Wed 11 Apr 2007
Too many rainbows? The first week of April, it rained at my cabin virtually every day or night. A factoid reflected in this photo from my deck is that the sky is always darkest outside the arc of a rainbow. The reason is a bit complex, but if you want a good explanation, check the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research website: http://www.eo.ucar.edu/rainbows/
Rain having fallen almost every day or night since April began, the grass in my pasture is high, and neighbor Toby Giacomini’s stockpond is full. Water districts like late rains so their reservoirs are full going into the dry months.
All the same, I’m already ready for May. So are half the people in West Marin. The other half (apart from ranchers and water district operators) are a contrary lot; more than a few of them are here because they’re not wanted someplace else — or because they are.
In any case, the minute someone mentions being tired of rain, someone else pops up with with Al Jolson’s (at left) 1947 lyrics: “Though April showers may come your way,/ They bring the flowers that bloom in May./ So if it’s raining, have no regrets/ Because it isn’t raining rain you know. It’s raining violets….”
On the other hand, April showers may cause some of us, who in school had to plow through the field of English literature, to instead recall the grim opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem The Wasteland:
“April is the cruelest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain.”
In the late 1960s, I taught English Literature, World Literature, and Journalism at Upper Iowa College. I liked teaching the poetry of Eliot (below right), but I prefer listening to Chaucer’s, the masterpiece of which is The Canterbury Tales written in Middle English during the late 1300s.
So I was a bit surprised when almost 40 years after I left teaching for newspapering, it suddenly dawned on me last week that the opening lines of The Wasteland satirize the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales:
“Whan that aprill with his shoures soote/ The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,/ And bathed every veyne in swich licour/ Of which vertu engendred is the flour….”
In Modern English, that would be something along the lines of: “When April with its showers sweet has pierced to the root the drought of March and bathed every vein the moisture whose essence begets the flower….”
With all this going on and the “smale foweles maken melody,” wrote Chaucer (right), “thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.”
Eliot naturally saw April more darkly and went on in The Wasteland to ask, “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow/ Out of this stony rubbish?”
Personally, I am not one of those folk longing to go on a pilgrimage to Canterbury or anywhere else (too much walking); my view of April is certainly less gloomy than Eliot’s; so I was almost taken in by Jolson’s advice:
“When you see clouds upon the hills,/ You soon will see crowds of daffodils./ So keep on looking for a bluebird/ And listening for his song/ Whenever April showers come along.”
As it happens, I planted daffodils along my driveway last October. Five weeks ago, Dee Goodman, formerly a Point Reyes Station innkeeper and now living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, arrived for a visit. On her first day back in town (above), the daffodils I’d planted came into bloom.
Dee, however, observed that if West Marin residents were to follow Jolson’s advice and search the hills for daffodils following April’s showers, they’d miss them by at least month. “A better flower for April would be the Forget-Me-Not,” Dee suggested, having just noticed them in profusion along Nicasio Valley Road north of Moon Hill.
Eliot, no doubt, would have agreed.