The music of the rain

I must have drunk too much mezcal, or read too much of the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez (as if there is such a thing), the night I dreamed of Emil, the bald, sun-beaten god who brought the rain.

Emil lived in a cabin high in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico, overlooking an acequia community where the neighbors all get together to clear the ditches in the spring. This way, when the monsoon season comes, the water flows past all of their homes in equal measure to grow their crops and brew their coffee.

Emil had an upright piano near the stove that he plunked as softly as a drizzle in the morning or rattled like a raging downpour, rumbling the keys with delight, on the nights when he got into the wine.

He slept late the following morning, only stirring when the sun was too high for shadows. Then he grabbed his worn hat, his high boots, and threw over his shoulder the soft sack stuffed with clouds that he would spread across the horizon.

Some days that sack was soaking wet, while other days it was as dry as cotton, depending on what weather he decided to bring. It had held every kind of cloud in its time, bulging with fat cumulonimbus, lenticular layers, cirrus rising as high and ethereal as a bouquet of lost balloons, and nimbostratus swooping low to hurl sheets of precipitation against the ground. 

Emil would work any time of day, languishing in slow, sleepy, window-streaked mornings, or roaring in the dark long after the sun went down. His favorite time was the afternoon. He liked the way the late light would darken across a reddening sky, turning the mountains purple, blue and orange.

He was working less though, from day to day, until finally the sack of clouds sat empty in a pile in the middle of the room. The piano was un-played. And the front door was closed. Emil’s long arm filling mug after mug of wine was all that moved in the dark cabin. He told himself it was because he was old. He had seen enough of New Mexico, the rising streets of Santa Fe, the fast flow of the Pecos past piñon pine, and the spring surge of the mighty Rio Grande. He said there was nothing new to do, and nothing new to be seen. Which is true, of course, if that is how you want to view the world.Why would anyone want to see a flower, or steal a kiss, or hold a hand?

Those are things lovers do. Love is always new. Love is the freshest thing.

Which brings us to Pancho, the apple tree-pruning hero of this cloud-god dream. Lazy Pancho, so gentle and so kind, so in love with Gina, who was sweet to everyone, with the beauty of a happy mind. When Pancho first saw her brilliant smile, he thought he had gone blind.

“Hello,” she said, and Pancho thought he had heard a song.

Emil did, too, plunking a few keys on the piano in a brief reverie before he was distracted again by the contents of the mug in his other hand.

The spring had been a hot one. Unusually dry. As summer came, the people in the acequia community were starting to let a little worry into their minds. All across New Mexico, people were looking up at the sky as if they were looking for a sign. Then, in the Jemez Mountains to the west, a fire began to burn.

As the ridgeline lit with flames, Gina would weave and sing, thinking of cold springwater sliding down her long spine. Pancho would work in the orchard, and in the afternoon try to nap in the first shade that came. They kept finding ways to bump into each other in town.

One night, he walked her home. And again, there was that song.

Emil made coffee. He played music through the night, then sat on the porch to stare at the fire across the valley all morning. The people noticed it, too, the increasing smoke, and the young couple now walking together all the time.

After the first night they kissed, there was dew on the grass at dawn. When her family had him over for dinner, there was a brief rain. Gina’s parents worried Pancho was unambitious, but they liked how he made Gina smile. And how when they looked at each other, you could hear music spilling down the mountain.

For a moment it almost stopped, though, this poem of love, with everything ready to go wrong. One night, Pancho said something stupid, and Gina said she could not forgive him. The whole town began to burrow under the increasing canopy of scorched air, wondering if it was their turn to burn. Everyone except Emil, who at lunch the next day had seen Pancho and Gina heading past the orchards to her uncle’s hunting cabin with a blanket, some bread, and a bottle of wine. Emil, who spent hours packing his bag, lifted off the mountain at last light, and opened the heavens over every metal roof in New Mexico for days with a symphony of rain. 

—Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of the God of Skiing. The book has been called “the greatest ski novel of all time.” Don’t believe the hype? Buy and read it here: amzn.to/2lmzpvn

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