It has been months since a useful amount of rain has fallen. Only the slightest trickle of water is flowing now in the perennial creek that passes by my poor, old farmhouse. I’ve never seen the land this dry. The soil puffs up like smoke with each foot step. As I hike through the forest each day, my legs become coated with a fine dust that is more like baby powder than dirt. All the leaves are turning brown but fall color is still weeks away. My heart wants to make a difference because the forest feels thirsty to me and the trees look like they are dying. What can I do to bring relief to the trees?
A casual remark by a friend on the internet inspires me to learn how the Native Americans do their Rain Dance. Turns out to be very simple really – toe stomp one foot and then toe stomp the other. Touch the ground with the hand, then raise it towards the sky. Twirl around a bit like the wind bringing in clouds heavy with moisture. Easy enough for me because I am a dancer. The dancer that lives in my truest heart has a deep fondness for the trees, has swayed with them in the breeze. I want to do something for the trees, so I will do a rain dance. I want to make it all my own, so that my love shines through it.
I will need a chant to call in the rain whilst I dance. As a child growing up in the desert, I learned to smell the rain coming before I even saw a cloud in the sky. I know that my chant must draw on genuine feelings to have any real power. “Rain smells on the breeze. Freshening rain moistens the soil. Rain soaking in like a sponge. Rain to save the color of Fall leaves. Rain is life. Life supports itself. Rain coming. Rain here and now so that I feel mud squishing between my toes. Happy rain.” I think that will do quite nicely.
Where to do my dance? I could go to the back forty where loggers have been felling trees. Where there is a foot of deep powdery soil. No, it’s not a good idea. I don’t want to focus on what I don’t want more of. Water. I need to be near water flowing abundantly.
Before we did any logging, a sensitive state forester came and felt into the forest to select which trees would be cut. She was guided to suggest actions that would support our forest’s vitality. “Let’s keep that Bee Tree.” she would say. “Oh that one does have amazing character! Those little ones can be sacrificed, so that middling tree might thrive.” It is called uneven-aged management in forestry practice – keeping forest cover, harvesting some trees but never decimating the wildlife habitat. With my rain dance, I want to express that kind of sensitivity for our forest’s needs.
I may need to alter my usual hiking path, to find a place to do my dance. The place I had first considered is a bit remote but the forest doesn’t scare me. I’ve seen a wild pig running the ridge road ahead of me before. It did not seem aggressive. I don’t think it had any intention of confronting me. It only wanted to put some distance between us – quickly. I am never afraid in the forest. I’ve seen coyotes up close more than once and never has one turned to attack me.
Well, it’s not quite true that I’ve never felt fear in the forest before. Once, when I had to hike after darkness in the cold of a long January night, I left the main road to take the foot trail along the creek. I was listening to a recorded book, The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue. It is a scary story and probably not the best choice when hiking alone in the dark. I was at the deepest point into the trail’s loop when I heard a coyote sing nearby. I know well their way of encircling prey as a pack.
I will admit I turned back to the dirt road and quickly returned home like a scared child. I love the forest. I didn’t want that fear to haunt me the rest of my life. That is why I went back out after dark the very next night. The outcome was unremarkable. By facing my fear, I felt brave again. Actually though, I still avoid repeating that experience, if there is any way that I can hike while it’s still daylight.
Every morning I take a stroll down the old Bloomfield Road that parallels the creek. During the pioneer days, wagons and horses and foot travelers used this road to go from their homestead to a one-room schoolhouse or a country church or to the closest general store or even to the railroad town. The trees along this part of that road are old with thick trunks. I cannot wrap my arms all the way around them and touch my fingertips. The trees tower over me like giants.
My rain dance is taking shape in my imagination. There is a confluence where the brook which runs across the old road enters the larger creek. My husband has moved large rocks there so that it is easy to hop across without getting my feet wet. I like to go there in the morning and do my own version of a Sun Salutation. It is just a silly little ritual that connects me to the birds and the trees, to the earth and the sky.
When I arrive at that place, I slip my shoes off. It is warm enough. I like to stand barefoot on one of the large flat rocks in the brook. A yellow butterfly begins to make a nuisance of itself, flying about my head, even landing on my hair. I twirl my arms about to fend it off. It is determined. I begin to laugh. Could it be that the Great Spirit is teaching me my own rain dance? My arms twirl as though gathering the clouds to bring in some rain.
Could my sun salutation ritual (not the “real” yoga one I do in class each week) become some part of my rain dance? I raise my arms towards the sun like a large Y. I feel the energies of the sun warm my head and with my arms bring these down to my heart. I open my arms as though I am being crucified. That is not the concept I am actually feeling in my mind. I feel strongly the balance of standing between the energies of giving and receiving when in that pose.
I forward fold towards the little brook which is happily making noise with the rocks below me. Sometimes I see crawdads, frogs or little fish there in the water. I feel gratitude for my connection with the Earth, Mother Gaia. In my mind, I am scooping up the waters. I lift the imagined water energy towards the sky. Then, with a twist of my elbows at the heart, the backs of my hands touch in reverse prayer palms. Passing the third-eye chakra, my arms are back above my head. I open my arms out again feeling like a flower blossoming. Opening my arms wider, I bring them back down to earth, with palms and chest outward, as though I am flying like the butterfly that just visited me.
I return to mountain pose and do what my yoga instructor calls a chest lift/back bend to form a slight arch backwards. Then still arched backwards, I bend to the left and then to the right, noticing the tops of trees alongside me. One more forward fold and I finish my little ritual with the two Tai Chi poses we do in my weekly yoga classes. Tai Chi #6 – up from the ground to the heart, out to the sides, drawing the energy back to the heart and returning it to the Earth. Followed by Tai Chi #7 – up to the heart, pushing out forward from there and then drawing back to the heart, sending it to ground again. I always finish with a Namaste to Life itself.
I will begin my rain dance by doing that ritual. I don’t do this every day to create rain but what the heck? Why not use it? While inspired by yoga postures I do each week, it is still a little bit something that is truly my own. I think I will play around with this sun salutation ritual adding the native footsteps I saw on the video and my little rain chant. I will make this rain dance fun without feeling any pressure for it to be a success. It’s all only my imagination after all, so what do I have to lose?
In magic stories they go out into the dark. Do I really need to go out at night? I wonder. I know that darkness symbolizes the womb in creation mythology. It is sometimes drawn as an open circle or u shape or points creating a triangle. I need to represent sky and earth, and maybe the number 4. “Why 4?”, I ask my inner thoughts. Ah, the four directions that wind can come from. Our brook and stream take water to the great Mississippi River and from there into the sea. Water is forever circulating. Rain is forever falling. Droughts never last forever. It seems important to remember that last truth.
Going out in the dark of night just to do a rain dance seems irrational and just plain crazy to me. I can think of no reason why I can’t go and do the rain dance in the light of day. Even though this idea seems natural enough, I reassure myself by thinking – “There is nothing evil about dancing or wrong about chanting in the forest.” There is no reason to turn this into something weirder than it already feels like. After all human beings have danced and sung since the dawn of time. It doesn’t seem to matter what clothes I wear either. Just the usual blue jeans and t-shirt I wear everyday should be good enough.
Now I know where I should go! Part of my daily hiking trail takes me into a steep valley. It isn’t the creek that flows past my farmhouse but another stream that joins it further down past the big shut-ins that everyone in these parts know about. This other creek is less well known. I never encounter strangers there like I have at times at the shut-ins on the main creek. This one is very private.
I know exactly the spot on that brook now. I have fallen in love with the peace I feel at that deep pool. There a nice slightly slanted rock shelf there which dips gently into the water. I have gone skinny dipping there on very hot days. It is a beautiful spot. Above the pool, the rock outcropping rises significantly to create pretty little falls of water. Once I spied a water snake there, right after I got out from swimming in that pool, and right where I had mindlessly let the strong flow of falling water beat upon my head. That was unsettling.
The sky is a heart-stopping beautiful clear blue on the day that I decide I’m going to just do it. It is hot and humid and feels oppressive but that is normal this time of year – drought or not. The trees are still releasing moisture, even as they are trying to conserve it. It is their respiration. That is why they have to drop their leaves in this drought because their leaves are constantly releasing moisture into the air. Scientists calls it evapo-transpiration. It is also why we often have pop-up afternoon thunderstorms on hot summer days even though no larger, organized storm systems are moving across the countryside.
Arriving at my chosen place, I do my sun salutation ritual. When I stretch my arms into that balanced pose, I notice the breeze suddenly get stronger. It feels like power responding to my intention. Then, I go into the rain dance part and do my chant.
I now see dark clouds approaching from the south. Can it really happen that quickly? They are moving in very slowly like a comforting blanket and I am happy to see them. The darkness is increasing. It is now so dark that it is almost like early evening after the sun has gone down and darkness is almost complete but one can still see the surroundings clearly enough. I think I better hurry home. Suddenly lightning strikes too close for comfort and home is still far away. A seriously loud boom of thunder startles me.
Oh my! What have I done? Really? It must be a coincidence. It is only because I personally know I did that silly little rain dance. Otherwise I would not think it possible that I could have caused this weather at all. Logically, it could only be a common thunderstorm, even if we haven’t had rain for a very long time. There wasn’t any rain forecast when I checked a week ago.
Big drops begin to fall. I’m going to be drenched by the time I get all the way home. At least the trees look happy now. They seem to be standing taller and their leaves appear to be uplifted to catch drops the way children stick their tongues out to taste rain.
Thankfully I finally arrive home again because it really is pouring buckets now.
So – what happened? Twelve inches of rain fell in only a few hours. Then rain continued for days. The ground became saturated and wind gusts blowing the storms along were sometimes so strong that trees began to be uprooted. Large 50 and 100 year old oaks and pines. Trees I hug and feel a relationship to. Trees with character. I went out into the forest after the rain finally ended to experience the damage, feeling full of responsibility and guilt. I imagined that I could actually feel the pain of the downed trees which still had some degree of life in their leaves and roots that were not entirely pulled out of the ground. It was the plight of the trees that called my heart to do that damn rain dance and now the trees are suffering because of it.
I will never do another rain dance! I feel responsible for what happened, even though I know it sounds crazy . . . because . . . can one person’s silly dance really affect the weather? I do know the outcome. That is a fact. It rained hard. It seems significant somehow that that rain cloud just sat there right on top of us. A lot of rain fell here that day because that cloud just wasn’t moving. It just stayed put right over us and rained, and rained.
The weatherman had a rational explanation, of course. That storm was drawing moisture from the flow of a hurricane that had spent itself in the Gulf of Mexico a couple of days before. I certainly knew I wasn’t responsible for that hurricane! The timing of that cloud just sitting on top of us after I did that rain dance? That was just plain spooky.
Unfortunately, my story gets worse. So much rain fell that it began to stress several pond dams upstream. Due to a dam inspection in the 1980s, we already knew that the homemade dams on our perennial creek had been judged a “high risk” of failure. Over the years wave erosion had weakened the upper side of those dams. Trees had also grown up in the downstream side. Though many of those trees had been cut above the ground to kill them, their roots remained embedded.
When the first dam broke, the increasing water volume cascaded through all 3 dams above us. The flood took a lot of forest trees downstream with it. Within the damage zone were an electric transmission line and a buried petroleum pipeline, as well as a few dwellings and a church. Fortunately, it didn’t take our farmhouse too. Thankfully the land opens out lower and away from our home. It helped too that the farmhouse had been built on relatively higher ground.
I think I understand better the old saying not to mess with Mother Nature. I am NOT one to believe that the Earth needs saving by humans but I am one who believes that humans need to care about their impact on our planet or we will find the Earth is no longer good at supporting us. Most people would scoff at the idea that any one person can directly cause weather. After this experience I’m not so certain. I am definitely not willing to risk interfering with nature this way ever again. Just in case . . . I did have anything to do with it.
I can still dance whenever I want to but I won’t be calling in the rain again. I will dance simply for the joy that usually gives me. My rain dance brought grief and a lesson learned the hard way.