Writers on the Range: Soaking wet in Colorado (column)
June 19, 2015
Every day since early May, an incredibly cheerful robin has been singing from the top of a tree behind my house. Chee-oo-woot, chee-oo-woot, chee-oo-weet, chee-oo woot. He's the Gene Kelly of birds. Because for six weeks straight, it's been snowing, hailing, spinning tornados, flooding or pouring here in Denver. And, this bird keeps singing in the rain. He may be the only living creature happy about Colorado's wet weather.
My neighbors and I no longer bother with the "Had enough of this rain?" conversation. It's an old and soggy subject. We just shake our heads at each other from our covered porches and garages. We all know the answer to several new-to-Colorado questions the deluge has sprouted. Think it'll rain today? Of course it will. Could we live happily in the rainy Pacific Northwest? Heck no.
When your homeland's "300 days of sunshine" has turned to "30-plus days of dreary," that's what happens. The record-breaking precipitation has fostered Seattle-like changes in typically sunny Colorado. Denver's cheery neo-folk acts and the High Country's new-grass groups are breaking up and forming gloomy grunge bands. Statewide, sunscreen and hat sales have plummeted while raincoat and umbrella sales (a first-time purchase for many of us) have skyrocketed along with summer flannel and coffee.
Speaking of Seattle, native-son Jimi Hendrix's "Rainy Day, Dream Away" song — Ain't no reason to get up tight/Just let it groove its own way — has become a local staple on radio and in clinical-depression treatments. (So far, no medical marijuana shop has come up with a strain to beat the grey sky blues.)
Colorado's 250-plus craft brewers are also feeling the rain pain. They've been forced to pull their summer seasonal wheat beers and pilsners and replace them with strong ales and darker beers that better match the weather and color of the clouds.
A new term — "dripping ceiling" — has entered the Centennial State lexicon as century-old homes sprout their first leaks, and a popular house feature has become an amplifier of a tired song played too loud. "It sounded like a thousand angry people banging on the house," said a newcomer neighbor when describing the sound of hail pounding her skylights. "I videotaped it for my friends back East."
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Granted, the rain has brought a few bennies. Reservoirs are filling fast, this rain hasn't brought the huge floods and mayhem of 2013 and we're no longer bothered by "water only on request" policies at eateries. We no longer drink water; we absorb it through our skin and breathe it in via something called "humidity."
The water company's conservation-minded slogan of "Use Only What You Need" has also been replaced with "Go On, Use As Much As You Can." Kids now know what a "rainout game" is and will play baseball into Broncos season, and the empty ballpark of our perennial Major League losers has revealed the true nature of the team's fair-weather fans.
But, in the garden, where everything is growing, including weeds, once-hardy perennials seem slogged from May's snow and rain and June's hail and more rain. Listen closely, and you can hear the columbines sighing: "Geez, enough already." On the eastern plains, Colorado's rivers are overflowing with water, and several million cubic yards of Kansas-bound mulch washed away from my veggie garden.
Meanwhile the state's weather has become a mushroomer's delight (My neighbor found edible meadow mushrooms popping up in her backyard) but a nightcrawler's nightmare, as they become easy pickings for anything with feathers.
Maybe the easy pickings is the reason that robin keeps rocking. As a singer myself, I'm impressed with his relentlessly clear tone and enthusiasm. He's the avian equivalent of Starbuck in The Rainmaker, who proudly proclaims, "I never regret singing." But, as that thought hits me, so does another: That bird is the cause of this rain. He is the Rainmaker.
Yesterday — which almost qualified as the first precipitation-free day here in weeks — he was nowhere to be heard. Come to think of it, he's MIA for every break in the clouds. Bird, you're no harbinger of spring! You're a flying troublemaker that's turned our land lush and our drought-stricken friends west of the Rockies green with envy.
Like Batman's Robin, it's time you go where people need you. Can I send you down the high road with a song of my own? Chee-oo-woot, chee-oo-woot, go farther West, chee-oo woot. Chee-oo-woot, chee-oo-woot, try California. Oop! He just left his stage. Is that a dot of blue in the sky behind his perch? Golden Staters, keep your eyes peeled. Help is on the way.
Marty Jones is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the column service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a craft-beer promoter, publicist and musician, and lives in Denver.
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