Dr. Macphail watched the rain. It was beginning to get on his nerves. It was not like our soft English rain that drops gently on the earth; it was unmerciful and somehow terrible; you felt in it the malignancy of the primitive powers of nature. It did not pour, it flowed. It was like a deluge from heaven, and it rattled on the roof of corrugated iron with a steady persistence that was maddening. It seemed to have a fury of its own. And sometimes you felt that you must scream if it did not stop, and then suddenly you felt powerless, as though your bones had suddenly become soft; and you were miserable and hopeless.
Listening to people complain about the weather this spring led to a hunt for my Somerset Maugham anthology, specifically his story “Rain,” a tale (quoted above) of morale decay and religious hypocrisy amid the monsoons of Pago Pago.
I realized it had been many years since I last seen the three-volume set. Perhaps it was lost while moving between student digs, or on the way West when the covered wagon turned over. But through the wonders of the Internet, my loss was quickly overcome.
Having spent years traveling the Far East, Maugham knew the “cruel persistence” of real rain. Our wet spring has mostly been comprised of showers punctuated by an occasional downpour, most notably Saturday’s deluge.
Standing under the tin roof of a local box store took me back to a night on the island of Hawaii, when it felt like metal roof of our bed and breakfast was going disintegrate under the liquid assault and the land mass returned to the sea.
If you live in the Kootenays and walk around in a tee shirt on the rainiest of days, you probably don’t really know what rain is. People who inhabit places like Prince Rupert – where a South African family with a child that has a deadly sun sensitivity has taken refuge – mow their lawns and play ball when it pours. If they didn’t, their yards would be jungles and sports something to be savoured only on television.
My first and only fall spent in Vancouver featured an introduction to truly persistent rain that set new monthly precipitation records.
Hitching around to freelance reporting assignments in the distant suburbs, beyond the reach of late-night buses, caused me to frequently question my sanity for moving to a place that seemed to be one big puddle, from the North Shore mountains to the U.S. border.
Trail was unusually cold when I fled the Lower Mainland in the last week of November, but the Pacific weather soon followed. At first there was more snow than rain but by Christmas Day brown slop had displaced the seasonal white stuff, and streams ran down the highways as I made the rounds visiting new friends.
One of them was a newsroom colleague, the late Nancy Rode. She used to take great pleasure in following a few steps behind me as the Times staff headed off to the Union Hotel for our Friday afternoon gathering so she could watch the reactions.
Dressed in a trench coat, a beret that she persisted in calling a “tam,” and yielding an umbrella with a carved handle, I raised eyebrows as we strode into the then smoky and crowded after-work watering hole. In Trail, men, let alone the real variety, did not flounce around in such garb.
The West Kootenay is a sanctuary for many varieties of weirdoes and from extreme weather of all sorts, whether it be the withering kind of heat that comes when extreme sun is mixed with humidity, cold with wind, gales that aim to take Dorothy back to Kansas, or varieties of precipitation such as golf-ball sized hail and windblown-snow that imbeds in your face.
Let’s face it, we’re soft – and we like it that way. A risk of 10 millimetres of rain or 10 centimetres of snow (which never drifts in our deep valleys) is cause for our televisions screens to turn red with dire warnings that extreme weather is on the way. Real rain is to be found mostly in other places and the writings of Maugham.
“Meanwhile the rain fell with a cruel persistence. You felt that the heavens must at last be empty of water, but still it poured down, straight and heavy, with a maddening iteration, on the iron roof. Everything was damp and clammy. There was mildew on the wall and on the boots that stood on the floor. Through the sleepless nights the mosquitoes droned their angry chant.”
Raymond Masleck is retired Trail Times reporter who doesn’t don his trench coat much anymore and only wears his beret to costume parties. But he still packs an umbrella when the skies turn dark.