I love when it rains in LA. The air grows humid, which feels right. The smog and the dust are cleaned out. The grass grows, and the hillsides are covered in green. Even my dog acts less of a pain in the ass. The city feels sleepy, and I’m reminded of how constant a part of life rain is if you’re from a certain climate. (My boyfriend and I wonder, like we’re lost on the island of lotus-eaters, “Did it just rain all the time when we lived on the east coast?”) There’s joy in stepping out into a changed landscape for puppy to go potty. I joke that I have reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, since I’m overjoyed when I smell rain and wet fallen leaves—but I’m told that LA schoolchildren get just as excited about the rain.
I know that rain here in southern California causes mudslides, and car accidents, and brushfires later on when the inevitable dry season (more than a season) returns and the hillsides are now filled with dead grass, shrubs, and saplings. Rain is dangerous here. People don’t know how to deal with it. It’s nasty and inconvenient when you are used to living in an almost year-round summer, when every restaurant has a patio and schools have outdoor cafeteria seating and people are supposed to take tea or rosé or whatever on the veranda—though I rarely see this ever happening in my neighborhood. Not to mention when you are used to driving your car like we’re all still in a Wild West cattle train, besieged by Native American attackers.
I was thinking last night about the birds I used to listen to in bed in the morning, when I was little, in hilly western Pennsylvania. I could count maybe five different birdsongs—I’m sure there were more—but my particular favorite was the mourning dove: easy to identify, and easy to remember its name. It was only last night that I realized that when I go to bed in LA (despite our lovely neighborhood, where we have cyprus trees and funny little orangey squirrels) I hear nothing. Nothing, except the occasional roar of a police helicopter circling frighteningly close, or a siren passing. No crickets, no cicadas, no grasshoppers, no owls, no scratching nocturnal critters. I once saw a raccoon in our tree out front, so they must live here…but that tree is gone now, and so too is the massive one in the back yard, thanks to our chainsaw-happy neighbor and landlord. (The landlord is old and doesn’t want to deal with roof damage; the neighbor is more interested in drilling flowerpots into walls for some reason than in having natural trees.)
Rain can be melancholy, but it can also be happy; and sun can be happy, but it can also be melancholy. I hate how we east-coasters, and midwest-ers, and even northwesters, all make a cult of the deciduous forest after we’ve lived in LA a few years. Can’t we be happy with one of the world’s most delightful climates—the only other “Mediterranean climate,” everyone is always screaming! There’s plenty of wildlife in the desert! they say—that felt like such a great vacation for the first year or two? Where you can smoke legal weed and drive around in the sunshine and never have outdoor concerts or events cancelled? Can’t we exist in LA peacefully without desperately trying to explain, to everyone who will listen, just how nice red brick architecture and organic city planning and pine forests are?
Maybe not. I read that all around the world, thanks to climate change, the insects are dying and so the fields are growing quiet. When I looked with Google Earth at where I lived when I was little, at the acre of woods in our backyard where I chased down moles (I drew a star-nosed one glimpsed running across the garden), tortoises (we rehabilitated them), mice, deer (we gave them salt lick), blue jays, cardinals, finches, and hummingbirds (we fed them), woodpeckers, garter snakes (I caught them), bumblebees (we fed them to the snakes), squirrels, and chipmunks (my favorite)…I saw an unending, mushrooming development of office complexes and access roads. So for now…I guess we’ll just have to be happy here in LA, my pacified little doggy and me, watching another weirdo neighbor across the street, wearing his denim cutoff short shorts despite the weather, checking on his muscle cars in the rain.