Long before I moved to Phoenix, I knew something of the desert because I had seen Hollywood representations of the desert - usually a lone cowboy lurching across a dry expanse after his horse has died - the sun searing overhead. And I had seen Hollywood "Indians" doing rain dances. I knew that rain in the desert was a precious commodity. But "desert" to me meant an endless landscape of scrub brush and cactus.
On that first day that it rained after my move to Phoenix, I came out of my office and noticed three women standing at the huge window looking out over our parking lot. They were standing and staring out. I was curious. Had there been an accident? What was going on? I looked around the huge room of cubicles and saw other employees going about their business. I walked over to the women at the window and asked, "What's going on?" One of them turned to me with dreamy looking eyes and responded, "It's raining!" An Easterner used to rain, I nodded and walked away, wondering how these crazy people came to be employed.
I later learned that those three women were Phoenix natives. To them, rain still had magic. The rest of us took rain for granted.
Alexander McCall Smith writes a mystery series set in Botswana, a landlocked country in Southern Africa. His hero, Precious Ramotswe describes rain in the desert: "First there was that smell, that smell of rain, so unlike anything else, but immediately recognizable and enough to make the heart of a dry person soar; for that, thought Mma Ramotswe, is what we Batswana are: dry people, people who can live with dust and dryness but whose hearts dream of rain and water."
There is dust aplenty here in Phoenix. It creeps in through the smallest of openings. It gets in machinery. It settles on everything. It is different from normal household dust, which is mainly made up of dead skin cells. No, this dust is outdoor dust, which hangs in the air and invades, an imperceptible army until it accumulates. So when the rain comes, it cleans the air in a way that is hard to describe.
Today, when it began to rain, I stood at the window and stared out at it. I've been in Phoenix for about 12 years now and I'm just beginning to understand the magic of rain and water. My heart is soaring a little as I listen to that gorgeous rain. How could I have been so blind?