13 Dec 2020

63. Rain


Rain, rain, go away,
Come again another day!

Children's ditty


To most people the idea of pleasure is incompatible with rain. It dampens everything, including our spirit, it floods the pavement with grimy traps for our soggy shoes, our hair clings to our crown and cheeks like seaweed at low tide, passing traffic soaks our trousers up to the knee with a decoction of cigarette ends and dog poo … That’s how I remember it when long ago I lived in a city. Perhaps they have cleaned things up since then …

But here on rural El Hierro, I taught my grandchildren a very different version of the jingle:

"Rain, rain, stay today
And come again every day.”

It won’t, though. So, we can afford to appeal to the gods for it. If it did rain every day, the island would be lush like Honolulu, inevitably full of American tourists in flowered shirts and young Herreñas in grass skirts. And we don’t want that, do we?

We could do with more rain than we get now, perhaps twice our average of 450 mm (about 18 inches) a year on the southern slopes. No, we wouldn’t mind that at all. We know that here the rain can never last more than a few days at a time and that the sun will soon be out in a blue sky like no other. It all depends on old man NAO sending us low pressure and westerlies. No, you’re not alone, a lot of other people haven’t heard of him either. NAO is an Atlantic version of the Pacific’s Niño. Then, we have no rivers to break their banks flooding roads, basements and garages as they apparently do everywhere else. The island’s “barrancos” (gullies and ravines), dry most of the time, are quite sufficient to carry off excess. And third, our soil, volcanic and porous, simply soaks up any rain falling on it faster than a Russian can drink vodka.

Here’s something else you might never have heard of – horizontal rain. No, it’s not rain in a gale, but something far more gentle. The western Canary Islands rise high out of the Atlantic Ocean right in the path of the Trade Winds coming thousands of miles from the north. The winds are laden with moisture which, as they are forced over the mountains, forms clouds.  These clouds, in turn, condense on every leaf and pine needle of the forests high up on the northern slopes of the islands, millions of jewels of the purest distilled water falling drip, drip, drip, onto the leaf-mould below. The volume of horizontal rain that soaks into the forest floor each year must be immense, but the weathermen don’t even attempt to include it in their statistics. And, as far as I know, no-one has ever seriously tried to cash in on the phenomenon, except, that is, for the aboriginal “Bimbapes” at the famous Garoé tree.

Yes, we look forward to rain. Vertical or horizontal, we know we need it. After all, we ourselves are ninety-five percent rain ... indirectly, of course! 

1 comment: