We have fallen out of touch with what is happening outside our homes. No, this isn’t another rant against the evils of computers and that sort of thing, but rather a longing for how it once was, when the windows that were open led outside, not to another site. There once was an awareness of the sounds and smells and noises and happenings around a home. Air conditioning has closed a lot of that off in Summer, and I miss Summer muchly.
I lived in an uncooled apartment that had a character about it that defies my skill with words. I kept the windows open nine months out of the year and, because I lived on the second floor, I saw a lot of what happened around the old house where the apartments were. When I moved out it was one of the saddest days of my life, even if I wasn’t looking forward to another Summer in ungodly heat.
You know one of the things I really miss about that apartment? I miss my mud puddle.
Okay, out in the backyard of the apartment, in the grassy area where everyone parked their cars, there was a depression that held water if it rained; a mud puddle.
Sometimes we’re startled when we finally look outside and discover it’s raining. In the open window world in which I once lived the weather very rarely surprised me. The dreadful Summer heat could be either advanced or mitigated by rain, depending on what time of the day it fell. Too soon in the day and the world became a sauna, but if the rain fell right at dusk the night would be much cooler.
But back to the puddle…
It would take a long hard rain to fill the puddle but once it did fill it would begin to overflow. There was a small channel that led away from it, winding its way down towards a lower point, just like real rivers do, and I liked to watch the rain from my open bedroom window, to smell the rain, and to watch the puddle begin to become a miniature lake. The rain had to fall hard enough not to evaporate on the roof, and then it had to fall hard enough to fill the gutters of the house enough to run, and then that water would head towards the puddle and that was when it began to really run.
I remember wondering if there were creatures that lived in the puddle, just like the brine shrimp of the desert, who never come to life until the rain fills the small depressions in which they have burrowed deep underneath. These creatures that I wondered about, that I invented, would be short lived citizens of water, dying out en masse in drier times, but they would be reborn as soon as the water began to flow once again.
The Puddle People eventually diverged into two separate castes; there were those who lived and died on the very surface of the puddle, and whose offspring would take their place in the limited lifespans they had, and then there were those who spawned only when the water began to get deep enough to run, and they would emerge only when the puddle overfilled and headed towards the creek that was over a mile away.
The surface creatures lived for only one reason, and that one reason was to see that the deeper creatures were guided down the channel and off into the overflow of the puddle, in hopes that one day, at least one of them, would make it to a place they had only heard of in myth, and that was the ocean. They could not hope to live to see that day and they could not hope that a thousand Summer rains would cause this to happen, but one day, somehow, their destiny would be fulfilled, and they would have one of their own reach the ocean.
Of course, the surface creatures knew full well the rain might stop as quickly as it started. The deep creatures they guided to the channel might die within sight of the puddle and nothing could be done about it. The dragonflies that would swoop down to feed upon the dead deep creatures were revered as the vessels in which the souls of the deeper creatures would be returned to the skies, that they might fall again as rain.
The surface creatures, with all their wile and craft and water skill, knew some of them would be washed away in hard rain. They thought, perhaps, that this was so they might reside elsewhere, perhaps, and be used as guides still, but none knew for certain if this was true. How could they? None who was taken by the water ever returned and not a word nor song could be heard. While the creatures could not drown they had very little propulsion and no means to swim against current at all. Those swept away would sing their final song to those left behind and those who stayed would sing back. If the channel dried up too soon the last songs of those who had been swept away could be heard as the sun evaporated their lives away.
There was a hurricane once and I wondered if this might be a form of renewal for the denizens of the puddle world. As the hurricanes do come out of the sea, I wondered if this was some vast wave where the entire population was finally taken up and released from their duties and lives in the puddle, and all would be swept downstream and released from their tiny world. Would there be any left to perform the rituals of their ancestors? I pondered what it might have meant to these creatures to finally have so much water than all could leave and begin some religious journey to the sea.
Well after I moved out, years in fact, I went back to see what had happened to the old apartment and it had been refurbished. The new owners had installed air conditioning and they had torn down the old garage in back, where generations of feral cats had orgies deep into the night. The granite stepping stones were all gone, and I hated that, because so embedded into the ground had they become, they were only visible from above and I could see the pattern of an ancient walkway from my window. But worst of all was the entire backyard had been paved over with asphalt. My puddle was gone forever. The channel forever frozen in time and none would travel down to the sea, ever again.
When I left that place there was an incredible amount of magic there. The windows allowed in all the sights and scents and sounds and life that surrounded us. The imagination is fueled and burns most brightly when the sensory input has no filters and knows no boundaries. Not as a child, but as a grown man did I sit at the window, look out at the rain, and imagine a world that began and ended with each rain, lay dormant until the next, and reached a religious fervor with each flood. Asphalt and air conditioning may take more from us than it gives.