It's a Dry Rain

After living in Phoenix for more than 30 years, I wanted some rain.

I figured I was owed some rain.

So when my husband was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Oregon in Eugene, I almost ran there. I made him accept the school's offer, our new home sight unseen. All I could picture was green instead of Phoenix brown. Green, green, green. I fantasized about summers — beautiful, magical summers when I could actually go outside for 30 seconds without tasting my own sweat, looking at a freckle on my exposed arm and wondering aloud, "Hmmm, does that look more like a basal or squamous cell carcinoma?" or having an earring brand and subsequently scar my neck should a gentle, though unlikely, desert breeze suddenly kick up. Summers like the ones you see on television, in which little children can play soccer in daylight without losing consciousness, or during which somewhere in the Valley, not one single person ever returns from a short, spry little lunchtime hike leashed to a giant popsicle stick swinging beneath a helicopter by a tether and filmed by a Channel 3 camera crew because the lunchtime hiker was short a bottle of Aquafina.

On our first scouting mission, our flight was about to land at the Eugene airport when I saw that my vision was true. Green, green, green. As we drove through the small town, I saw vibrant lawn after lush lawn after emerald lawn and I mistook it as pride of ownership until my husband reminded me that water in Oregon was something you couldn't opt out of; here, it came from the sky and not a hose. Outside the room at the inn, a tree with a 10-foot circumference shaded nearly the entire building, and I was so mesmerized I called people in Phoenix and told them of the miracle I had seen. Shade. I love shade. And the shade in Eugene had no end.

"Look over there," I said to my husband as we checked out downtown and I pointed to a parking lot that was almost overrun by Douglas firs, oaks, and maple trees. "Those are spots worth shooting someone over in Phoenix!" To someone who didn't know how to open an umbrella until she was 33 (and I only learned because I was caught in a nor'easter in NYC), I became obsessed with a new, loving climate, rushed home and started buying rain gear. After all, a hobby is only as good as its accessories and the same can be said for locales. With rain boots, waterproof jacket, gloves and a Liza Minnelli assemblage of hats, I moved to Oregon.

And when I got there, I noticed that people looked at me funny, particularly the guy who installed the air conditioner in our new house (upon rolling out of Phoenix, I vowed never to be hot again, and I meant it), the hippie who fixed the sprinkler system, the man who refinished the wood floors, and the girl who colors my hair.

"Really?" they said, looking at me with skepticism, as if I was trying to pass myself off as a Hilton sister. "You moved here from Arizona? Why would you move here from Arizona? Everyone is moving from here to Arizona."

Every single one of them had had a brother, sister, father or close friend pack up and head to the land from which I just ran away. I returned their look of skepticism.

"Why? Because it's hot in Arizona," I'd reply. "And I am ready for a cool summer!"

"Well, in Arizona, it's a dry heat," they'd explain to me. "And it rains a lot here."

"It's not a dry heat when your thighs produce more liquid than a cow or a Slurpee machine, and that's just when you're sitting down," I'd retort. "I love it here. No one perspires, and it's all green."

"But in Arizona, you can golf almost every day because the sun is shining," they'd respond. "And it's green here because it's always raining."

"Sure, you can golf every day if you drag a saline drip behind you and have your golf cart air-conditioned like the Pope," I scoffed. "But it's so beautiful and shady here. Everything grows!"

"You can't golf in mud," they'd protest. "Everything turns to goop after the second day of rain, and then it goes on for six more months! It never ends!"

"Let me tell you about never ending," I cautioned. "114, 115, 116, 118, then it's 122 degrees, and that lasts for half the year! Has the Eugene airport ever shut down because the runway melted?"

"Wanna be on a plane that's landing on runway covered in a sheet of ice?" they'd counter. "You don't know what the rain can do! People have to have special light lamps to keep them from spiraling into a bottomless pit of depression and despair!"

"People have run out of burning houses unharmed only to get third-degree burns on their feet once they hit the sidewalks because they were barefoot," I volleyed.

"Houses sink here," they told me firmly and quietly.

"People . . . combust there," I whispered.

"Yeah?" they'd conclude. "Just don't go outside without a jacket or they might not find you for 5,000 years, frozen in a block of ice."

"Yeah? Well you tell your friends that if they walk to their car from their house, bring two bottles of Aquafina!" I'd yell. "'Cause they'll need 'em!"

And then I'd add, "I found kitty mummies under my house!"

So, in the Bad Lands Show Down that I inevitably had, time after time, with my new fellow townspeople, I was never sure who won, or for that matter, who lost. Arizona with its life-sucking heat, or Oregon with its soul-drowning rain.

I do know, now, that I have lived here almost three years. That, yeah, it takes my towels three days to dry and there's running water in my basement four months out of the year that isn't coming out of a faucet, and I was a much more successful gardener in Phoenix than I am in Eugene because I simply can't let go of the idea that plants need to be watered every day during our short summer, sometimes twice, and not once a week as my neighbors insist. And in the winter, everything, and I mean everything, squishes.

I also know that Arizona's Mexican food can't be beat, that the expiration date on AZ driver's licenses should be adopted as a national policy and that, sometimes, a little sun on my face feels really good.

But right now, spring just smacked down winter in my wet little town and the canopy of leaves forming over my street is almost complete, leaving a cool, shady roof of green, green and green. My neighbor Gail's peonies will be opening in a couple of weeks, and they are as big as my head. And, as I look out over Eugene from my deck in my backyard, I can see all the way to the university, curled up at the base of a mountain slathered with tall Douglas firs, redwoods and cedars, some of their trunks 10 feet wide. During the rainy season, the fog curls and creeps over that mountain, and most of the time when I walk out there and see the deep green spikes poking up out of the mist, I need to catch my breath.

It may sprinkle almost every day from November to May, but to me, it's a dry rain.

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Laurie Notaro