Thursday, March 15, 2012

Song of the Cicadas, Or Why I Love Humidity

Florida in the summer time is like living in a sun-filled sauna. By seven thirty in the morning, it's often 90 degrees. I used to sit on the steps of my parents house in the morning and play guitar, and I'd be drenched in sweat after just a few minutes as I went inside.

As a kid, I loped about like Tarzan, clad only in shorts most of the time, running wild with my friends. I grew up in Hernando County, somewhere between suburbia and the old-time Gulf Coast. It was close to idyllic, the nature around us, and its most supreme manifestation of which we were enamoured: the island. I grew up on a lake, with a canoe, and an island in that lake at my disposal. The crown jewel of my lake, my island on the lake, was my tree fort on the island in the lake. And growing up I never thought about the key thing that made the Robinson Crusoe fantasies I carried around with me an everyday reality: It was hot all the time. Even in the middle of winter, there was only about a month that you couldn't go swimming.

And it wasn't just hot: It dripped. Everything dripped, like a Dali painting. In my adopted Chinese city of Shantou, it was the same. If anything, it was more humid. And wetter.

 Some years, in February and March, the rain would not stop. Out the balcony window of the apartment I lived in, the hot wind would be rain-filled, blowing over the bamboo and pale green leaves on the hillside, incessantly, all day long, every day, for months. Monsoon season, an Asiatic phenomen for which there was no Southeastern United States equivalent. Motorbike delivery boys would scoot around campus, invisible under their cheap plastic ponchos. The roads into town would fill with puddles, and the puddles would fill until they were small ponds. Cars and trucks and vehicles that had no name (Is it a tractor or a taxi, or a bit of both? A truck or a tractor, or a bit of both?) would roll gingerly through these new and transitory bodies of water, their drivers peering down out the windows, hoping for the best...

Downtown Shantou, gritty on the best days, would turn into muddy streams filled with congested choking traffic, but moving slower than normal for the rain. The river of stink would overflow in its pungency. Wetness suffused everything, until it seemed the Soviet bloc buildings might start swaying into clay, running for the mud they seemed to be made of.

But finally the sun would appear. The dryout took a long time: At dusk the song of the cicadas and creaking croak of the frogs would blend together, and somehow still sounded soaked, regardless of how many days had passed since the last rain.

Hearing these sounds in the evening, my mind would drift homeward, toward Florida, and I imagined that the rain that had passed here was on journey west, and by the time it got to the U.S., it's pattern would have changed. No months-long rain, but every day, an explosion of brightness and heat -- and dampness in the air, that would grow each afternoon, until the brilliant white armadas of cloud would turn dark in the afternoon, and eclipse the sun with thundershowers.

And then, late in the summer, no, in what would be considered fall, the rain would be off again, vaguely tracing the line of the Tropic of Cancer, heading west, so far west it would eventually be east, into Asia...

1 comment:

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