Let the rain fall down, a precipitous symphony

John Pepin

By the time I got there, the rain was falling like a piano tune all over everything, quieting the whole scene right down. 

   There were no bird sounds, no water sounds, not even any wind. 

   All I could hear was this haunting melody played by the raindrops falling onto everything, seemingly in precise fashion. 

   That isn’t to say all the raindrops were all landing at the same time – far from it. 

   This is one of those beautiful truths you never hear anyone talk about, but we humans all – even the youngest of little kids – seem to already know and take for granted. 

   Rain doesn’t stop and start or continue at precisely the same time, though we spend lifetimes talking as though it does. 

   We say, “It’s raining out there,” or “It stopped raining.” In the true sense, these are generalizations we make that we all seem to accept as “close enough.” 

   Admittedly, this is something I never really thought much about until this day in the woods. But the fact that raindrops leave the clouds at different times and don’t fall at precisely the same speeds was impressed distinctly upon me as I listened and watched this tremendous concert taking place. 

   Depending how large a raindrop is will affect the speed of its descent to earth. 

   Heavy raindrops can travel as fast as 20 miles per hour while the lightest raindrops fall as slowly as 2 miles per hour. 

   The relative weight disparities also affect the amount of impact the raindrops will have on the surfaces they strike and the softness or loudness the sound of that impact will be as the raindrops strike various surfaces. 

   I’ve seen places on the fine-grained, sugar sands of beaches where big raindrops have left quarter-sized craters, while interspersed are signs of soft dappling of much smaller impacts created by tiny raindrops. 

   I’ve also felt soft and gentle summer rain landing on my face like a warm message setting on a shower head. I also felt a hard pelting rain one Nebraska night that I thought was going to tear a hole through my jacket. 

   Of course, this idea can be extrapolated to hail and the types of impacts it can create. One big distinction is that unlike rain, we generally talk about hail in terms of damage its stones can cause or its general size during a given thunderstorm. 

   In terms of rain, we mention damage more in a cumulative sense like flooding or washouts of various human constructs like bridges, homes and highways. 

   A single hailstone by itself can shatter and spider web a windshield. 

   The National Weather Service has a chart to aid in estimating hail size. 

   It ranges from quarter-inch diameter “pea size” hail up through 1.5-inch “ping pong ball” sized hailstones to larger and larger sizes estimated as “lime,” “baseball,” “large apple” and even “grapefruit” sizes. 

   Of course, the list has been modernized for the digital age. Hailstones that are a half-inch in size are estimated as “mothball,” “peanut” or “USB plug” size. You can almost sense the evolution of those terms through history as you read them. 

   The list concludes with greater than 4.5-inch hailstones. Those ice boulders are described as follows: “Probably a record sized hailstone for Idaho or Oregon. Freeze it. Measure it. Notify the National Weather Service.” 

   Be that as it may, out here, on this mid-afternoon in a dense woodland along the shoreline of a pale, gray inland lake, it was most certainly the rain falling on and all around me that carried the day.   

   Each raindrop struck something like a staccato note played expertly in this sweeping and intricate magnum opus by the grand mistress of the celestial keyboard. 

   If the rain had slowed down or sped up even a couple of beats per minute, the aural shimmering effect would have been lost. Likewise, if only a few notes were played, instead of this astounding symphony, the tune would not have reached my ears and my heart in the same fashion.  

   It seemed as if even one more note was played, the whole poetry and melody of this song would have flipped sideways out of timing, off track and out of whack. 

   To my delight, the rain played on and never stopped while I was out there. 

   The experience for me was one that engaged all my senses. 

   The sound of the rain hitting the hood of my rain jacket was amplified because I didn’t have the collar snapped shut. The space around my face inside the hood created a hollow – like a drum. 

   The visual aspect of the performance for me was stunning. 

   I moved from the shoreline out a few steps into the water at the rim of the lake. I bent down low to take a few pictures as the raindrops kept falling. I knew the camera would capture the effect for me to keep and cherish from this day forward. 

   The surface of the lake looked like boiling water. Quarter-sized air bubbles rode atop the surface, while at the same time, craters were forming as heavy raindrops hit hard, creating places that looked like whirlpools. 

   The impacts of the raindrops would be captured in freeze frame by the camera. I would later be able to see water droplets frozen in mid-air as splashes were stopped in various formations. 

   One looked like an erupting volcano, another like an upside-down tornado and there was one that favored the signature, grainy black-and-white photo from decades ago at Loch Ness in Scotland that was supposed to show the head of “Nessie,” the “Loch Ness Monster.” 

   The cold, dark chill of the day was part of the show too. Of course, I could feel it. But like in recording studios where drummers record the sound of the room to add to the sound of their tracks, the room here on this day was the cold. 

   I could also smell the water and more precisely, the air. It felt clean to breathe and it smelled clean too – whatever that means? 

   The rain on my hands felt colder than the lake water. Inside, I felt a deep-seated joy at being in this place at this time. 

   I didn’t want the afternoon to end. Before it did, I discovered a couple more things. 

   They were things I might never have seen or thought about had I not gotten up and out of the door today. Both things occurred when I took a few more steps out into the water. 

   As I continued to watch the raindrops splashing, my attention was drawn past them to something shining on the bottom of the lake. 

   At first, I thought it was scattered clamshells, which is not an uncommon sight in shallow waters if you visit enough inland lakes. 

   That wasn’t it. 

   The forms were similar in shape and size, but they were something different I couldn’t quite distinguish. As I continued to stare into the water, I abruptly discovered an eye staring back at me. 

   It was a dead fish. Then another and another. It looked like some animal, or more likely some person, had gathered a bluegill catch and while approaching shore decided they didn’t want to take it home and dumped it into the lake. 

   The fish had been there a while. It was all faded white, but the eye still looked like it could see. It was about this time I sensed the second discovery. 

   A few weeks back, I vaguely remember doing something while fishing or working outside that led me to look briefly to see if I had damaged the footwear I had on. Finding nothing, I kept on, shrugging it off. 

   I now felt the lake water seeping into my left boot. It didn’t feel all that warm now. Pulling my boot out of the water. I was able to find a half-inch-long slice in my duck boot. 

   “Who cares,” I thought. “I’ll patch it, or I’ll get some new boots, warmer, and a tougher-made pair too. Better to find out about it now before fall really gets here.” 

   Retreating to shore, I discovered what I really cared about and wanted to know right then was, “Can’t I just stay here and play in the rain?” 

   I shook my head as the answer that came echoing back to me through my entire being was simply, “Of course you can.” 

   Hearing that, I sensed a resounding relief. I could have cried right there in the rain, like the Everly Brothers. 

   I guess by this point in my life I have been conditioned to societal notions that dictate that there are certain things one no longer does once they are no longer a child. 

   To that I say, show me a mud puddle to stomp in. 

   Call me for dinner. I’ll be right here playing in the rain. 


   Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. 


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