Thanks to Hurricane / Tropical Storm / Tropical Depression Fay, we have now had six days of almost continuous, non-stop rain. Our swimming pool has been level with the back patio for four days now, and water flows out of it and down into the canal behind our house. Today, for the first time, we actually had flooding inside our house – thankfully, only in a small section of the house, and only about half an inch of water.
Everything is wet and muddy, and the outside smells extremely swampy. Of course, living right on the edge of the Everglades, one could make the very sensible argument that that is what it should smell like around here. Regardless, it’s still a unusual smell. The Everglades is actually a slow moving river, not a true “swamp”, and it usually does not smell like this.
Mosquitoes, gnats, dragonflies and “no see ums” are out in force. Just walking my dog for a few minutes results in over a dozen itchy bites. The sidewalks are becoming slippery with moss and algae. I haven’t been able to ride my scooter for a week now; the constant downpour just makes it too unpleasant (not to mention dangerous) to ride around on two wheels.
And yet… despite all that… I spent at least an hour today just gazing outside at the falling rain, and then lying down on the couch in the semi-darkness, just listening to the sound of the rain pounding outside. An occasional friendly rumble of thunder punctuated the sound. The almost spiritual sense of well being was all encompassing. I napped for a few minutes, the gentlest slumber I’ve had in weeks.
The sound of rain has always soothed me, and from conversations, I know I’m not the only one. Why is that? What is it about the sound of rain outside that seems to elicit an almost primeval sense of well being?
I have a theory.
We are, after all, savannah apes. Our ancestral cousins may have owned the forests, but our branch moved out into the open grasslands. Over thousands of generations, we evolved an upright gait, lost most of our body hair, developed legs and feet suited for running, a protruding nose, and many other subtle modifications that suited us for living out in the wide open plains.
This is why, I believe, that the sight and sounds of a meadow or an open field are instantly soothing. Such experiences reach deep into our subconscious, and trigger the part of our brain that reacts instinctively. We like open spaces, places we can run through, places we can see from horizon to horizon. And how does this relate to the sound of rain?
Think about it. Living out on the open savannah, rain would be miserable. No trees to shelter us from the rain. No coat of fur to keep the rain off our bare skin. We’d get soaking wet and chilled to the bone. Children and the elderly would become sick. So, of course, we found (or built) shelter. And inside that shelter, we felt safe. We had defeated the rain. And secure inside our shelters, we looked out onto the rainy savannah and felt a great satisfaction.
Millions of years later, that deep sense of satisfaction at having shelter from the rain is so ingrained that it is no longer conscious. We instinctively feel comforted by the sound of rain falling outside, without even knowing why. The savannah ape hid under a rock shelf and grinned his monkey grin at the thwarted elements. The 21st century concrete ape has long since forgotten why, but deep down inside, we still feel that sense of all-pervading satisfaction.
So the next time it rains, I’m going to curl up on my couch, listen to the wonderful sound of falling water, and embrace the ancient ape inside. I seek shelter from the storm, and I am comforted mightily by it.