There’s something that happens to this city when it rains.
We maybe get 250 days of sunshine per year here in Shaw’s Hill. Every one of those days people sit in The Great Park, going for paddle-boat rides in the pond and walking the forested paths. If you explore that same city when it’s raining you’ll see almost no one. The streets flood and it’s not safe to drive. Those same romantic forest paths become muddy nightmares. Those same trees twist into shadowy figures. Their canopy changes from protecting to looming. This whole city, bustling with happy couples, and people enjoying their lives transforms into a ghost town.
People enjoy the rains too, just in a different way. They stay in and watch movies; they drink tea and stare out their windows. There’s a certain balance. When the weather is nice, they go out and enjoy it. When the weather is bad, they stay in and enjoy it; I like to go out. I put on heavy boots and a rain jacket, I venture out into the city.
Last summer, we had a streak of good days. Almost a month of beautiful sunny days, with no rain, but it was humid enough that the plants didn’t die either. That was a gorgeous summer. Coincidentally that was the month of fastest growth in the city. Something like a thousand new buildings started construction, almost half-a-million people moved here. Then there was some crazy political stuff, about gangs I think. Some gangsters were lynched or something. It rained for fifteen days after that. The river flooded and destroyed about a quarter of those new buildings.
I myself had a fling that summer. We spent almost every day of that month out in The Great Park, going to the zoo, public art exhibitions, Shakespeare plays in the open-air amphitheater, hot air balloon races. It was a good time. As with most relationships which depend solely on the weather though, we got sick of each other. We were both eager to strengthen our relationship, but in opposite directions. We fought for power, and we split up. Then it rained. We spent some time together while it rained, but we tempered our feelings for each other, and decided on a more healthy friendship.
During those fifteen days of rain, the city flooded. The burrs left on the city by all that progress were worn away, leaving the city all smooth. The developers who built all those buildings that flooded were later sued for negligence, the buildings wouldn’t have washed away if they hadn’t cut corners to get them up so fast. Fifteen days of rain really get the baked-in oil and grime out of the road. The useless residue washes down into the sewers and down the river, out to the Gulf of Mexico where it’s eaten by microorganisms and returns to the Earth.
Sometimes the rain goes on too long too. The city can’t be empty for that long, it’s opposing to its own being. The smoothing aspects of the rain can remove too much. Buildings that have stood for hundreds of years can be flooded. I don’t know how true this is, but supposedly the rate of suicide goes up when it rains for more than a week. I get it. I love the rain, but I get sad if it rains too much. It makes it hard to get to work. It can be hard to see your significant other. It turns into a monotony of it’s own, inducing a form of cabin fever. Your personality can get smoothed over and the days can start to blend together.
I mentioned that I like going out into the city on rainy days. The first day after it’s been sunny for a while is my favorite. The plants are a beautiful dark green, and sometimes you can see the sun shine through the clouds, ever so slightly, creating the illusion that they’re lined with silver. Until you walk through the forested paths, you don’t really realize how dark it can be in the daytime. In the low-light the trees look gnarled and foreboding, it can scare people. If you take a step back, though, you can realize that these are the same trees which felt comforting just a few days ago. They can’t hurt you any more than they could’ve before.
A parks worker intercepted me on one of these journeys.
“I don’t usually see people out here during storms.”
“Yeah, I like being out here when nobody else is.”
“Me too, that’s why I volunteered for the storm rounds. Most people only see one side to this city. You though, you’ve seen both of its faces. You’ve met both of the spirits.”
I’ve heard this sort of thing is common in Shaw’s Hill. A lot of people here still believe in the supernatural.
“Back when people were living in nature, there were all the nature spirits who controlled their lives. There was the spirits of the plants, the sky spirit, the water spirit, etc. Now that we live in cities our lives are ruled by only two spirits, who were previously lesser spirits, but as humans changed, the spirits changed too. There is the spirit of progress, confidence, and stability. Counter to her is the spirit of change, humility, and rest.”
“Uhh, thanks, I’m going to keep walking now.”
I tried to put him out of my mind.
“Hey wait! The rain is about to start coming down harder, I can give you a lift to the station at the edge of the park.”
He was right of course, so I went with him and decided to bear with the lessons about the spirits.
“The modern world is defined by a struggle between Progress and Change. Sometimes Progress gets the upper hand for a few years, but eventually Change will put her in her place. Sometimes Change gets too ahead of herself, and Progress stops her in her tracks. This is a kind of balance.”
We splashed through a puddle.
“Imagine if Progress defeated Change, once and for all. The growth would burn us all out. With nothing to keep progress in check, each human being would grow and spread like a cancer, destroying relationships, whole buildings, and eventually civilization. But if Change defeated Progress, we would have nothing to live for. The world would be a sad and cold place.”
I decided to listen to him at around this point. It’s always been my position on these sorts of things that they aren’t true, but they can offer us a tract to understanding the world through metaphor. In a way, he’s right, even if I disagree with his physical explanation.
“The balance between Progress and Change is a lot like building a tower on a scale. If you only place blocks on one side, the scale will tip and the tower will fall, but if you add to both sides at the same time, the towers can rise up to the sky. This is how Progress and Change got to be so powerful, humans built their towers up into the sky, praying to Progress, but they didn’t realize they were giving that power over to Change as well.”
We splashed through another puddle, this one caked the right side of the car with mud.
“Change gets her power from reorganization. Tearing old things down to build something new. Whether it’s an old factory being replaced with an apartment building or minerals being mined and made into a computer, reorganizing the world gives Change the strength she needs to combat Progress.”
We splashed through a third puddle. It sprayed up over the left side, painting over the window.
“Humanity, we sit on the fulcrum. We feed both sides, without even realizing it. If we fed one side more than the other, generating Progress without real innovation, then Progress wins out, and both towers topple. If we experiment and find new things without ever using them, again the whole system collapses.“
We hydroplaned for a moment; the water rinsed the mud off the car.
As I was walking home from the park, I thought about the ranger’s speech. The rain was getting heavier now. I could hear it pounding against my jacket even with my headphones on.
I removed my hood and looked up into the sky, into the twisting ether. The clouds formed chaotic swirls in the sky. I thought about how on a sunny day, the vast blue sky isn’t really much to look at. Just a plane of blue from horizon to horizon.
For a moment I thought I saw patterns form in the chaos. I thought I saw a face swirl into existence. If it did, it swirled the other way in half-a-second, being lost forever in the chaos.
I decided to head home before I got too caught up in it.