being forced inside or fearful of accompanying thunder and lightning.

Children, of course, do not apply scientific explanation to such phenomenon, any more than a trip to Grandma's house is viewed through the intricacies of the internal combustion engine.

What rain can bring besides disappointment is puddles, a good thing, and at the Montessori Child Development Center in Fontana, there is Puddle Day, when children, following the summer's stretch of hot, sunny Inland Empire days, can rejoice in this blessing from above.

"We step out just to feel what rain feels like and talk about what you should wear in rain and why rain's important for us. How does it help us and hinder us?" says Nasisa Campwala, director of the school.

In Malibu, the thin neck of a broad funnel, residents know how rain can hinder.

"We talk to them about not going near streams during the height of the rainy season," says Diana Armstrong, director of the Carden Malibu Country Preschool and Kindergarten.

A huge covered deck will rim their new building so on rainy days children can still be outside, where they can see the rain and hear it, Armstrong says. And not get wet.

At the Heart of the Earth Survival School in Minneapolis, Native American children learn about gi-mi-wun, the Ojibwa word for rain, a gift from the creator.

"I explain to them that without water, we can't live," says Johnny Smith, who teaches culture at the school. "We can't live without rain. I tell them that water sustains life for everything, not just humans or animals. Everything on Earth from sand to grass to leaves on the trees, everything on this Earth is alive, and without water they couldn't exist."

One legend, Smith says, is that loud thunder and powerful lightning were the result of grandfathers expressing displeasure at the wrongdoings of people. Some parents, he says, use it as a tool when their children are misbehaving.

"I don't like it when they do that," Smith says. "What we should do is put out tobacco and give thanks for the rain."

Fred Frankel, director of the Children's Social Skills Program at UCLA, says there is incentive for children to develop fonder feelings for snow than rain for one very significant reason: If it snows enough, schools close.


The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore includes stories like that told to my wife.

"If it rains while the sun is shining, the devil is beating his wife for forgetting to put salt in his soup," for one.

There are recipes for initiating rain: "After having killed a snake, hang it on a fence, and rain will come in a few days."

And, there are telltale signs of when rain will stop: "If chickens are seen pecking themselves during a rainy spell, it will soon be fair again."

According to superstition, the rain can cure freckles, ringworm and otherwise have medicinal effect: "To remove warts, take a string and tie as many knots as you have warts. Place it where the rain drops off the house, and place some dirt on it. In three days, the warts will be removed."

I like Frankel's comparison to snow, because I have awakened to such fresh blankets that muffle sounds, sparkle in the sun, and keep school buses at a safe distance. It's like waking up knowing there are worms to be dug and fish, lurking in deep, mysterious pools, to be pursued.

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