Knowing

It’s been raining since midnight and the gray morning moved without notice into a darker afternoon. Cool temperatures slowly pushed this front across the mountains, past the piedmont, then over us, until eventually, tomorrow morning maybe, the clouds will move out to sea. In a short while I’ll don my black Columbia raincoat and walk to the river. I don’t mind rain when it’s still warm like today, but once the temperatures drop, the frost which has already appeared in the Shenandoah will sweep down to the Chesapeake. I’d rather the warm sun. I always prefer the sun.

One thing though: the rain keeps me present, like a cold wind, like a hot day, it becomes part of the conversation, sets the tone, determines the diction of small moments. When the weather is extreme, we wear it like a new garment, and everyone has something to say about how it looks. But any normal day of mild temperatures and indifferent atmosphere will usually pass in some pleasant fashion, just outside our consciousness; days, even weeks, can drift by this way, lost.

There are times the weather can be overwhelming and we long for that forgetfulness, such welcome irrelevance. But when it rains like this and I walk to the river, slightly uncomfortable and quite mindful of the moment, it feels as if I can manipulate time, slow the whole thing down, dismiss the anxiety and mood swings that come before and after the predictable deluge of ordinary life.

Czech writer Ivan Klima once wrote that when a society is working well, the mechanisms which keep it going also remain just outside the consciousness of the citizens. It is only when things are radically wrong or uncharacteristically fine that we take notice of who’s doing what and criticize or praise, unite or dissolve. We long for the quiet, but with such peace comes the risk of hijack. We have learned in a most difficult fashion the dangers of non-participation, of letting our guard down, of such dark indifference. No, people on the inside know for certain that peace takes trust; consistency demands patience, and order, above all else, needs truth.

And so in life. And the truth is, for me, here along a deceptively calm river, I would rather remain within the walls of my own consciousness despite the storms—both real and metaphorical—and remain aware of the highs and lows, awake to my failures and second chances, than walk some placid path of self-deception, pretending all will be fine. Such a mundane existence would steer this vessel directly into depression. I’m well aware of my place here, conscious of my need to navigate without hitting too many reefs. Oh, I’ve hit the rocks before, hard, and I’m certain to hit them again, but between such travesties I would rather not fall asleep at the helm. I’m okay with extremes. I’ve made my peace with my often-random life.

The rain is beautiful today, almost blue against the steel-grey sky. The maples are turning, and all along the road to the river wooly caterpillars head for the cover of the brush. Along the path which runs through the northeast side of the property, two deer stop to drink from a birdbath. They spot me and their ears turn toward me, their tail up. After a moment they return to their relaxed state as I move along the path to the driveway, down under the row of crepe myrtles, and finally to the patio, wet and alive.

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