AskAngus 23: What is strange liquid that fall from sky?

Airhead: I am taking a weekly beginning scuba class and only about half of the people showed up today at the swimming pool, I think because its raining. What’s up with THAT?

Dear Airhead <—— I am assuming that that is a scuba reference. I hope so, in any case. Nice to see a question from a local too. (A lot of my friends seem to forget that this blog runs on input from outside. But, I digress.)

There is a lot more to your question than it would appear. Beyond the surface, there is a lot of depth here……just like……..

Water. Beneath its clear surface it is chock full of primeval pleasures and terrors. Water is the playing field where Logic and Rationality wipe out on the waves of Superstition and Intuition.

We seem to be terrified of getting a few sprinkles on us. I routinely horrify my elders when we go out to dinner by not strapping on 10 pounds of rain gear. “But…it’s raining!” they exclaim. Yes, yes; true. I’ll be in it for about 10 seconds as we walk to the car and and about 15 seconds as we walk to the restaurant. Somehow I think I’ll survive. You’re going to to sweat more in your rain gear than I’ll accumulate in my hair. And really – its just water, after all.

On the other webbed-hand, Airhead, next time you’re driving North over Highway 17 from Santa Cruz to San Jose try a little experiment on yourself. If you make it past the summit, the ricochet right (with the black tire marks two feet up the barriers on both sides), take a look at your feelings as you cross the gentle rise that gives way to your first view of the Lexington Reservoir.

It’s a lovely view certainly, but I’ll wager that what you feel mostly is relief. Now snatch a quick peek at your fellow drivers: Smiles all around. Now notice that everyone is easing up on the gas – at the exact moment when the road straightens out to a large extent.

Your author, attempting ‘watsu’. Unsuccessful. 

What’s up? Well you just survived another thrill ride on one of the most lethal roads in California, but beneath that conscious relief is the unconscious one. I believe that there is something primally pleasing about seeing water. Deep down it ultimately means relief from famine. There is water here. You can drink. You will live. Chillax.

Yes, but we want water only on our own terms. Assume you do get caught in the rain and get wet. Unpleasant? Sure. So the first thing you do when you get home is take a shower. Hmm.

We are all born in water, as were our kindred, our predecessors, our common ancestors, our distant cousins species-family-genus-kingdom all the way back in one unbroken but amazingly convoluted conceivalatory conga line to the days when we breathed the ocean and spent our days in the  liquid embrace of Yemoya herself.

And locally at least, we are returning to Mother Murk and the Mistresses of the Mists. Remember when California fell off the continental shelf and sank? No? See if this jogs the ‘ol memory: We of the Left Coast are considered to be the harbingers of new ideas and trends:

  • Hippies,
  • Feminism,
  • Tree Huggers,
  • Car culture,
  • Counter Culture,
  • Informal-cash-based-agriculture (ahem),
  • Movies,
  • Television,
  • Initiative-based law-making,
  • Hair metal bands
  • and the New Age are all to be blamed on us.
Can’t wait till I get out of this rain, so I can take a shower.

All of the above being emotional, exploratory, transformative experiences –

which are all the qualities of the element of Water. The East Coast may have all of the think tanks, but our hearts will always be in San Francisco.

So, did California fall into the ocean? Yep-per! Right around the time the good ship “Age of Aquarius” pulled away from the shore

…only to sink slowly

…in the West….

So we are born in water and we are also bearing it, cosmically speaking. But between the birth and the Earth we also want to be with it. We want water from our awakening to our Wake:

  • We spend the first nine months in the bath,
  • the next ten years needing a drink of water before bed,
  • the next twenty years in the hot tub,
  • the next 30 writing personal ads about “taking walks along the shore”
  • and the remainder washing down our pills with it.

But there is that deeper resonance as well:

  • Why is almost every sacred site from the Neolithic Age near a source of water?
  • Why do we say we like getting caught in the rain?
  • Why is a cozy fireplace and a howling storm outside so anthropologically satisfying?
  • Why do birth fluids have the same PH level as sea water?
  • Why don’t we baptize people in Jell-O or Cream of Wheat?
  • Why will Disneyland always be the best theme park? (Because it has the most water running through it.)
  • Why is Avalon so damn cool? (Because you have to row to get there.)
  • And why does everyone jump out of the pool when it starts to sprinkle? (Because they are afraid of getting wet.)

Think of a soft mist falling on your face.

Think of how the Grand Canyon got there.


It’s the source of the most insidious tortures and the base of the most exquisite elixirs.

And without it, you’re a pile of dust and bones.


Angus McMahan

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(Line drawing by Skye Merida {Thanks, Colleen!}, other pics from the authors collection.)

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