He squatted, looking north, resting his back on a thick mesquite trunk along the arroyo bank, the single shot .22 boy’s rifle across his knees. It was late afternoon, past the time cottontails or jackrabbits would be seen sitting or lying on the shady side of chollas or palos verdes. The shadows now were long and developing contrasts among the crags and canyons of the Santa Catalinas.
A slight breeze shifted, then accelerated enough to raise dust off the arroyo’s wide sandy channel. The fluffy dust aloft and the sun’s slanting rays blended light into a pastel translucency and the mountainside’s ridges were now golden and shadow lined. The air at thunderhead height was clear and added contrast for the clouds’ towering whites and varied grays. As he watched, the white cloud tops rose, the grayer bottoms seeming to slither aimlessly as the air took on an additional greenish tint.
Along the dry El Rillito creek bed the cooling winds were intermittent, as if stuttering before the approaching front. The dusty wind now carried teasing hints of moisture and an occasional drop that had not been overwhelmed by aridity and dust as it was flung ahead of the nearing clouds. Within minutes, the winds carried the moist creosote aroma that only first raindrops impacting desert-dry plants and soil could generate.
He breathed deeply; he had waited, his anticipation now heightened by the aroma’s promise. The lightning show was next expected, with thunder reverberating and echo-rolling around the valley’s stark mountainous rims. Most desired was the rain and the huge monsoon raindrops that hurt your face if you looked up. He hesitated leaving his vantage point and likely forgoing feeling bouncing thunder and the exciting direct cracks of nearby lightning strikes.
His experience, as limited as his pre-teen life, nonetheless told him this activity would likely pause, then resume with vigor, or entirely pass over the immediate area without further drama. He checked the gun’s safety, got up and began trotting south towards an adobe casita to try to have the advantage of both staying dry and being near the mountain sounds and heavier rain he hoped would soon follow. He found shelter under the corrugated sheet metal roof of the casita’s porch cover. Facing the Catalinas he waited, each inhaled breath nearly intoxicating. It was more than an hour later, only occasional drops now falling, and dark, when he began his miles long walk south to town.
That long-ago storm, violent with wind, lightning, cloudbursts, and glorious tumultuous bank-to-bank roaring of the Rillito, was still a strong memory, that of a participant who mildly regretted not having been able to contribute to the storm’s magnificence.
He returned decades later, driving mostly over paved roads to the now quite old building, adobe walls cracked and fissured. Its corrugated roof bent gently here and there, showed rust where nails had pulled loose. He removed the obstructive Handicapped tag from his car’s mirror so he could better see the mountains. The whir of the electric windows lowering was modulated somewhat by the wind and sand striking his parked, north-facing SUV. He waited, watching the mountains, this approaching storm seeming less a wonder ….
The thunder already begun now sounded muted, perhaps, by the softness of the stucco and frame structures all over the foothills. There was no rolling, just an occasional thunder echo also seemingly dampened. He wondered how much of the sharpness of close thunder was attenuated by his aged eardrums and how much by the thousands of structures on the once naturally empty hills. This monsoon flurry passed as a dusty freshet without even giving rise to the “eau de damp earth and creosote.”
The clouds west of his location thinned and opened as he watched. New light slanted through the openings and over the mountains. A broad rainbow formed across the foothills, both ends anchored in misty panoramas of tile roofs and pastel stucco walls. Darkness ending his wait, he started his car, its automatic headlights reflecting off moist mesquites. He turned south towards the ever sprawling city’s gentle mantle of cloud-reflected city lights, south towards a Trader Joe’s. He bought a frozen rabbit.