August 10, 2016
When the rain came I thought you’d leave
cause I knew how much you loved the sun
– Rod Steward, Mandolin wind
It starts around 3:30 pm with the buildup of clouds over Doi Suthep in the west. The puffy cumulous clouds shoot up thousands of feet, turning dark with the promise of a daily afternoon rain. The last two rainy seasons have been anything but rainy. One or two hard rains in all that time, when normally the downpours are daily. The reservoirs are the lowest they’ve been in 50 years, when normally they are overflowing at this time. The rice fields struggle to produce one good crop when some years there are three.
Today the clouds build and build and darken, but then they begin to dissipate and like in those National Geographics movies of the Serengeti that are still popular on Animal Planet, we gazelles and wildebeests stare up at the clouds wondering if this year the rains will come again.
The rains bring big changes in our lifestyles here. Gone are the smoggy days of March and April, gone are the 40ͦ C days of the hot season. Now the mornings are glorious. The temperatures, perfect. The other day at the golf course, looking up at the beautiful cloud formations over the mountains, I thought, if I am a really good boy in this life, and I get to heaven, this is what the weather will be like.
But there is another side to the rainy season.
Since the rains begin in mid-afternoon they are sure to catch us all as we head home from work or school, right during the evening rush hour. Now we aren’t talking about a Seattle-type rain where you have to put out your hand palm up and still wonder if it is raining. It isn’t even like taking a shower-type rain. It is more like a bucket being poured over your head-type rain. And when it happens as you are riding your motorcycle home, it could be a bit of an inconvenience.
For some reason, motorcyclists tend to speed up as the rain pours down. Maybe they are thinking that if they get home faster they won’t get so wet. That never works. I always pull over, look for a shop awning and just wait out the storm. The downpour usually lasts only an hour or so. I’m retired. I have no appointments to keep.
Highway underpasses are popular places to stop and keep dry – but they are dark and cars speeding home during the downpour sometimes don’t see them, often with dire consequences. Roads outside of town get covered with flowing water. I once thought I was going over a mere puddle where the water had overflowed the rice field on my right and was emptying into the one on the left. When the water flowed over my spark plug and my engine stalled I had visions of being washed away, my body being found in a distant rice field. Luckily I was able to walk the bike out of the flood. Now that I am older I realize that relying on luck in a flood like that is not a great game-plan.
Houses get washed away, animals die. One night a few rainy season ago we lost our entire flock of ducks who were in an enclosed pen by the side of our stream when, after a huge downpour, a flash flood came by. It rose to more than 3 meters above normal and as incongruous as it may sound, all our ducks drowned. My heart is out to the people whose homes get treated in the same way during rainy season floods.
For those who don’t get along too well with creepy crawlies, the rainy season will be a bit more challenging. This is when the insects proliferate, especially the ants. Ants look for a place to get out from the flooded ground, and what better place than right in our homes. Currently, I have counted 6 different ant species living in our kitchen. And of course there are those biting red weaver ants who live in the tree right outside my kitchen door.
Much more dangerous are the mosquitoes and the diseases they bring. The rainy season is the time for dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis, aka “sleeping sickness”. Both are often lethal especially to younger children. Insect repellent is probably a good investment at this time.
Snakes like the cool of the rainy season. We have had egg-eating snakes that have spoiled my breakfast omelets many a rainy season morning. They steal my bantam chicken eggs and swallow them whole by unhinging their jaws. Later, after cracking the egg inside their bodies, they regurgitate the whole crushed shell in one piece. I found a 2 meter long black egg-eater in my tool shed once. It jumped up and ran between my legs and headed straight for the canal, being quite familiar with our back yard. Some species of egg-eating snakes are toothless, the better to swallow those eggs. I’m hoping that this was one of them.
Then there is that 3 meter python that lives in the canal. I really want to catch him, revenge for our ducks and chickens that have gone missing. But then again, 3 meters? Maybe I don’t want to catch him after all.
I write these blog posts in my head. Then when I get to my computer, the words just pour right out. I am now writing this post in my head as I drive my 125cc Honda Dream home from an afternoon at the U.S. Consulate here in Chiang Mai. I usually avoid driving in the afternoons but couldn’t avoid it today.
Those clouds that were earlier dissipating over Doi Suthep are beginning to darken again. I can feel in my sinuses the barometric pressure building. We gazelles and wildebeests look up expectantly. Will it rain? Should I speed up to get home before I am soaked, or look for a shop awning?
The hard rains always start with very large drops. When you get hit by a large droplet, you know that a few seconds later a bucket will be dumped on your head. A misty few drops splash across my helmet’s faceplate. Maybe I’ll get home before it rains.
And as I think that, a huge drop of rain slams against my helmet.