Today is a rainy day. It’s also one of the first rainy days of summer, which are the absolute best kind. In spirit of the rain today where I am, I thought I’d share my thoughts on rain, and what a rainy summer day means to me.
In general, I have no problems with rain (usually). It is simply another aspect of life and nature that provides variety and change. Rain is a sign of growth and renewal—the washing away of accumulated dust and polishing of dulled appearances. When it rains, flowers grow. Grass turns greener. Stones sparkle, and the current in rivers runs a little faster. Kind of like when we take a shower to clean off and clear our heads, rain appears to wipe the slate of the earth clean, prepared for a fresh start and rejuvenated to tackle whatever is to come. It is a major component of the cycle, and proof that life keeps on moving. To say it in the words of another: “Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life (John Updike).”
The cultural significance of rain as a positive is extensive, and is symbolic for many individuals around the world. Because of its connection to water, a necessary element for life, it is typically associated with cleansing and re-birth. In dry climates, people rejoice at rainfall, as it is literally life-giving in its role in agriculture and growth.
Ironically, rain has also developed a conflicting association with sadness and melancholy. I can see how this conclusion could have been drawn from a very literal perspective, if looking at how the actual darkening of the sky during rainfall could become associated with a darkening of emotions.
But I believe that cultural shifts and advancements have also played a large part in developing this more negative connotation with the rain. In time periods and cultures many years ago when water was much more difficult to come by, the ability of rain to provide nourishment for people, societies, and nature far outweighed the temporary cons precipitation brings. Yet, as we moved further and further into an age where water was no longer a resource we had to work for (beyond turning the tap), and irrigation systems, storage tanks, and water plants grew, the life giving properties of rain were trumped by its inconveniences.
Prior, it was ok if one’s feet got a little muddy, the sky was darker, and hair frizzed, because those were all signs that crops were growing, there was water to drink, and the prognosis of survival was better. Now, our society is used to having water on hand even if it isn’t raining out, and tap water at our fingertips virtually all days of the year, all hours of every day. Water is a resource we don’t think twice about missing out on. Because of that, we have become less able to view effects such as mud, darkness, and humidity as positives in our opinions on rain.
Now, we sigh over inevitable traffic, and the fear of slippery roads and accidents. Movies stage sad breakup scenes in the rain with orchestral music humming in the background. We pull our hair back tight for the day, and break out the waterproof mascara. We check the batteries in the flashlights at home and stock up on non-perishables just in case the power goes out. We gear up in waterproof jackets, boots, hats, and umbrellas in order to minimize the droplets of cold water our bodies come into contact with on the run from the parking lot to the building. We grumble at the wet and bleeding newspaper on the driveway. We lay out extra mats to keep the rugs clean of mud.
As a result, we now have this odd dichotomy in the symbolism of rain, as both a positive and a negative. A long time ago, one could say we didn’t have a choice on whether or not to like the rain; in fact, it was virtually always seen as a good thing. Yet now, with the survival aspect linked to rain being much less, we have the option to deviate from original symbolism. I think this is why we now see much more variation in feelings about rain among ourselves. There are people who still love it, and some who despise it beyond belief simply because they can.
Which type am I? Neither. And both. As with so many things, Rain and I have a complicated relationship. It’s kind of an off-and-on type situation. As I said before, I generally like rain, but only under certain conditions. Firstly, it has to be warm. Summer rain I will take all day long, but I hate the cold. When it’s already cold and the sky decides to pour even more cold water on me, I am utterly miserable.
Secondly, I need an escape plan. If I am going to allow myself to enjoy physically being in the rain, I need a warm bathrobe, beverage, and clean clothes ready in the house for when I come back. In the rain, I’m fine. But once out, I prefer dry hair, clothes, underwear, and blood that hasn’t dropped to amphibious temperatures.
Thirdly, if I’m outside, I either go barefoot or in full-on rain boots, but never normal shoes. Nothing is worse than a soggy sneaker or a squeaky flat.
If the rainfall has satisfied my conditions (therefore, if it is 1. Warm 2. I am prepared, and 3. My feet stay dry), then I typically love it. Why? The best way to answer that is by simply hearing about what rainy days make me want to do, as most of the items on the list are actions which reflect those aspects of the rain I do enjoy.
Things I want to do on a rainy day (like today):
- Wear comfortable clothing, drink tea, and wrap up in a blanket
When I wake up and see rain pouring outside my window, usually the last thing I want to do is put on a “nice” outfit. Part of that is simply because I don’t want to get any of my “good” things wet and muddy, but the other part is that even just looking at rain makes me cold. Even when it’s warm outside, the rain is…well…cold water. Which means that I could get cold and wet. And I do not like being cold. For some reason being in the rain chills you from the inside out. Solution: sweats (warmth and comfort), tea (more warmth), and a blanket (warmth for good measure). Once I am guaranteed to be in a position where I can conserve all possible thermal energy around me, then I can relax and fully enjoy other rainy day activities, especially #2.
- Watch the rain
It’s pretty simple, but it’s one of my favorites. As a child, I remember finding a window and watching the raindrops trickling down the glass. I would pretend that the drops were all racing to the bottom in a competition. I would pick a drop and cheer for it, willing it to be the fastest and not to get “eaten” by a larger drop it encountered on its way down. Sometimes, when the wind made the droplets hit the window at an angle and move in a more horizontal pattern across the surface, I looked at the wiggling trails of water and saw hordes of tiny fish, squiggling to their destination.
Just watching the rain fall down in constantly moving lines from the sky, pattering onto the ground, definitely has a calming effect on me. There is something about an action that is simply repeated over and over that provides an element of safety, comfort, and mental security. It’s like visual white noise. Because the stream of water is steady and secure, it gives me something to rely on being consistent, and thus tune in to, synchronizing and calming my mind.
Thus, when it rains I always take a little time to find a window and watch it falling down. I trace tracks of water on the windows I pass by during my day. I let the visual white noise of the drizzle clear my head.
- Go for a walk in the rain (with proper attire, of course)
I love taking long walks outside. They are rejuvenating and stress-relieving. When it rains, I like outdoor walks even more than usual. Of course, only in the proper raincoat, umbrella, and rain boot attire will I even consider it, and it better be a warm summer rain, but other than that count me in! Being outside and actually in the rain is a completely different experience than just watching it, for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, it’s always quiet because the vast majority of humans shut themselves tight inside when it rains, and avoid driving if possible. I personally am quite comfortable being alone with myself, and enjoy having even more “space” when I am the only person out for a stroll in the wet weather.
The rain also simply puts a new perspective on things. I always see the world in new light when it is through the veil of a drizzle. Dull stones get shiny and catch the attention of the light, sparkling more than usual. Green summer grass appears greener than ever. Plants open up to accept the water.
I get to see a whole element of the ecosystem that is normally hidden beneath my feet, as worms and beetles are forced out of their now muddy homes underground and relocate to the surface. It’s easy to forget that these creatures are even there every day, when they stay buried for most of the time beneath us. In bringing them out from their dirt abyss, the rain reminds me of how much more expansive the world is than meets the eye. There is a whole network of life below our feet that we don’t even see on a daily basis, and it plays just as important of a role in our survival as the species that are more visible every day. Seeing worms on the pavement is a reminder to always remember that there is so much more to life than what meets the surface. Walking in the summer rainfall, I can ground myself once again.
- Listen to the rain
I absolutely love the sound of rain. Rain on the roof of the car, the roof of the house, hitting pavement, striking the windows, you name it. Something about the monotony of the patterns and the natural essence of the sound makes it incredibly relaxing for me. Rain works for me like white noise, giving me space in my head to ignore other outside distractions and focus.
I know I’m not alone in this feeling at all—many other people also find the sound of rain calming. In the words of Mark Haddon: “I like it when it rains hard. It sounds like white noise everywhere, which is like silence but not empty.”
I did a little research, being the curious mind that I am, and came up with some neat reasoning behind why we find the sound of rain and water soothing.
Being animals with natural instincts for survival at our core, our senses are auto-set to be on the constant watch for threats. In terms of auditory threat, our ears react to harsh, loud, and abrupt noises (think an alarm, a ringing phone, or a scream) as perceived “threatening” sounds. Yet, the organic sounds of nature, like rain, are considered non-threatening sounds, so our brains feel much safer embracing them and de-stressing as a result.
It has to do with abruptness too. Something like a shout, which brings the noise level near you from soft to loud in a matter of seconds, acts like an alarm bell for the brain that screams: “threat! Be on alert!” Yet something like rain, or waves, which increases in decibels at slower rate or in an oscillating pattern up and down gives the brain less cause for fear or alarm. It’s like the difference between seeing a family of deer about to cross the street 300 feet up ahead and having the time to slow down as you approach versus only seeing the deer as they suddenly leap in front of your car with no warning at all. When you can expect the change coming, it’s not considered threatening anymore. Yet when it startles you, the body reacts immediately by considering it a threat, because the origin is unknown and unexpected. Even though rain can get very loud and fluctuates in volume, it does so at slower rate, also contributing to the body categorizing it as a non-threat. Thus, rain, to myself and others, is filed under “good” noises, and hardwired to make us immediately calmer.
I can personally testify to the fact that rain really does relax me. I have an app called Sleep Cycle that tracks my sleep patterns at night, including measuring the quality of my sleep. It syncs up to other external data, such as the air pressure, temperature, and weather, and then finds patterns between how I sleep and what my environment is like. According to the 3 months of data I have so far, my sleep quality on average has been 15% better when it is raining outside. That’s pretty neat, if you ask me, and pretty telling as well. Rain noise=peace, to my brain.
If rain also calms you, go no further than this link: it’s a website that plays rain noise in the background while you work. I use it all the time!
- Smell the rain
Over and above noise and sight, the smell of rain is my absolute favorite thing about it. Especially in the summer. Why? Easy: Petrichor. My favorite smell on earth, and also my favorite vocabulary word. Petrichor is literally the word for the smell that summer rain makes in the air when it hits the dry ground. If you’ve even been outside during a warm rainstorm, you know exactly what I mean. It smells like fresh tar, with a hint of dirt. Which doesn’t sound appealing at all, but I love it.
Biologically, what we smell when it rains is a reaction between the oil from plants and the water. The water releases this oil into the air, and also activates the chemical geosmin, which is found in dirt as the waste from actinomycete bacteria. Combine that with the chlorine-ish scent of ozone from when lightning splits the atmosphere’s oxygen and nitrogen molecules, and you have nature’s Chanel No. 5—a Yankee Candle worthy scent.
I think the reason I love petrichor so much is also because it triggers so many memories and associations for me. They say that smell can bring us farther back into our childhood than any other sense, making it a very powerful trigger. When I smell summer rain, little pieces of happy times flash in my head. I remember nights outside on my back porch with my sister when we were little, barefoot and soaking wet, dancing to music while my parents watched and sipped wine in the dark.
It brings back images of fog evaporating off of hot blacktop where the cool rain hit it, and of walking barefoot on the still warm, slightly squishy tar. I recall a rainy day in Cape Cod when we went to the Oyster fest, and I insisted on staying in the downpour to watch the shucking contest, even though I was soaked by the time it finished. I remember those memories and so much more, and to think all of that is simply triggered by something as small as the smell of rain in the summer.
- Go storm chasing
When it comes to thunderstorms, I am a total thrill seeker. I love watching lightning, and trying to find the best vantage point to do so. My mom does as well, and more than once we’ve jumped into the car during a massive storm to “chase” it. There is something so exhilarating and exciting about thunder and pouring rain all around. There is so much anticipation in waiting for the next bright flash of lightning to light up the sky and the subsequent booming clap of thunder after. It’s like a free 3D movie in a massive theater. It’s nature having a temper tantrum, and giving us a light show to make its point.
Last summer, my mom and I chased a storm late one night. We had been grocery shopping when all of a sudden the skies broke. So naturally, instead of like normal people who would carefully drive home right away, we instead headed to higher ground, videoing the crazy thunder and lightning the whole way. We ultimately ended up in the empty parking lot of my high school, which is on top of a hill, and got some amazing lightning photos. Sure, it might have been a little bit crazy, but it was more than a little bit worth it. The rain was quite a memorable spectacle. I definitely look forward to massive thunderstorms so I can try and chase them down when they happen. If it’s going to rain, then know that I’m going to be right in it, soaking up the excitement and electrical energy in the air.
Those six items are just a few of the things that I like to do in the rain. If it’s going to happen, then I’m going to make the most of it. Ultimately, the bottom line is that rain happens; it’s part of life. We could associate it with sappy breakup scenes in movies and traffic on the roads, or we could let it bring us back to our old childhood summer memories, relax us with its cacophony of sound, and thrill us with its crazy lightning shows.
However you see it, remember that rain is a sign of life. Growth. It is a reminder that we live alongside nature and the earth, that renewal is possible, that turnover is occurring. With those words and the following little poem I once read, I’ll close off this post. Enjoy the rest of your day, and don’t forget your umbrella!
wash the world,
set to right.
cleanse the heart.”
Yay for rain!