Tag Archives: shamrock

It is an hour or less before the setting of the sun, a shadowless moment already greyed out, with an evenness of tone across the landscape, and it has begun raining, a heavy downpour, a late summer evening drenching. I first hear it, and drawn to the door, I look out and watch.

It is not just the rain, coming down in parallel lines across the trees, but the sudden humidity, a thickness in the air, and a kind of cool warmth — the air being cooler than the daytime, but the mugginess felt as summer heat. The drops splatter on the pavement outside the house and bounce up as they explode, making a kind of haze above the ground. 

It is a multi-sensory event: the hiss of the rain, the sight of the shower diagonal against the trees, the feel on the skin and the damp in the nostrils. As the weather develops, there is distant thunder. It rolls rather than claps. 

And the presence at my door cannot help but expand beyond this afternoon and its downpour. I am 70, and there are seven decades of familiarity to the rain. This moment and the emotion I feel watching is a palimpsest of all those years — each time it has rained, overlapped one on the other to make not a single day’s weather, but a book of pages, each another storm, bound in morocco to make a life. 

As a boy, growing up in what was then rural New Jersey, a brook ran through our yard and when it rained, it would flood, rushing down its channel the color of chocolate milk.

As a Boy Scout, there were camping trips in tents made from heavy oiled canvas duck, with no floors, and in the rain, the heavy drops would splatter through the weave and spray us as we tried to sleep with a mist. 

Later, in summer camp and living in large tents on wooden platforms, the rain would make a sizzle on the canvas that was pleasantly soporific. 

In my 20s, trying to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail, rain would sometimes keep us sheltered in a lean-to to wait out the weather, and after a night of downfall, we would wake up to a glazed world with leaves dripping, wet and clean, into the earth below and the long curved stamens of the rhodora flower weighted with a single bead on each tip. 

In Oslo, Norway, it rained every day in the summer at 4 p.m. You could almost set your clock by it. The downpour lasted perhaps 15 minutes and then it stopped, leaving streets running and the sound dampened by the humidity.


In South Africa, we were almost stranded on our way to Eshowe in Natal Province in 1987, when heavy rains washed out the John Ross bridge over the Tugela River. Eventually, our bus crossed the river on a railway bridge a few miles north. 

And, of course, I lived in Seattle for a while. The city is famous for its rain, but unless it was a gully-washer, no one even noticed. The constant winter mizzle was considered by most of the populace as fair weather. Or fair enough, anyway. 

Once, traveling across the continent, my wife and I were camping in Shamrock, Texas. In the middle of the night, a storm and tornado struck. First, our tent began floating as the drainwater created a flash flood, and then, when we abandoned the tent to find more secure shelter, the wind grabbed the tent like a kite, and I stood there, lit by the lightning, holding onto the airborne canvas trying to keep it from blowing off to the next county. I managed to get it caught under the tin roof of a picnic table and was able to dismantle it in the torrent. 

These and a thousand other pages in my morocco bound memory come to mind. But it isn’t merely the personal that maintains this resonance. Rain animates some of our best and most beautiful art, from Chaucer’s “shoures soote” to Lear’s “Blow winds, crack  your cheeks! Rage, blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes.” (When I watch Lear in the theater, I cannot help thinking of Shamrock, Texas). “Hey, Ho, for the wind and the rain. … For the rain, it raineth every day.”

There’s the thunderstorm in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, the wind machine in Strauss’s Alpine Symphony, and Chopin’s “Raindrop” prelude. 

There’s the downpour that begins Kurosawa’s Rashomon and the hurricane in John Huston’s Key Largo. The shower in The Big Sleep, when Humphrey Bogart ducks out of the rain into the bookstore with Dorothy Malone — when I first saw the film on television as an adolescent, the scene counted as pretty racy stuff. 

Looking out my door now, the trees across the road are a grey mass, not a boring cardboard grey, but a rich, charcoal and velvet grey, a grey made up not of a lack of color, but of all the colors veiled over each other. 

The visual poet of such rich greys in the rain is the Japanese woodblock artist, Ando Hiroshige. In so many of his Ukiyo-e images, the rain has dulled the contrast of the trees, leaving them a blank wash of charcoal or slate. It is what I see across the road — the overlapping of ever lighter greys as the landscape recedes. 

In 20 minutes, it is over. The street is flowing with runoff, more leaves have blown from the trees and collect in the wash along the curb. Fall is not too far off. The sky is barely brighter than the silhouetted trees; night will be here in another 10 minutes. 

Aprill with his shoures soote cannot match the end of summer and its late afternoon drenches. Trees all leafed out are ready to give up and let go. A certain exhaustion can be felt in the air; we have pushed so hard into the growth and flowering, and in seed time, we recognize our day is over. 

I close the door; the rain is forgot. I am remembering it now — emotion recollected in tranquility. I recall to mind the humidity on my skin, the sound in my ear, the riot of greys and the street wash. 

I love the rain; it is infinitely more beautiful than sunshine, which blares and obscures in shadow. The forms of things are revealed in sunless weather that are obliterated by sunlight. You see the world the way it truly is, not split into a manichean dichotomy of bright and dark — of Ahriman and Ormazd. 

It is the middle of August. I write this with some trepidation, remembering a warning by Sylvia Plath, who wrote: “It is hot, steamy and wet. It is raining. I am tempted to write a poem. But I remember what it said on one rejection slip: ‘After a heavy rainfall, poems titled Rain pour in from across the nation.’ ” 

psycho showerhead

At the end of our travels, how often we long to be home.

“I miss my own bed,” we say, and think of the comfort of familiarity.

But, it isn’t really the bed we miss. In my experience, hotel beds are not all that bad, as a rule, and the linens are always clean. Or almost always; I can tell you a few stories.

No, it isn’t the mattress or the blanket we miss. What we miss is elsewhere in the house: It is the shower. When I’m coming home after being away, I cannot wait to hit the showers.

And that is because: Hotel showers are a horror. Psycho (1960) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock Shown: Janet Leigh (as Marion Crane)

Many have “water saver” nozzles that limit the amount of water they spray to below the threshold needed to rinse off soap. It’s like standing under a restaurant mister. You sense the humidity, but cannot actually get wet.

Conversely, I don’t remember how many Motel 6 showers that have made attempts on my life with nozzles that so lethally concentrate the jet as to become like wet lasers attempting to slice my body in half. It makes me want to give away state secrets; there I am, some James Bond captured by Dr. No. “No, Mr. Bond, I don’t expect you to talk; I expect you to die!”

For such showers, you need to measure their muzzle velocity. You can see the knife of water so depress the skin down into the flesh as to threaten to punch through. One shouldn’t require stitches after a morning shower.

It isn’t only the flow rate that can be a problem. We have all come across water so soft that the rinse is even slimier than the soap. You rinse and rinse and cannot escape the slipperiness.

The worst was in a small town in South Dakota where the water came out of the showerhead with the mephitic smell of dead mammals. I couldn’t shake that stench from my nostrils for days.

Admittedly, when I travel I tend to stay visit out-of-the-way places that don’t always have Holiday Inns, so I wind up staying at some dubious hostelries. western motel ed hopper

I remember a motel in Shamrock, Texas, which had worn-out shag rug not only on the floors but halfway up the walls, like wainscotting. That was tasteful. The carpet also ran up the side of the bed, like a high tide threatening to sweep us away.

Or the motel in Forrest City, Ark., that came with fleas, and when we looked in the bathroom and saw the “sanitized for your protection” paper loop on the toilet seat, underneath a wet, crushed cigarette butt was floating in the water. mirror tourist court

I must admit, I have a soft spot in my heart for the old-fashioned motor court, with its separate cottages along a loop driveway. There is something nostalgic about those linoleum floors, so cold under your feet in the morning. Something about the squeaky iron bedsteads with their chipped paint, about the slightly musty smell — as familiar in its way as the aroma of clean wet moss. It smells natural, rather than the chemical cleaner scent of the chain motels. shower head

I prefer those old motor courts to the corporate disengagement of your standard franchise hotel, the uniform blandness that implies not that you have traveled somewhere new and different, but rather have somehow popped out of the dimension of real experience and into a kind of Disney parallel universe, a free zone, with no connection to anything. As if you were spending the night in a neutral corner.

But whether I have gone to a motel with enough layers of wallpaper to make the walls look upholstered, or to a Hyatt where, when I wake up in the morning I can’t remember if I’m in Boston or Calcutta, I can know that the shower will disappoint me.

And I cannot wait to get home to the water I know.


This blog reflects a correction sent to me by Pat Price, for which I express thanks.