When Streams Are Ripe and Swelled with Rain

The rains have begun in earnest. A pair of tormentas at the end of May seemed like they were heralding the onset of the season but little did we understand. This time of year means big storms, but it’s more about reliability. Rain, rain, every day. The temperature and humidity explode around noon when the sun peeks through, but by the later afternoon, grey, ponderous stormfronts break the banks of the neighboring valley and spill over into ours.


A pause between cloudbursts

We then have two options—a drizzle that begins as we leave work and never picks up enough to be fun but pours enough to soak us through and make sure nothing we own stays dry. The other possibility is a torrent, drops that feel like marbles, clouds blackening the sky, and the racket of falling water drowning speech and thought.

The first of the latter fell a week ago, and by the time we had trudged from the office to our house, the rain had cascaded into our tiled, open hallways from the terrace and the courtyard and the skylights and flowed into every corner of our homes. Water had never made it more than a foot into the hall and apart from a bed I own no furniture anyway, so everything I had on the floor (everything I had) was well wetted, and the inked half of my journal looks as though it may be lost.

We’ve been inundated each of the last three days, and while we’re getting better at anticipating and damming the tide, we’re despairing of ever drying our clothes and homes in the soggy air and incessant weather.

The streets in town are paved or cobbled and drain alright, but parts of the road out to our house are washing away every day. The impromptu river that’s turning it into a gully tears and carries off the sand and clay that hold its layer of stones in place. Try says it hasn’t been sloped, graded, or maintained; the road’s on the high edge of the arroyo out front and the rain should flow right down. He’s thinking of cutting side-channels to save the thing. If he does he’ll have a volunteer.

When it’s really coming down, the rain is a thing to watch—every ditch and path begins to gush, and when I picked my way down to that dry streambed it was full and coursing its way to the river proper. The serrated ridgelines compartmentalize the storms. They can change from a misting sky to biblical and back all evening as each front climbs up and into the valley. When it falls behind the hills, lightning is inaudible no matter how large or bright. But the strikes that fork into the valley thunder and echo for a minute or more.

In normal years, rains like this wreck the Sierra. They carve out the hills, bring down the highways, collapse roads, charge mudslides. The loss of vegetation and ground cover during the dry times combines with the massive opening salvos of the wet season to wash everything away. This year we had rain right through the normal months of drought, which ruined the mango crop but left the plants in place. We’ve not had one road blocked or broken by hillside or rockslide, a success like no-one’s seen after downpours like this.

We can’t know if this weather pattern will hold up, but if the Sierra Madre’s one of the few more developing, more equatorial places that won’t be totally fucked by the climate change that we and the rest of the best of the West have wrought, I’ll be happy about it.

UPDATE: Photos of the Storm

This one broke the day I put this post up. As I was walking home.

The horror

Casualties of wet

You can see what I’m talking about with the rain blowing right into the hall. My landlord just put in the concrete barrier you can see with the two-by-four in front of it. It’s five inches high and so is the water on the other side. There are about a dozen holes to let rain out of the balcony and it’s still five inches high. Nice.

Imagine this picture was also somehow really loud

Imagine this picture was also somehow really loud

It’s hard to exactly get you all an impression of how much water is coming down here. Our house is all concrete, and with the reverb, we had to scream to make ourselves heard over the din.



In the last photo I was standing on the landing above this, our ‘courtyard’. The tile is a good four inches higher than the concrete, and the water’s coming right over. Both the drains are overloaded and belching water back out. All of this is coming down the hall and heading right towards the other volunteers’ house.



I’m standing on the stairs going up and Janessa’s in the foreground. The door to her house is immediately to the back right, and those two inches of water streaming down the hallway are doing their best to get in under it. She’s using a squeegee to push some of it back. When I don’t have a camera, I’ve got a broom, which is more typical here than you’d think, waterwise. To the front left is another little ‘open to the sky’ space, and it’s overflowing even harder than the ‘courtyard’.

Me, me, ME

No modesty. I made this and it's fucking sweet

Here’s the other side

We put together a dam from plastic sheeting, all my wet clothes that will never dry, and anything we could fill with water to weigh it down. We managed to channel everything downstairs, where it eventually joins the river in the street, and after an hour got Janessa’s place acceptably dry.

It's still wet

My place stayed dry, but my sheet was a martyr to the cause

So this is what it’s like every time it rains.