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An ode to June rain in the drought-stricken desert

It rained this year on the summer solstice.

We're in no position to look that particular gift horse in the mouth: Even the creosote is brown, and dead prickly pear dangle horribly from the fake cliffs along Sunrise Drive. I've never seen that before.

The classic and perfect starting date for the Sonoran Desert monsoon is San Juan's Day, June 24. According to local folklorist Jim Griffith, a monsoon that begins on the Baptist's day will be plentiful, but "if it rains just before the day, some sort of disaster may be in the offing."

We've got a long, slow disaster going here, though, and we're used to it. Can't scare us. The developers keep building, and the bankers and politicians and officials keep talking us into thinking that's fine (or just inevitable), but they'll all have moved to San Diego when we start drinking sewage. Count on it.

But that's so far off--and in the meantime, a miracle may occur. Maybe global warming can work for us, and we won't have to start living like the characters in Dune after all. A savior may come, or maybe giant sand worms.

But I was not going to get off on a rant about water. It rained, and that's good.

The storm that swept up from the southeast was especially glorious coming as it did straight out of a streak of pure, dry June heat, without the usual nerve-wracking meteorological overture of rising humidity, dry lightning and wet-smelling winds that come to nothing. It came, it rumbled, it rained. Not a lot, but enough to make puddles, cool off the pavement and generally wash down the world.

It had been so hot for so long that my big husky mix barely bothered to lobby for a walk after dinner: A long string of disappointments had dulled even his relentless canine optimism. I'm certain that he feels the summer heat to be another incomprehensible, depressing perversity on our part--like our leaving the house one or more times a day without him, or taking him to the groomer (that unspeakable hell of crates, shavers, yapping Yorkies and raspberry-scented shampoo) against his clearly expressed wishes. We can make the house and car cool, after all, so why do we let the outside become so unpleasant?

And he was still recovering from the thunder. He's developed a fear of it in just the last couple of years, as the megalomania that was such a striking aspect of his personality as a swaggering young ex-feral male has given way to a more realistic view of his place in the world. I read someplace that animals judge the size of their enemies by the depth of their voices--the deeper the growl, the bigger the predator. The creature with the voice of thunder is obviously huge, and if dogs could make sacrifices to Zeus or Thor, they would. As it is, they can only pant, whine, pace and try to escape the monster above.

Outside, the sun was setting, and it was gorgeous, with a fragrant, cool breeze blowing and pink and gold cloud banks heaped around the edges of the sky. Half the neighborhood--the half with dogs--was at the park and giddy at its sudden release from the prison that is June in Tucson. A daddy, a toddler and a grinning white dog with a ball were having a particularly good time out on the soccer field. The daddy would throw the ball; the dog would go bounding after it, and the child would scream with excitement and run around. Girl and dog seemed to be thinking the same happy, simple thoughts: Grass! Ball! Run! Occasionally, there'd be a break, and the child would wave like a star at the Oscars to passersby.

We took our usual route down into the wash that cuts through the neighborhood, where Fu can get off the leash and poke around. There's always a dirty and no-doubt illegal trickle into the arroyo from the parking lots to the south and east, but no one complains about it, because it is, after all, water in the desert, and a few native birds still live in the mesquites along the banks, and a few spade-foot toads still call on August nights. Now the black water that had poured down off the midtown asphalt was running a foot deep, carrying plastic cups, juice boxes, soda cans, water bottles, plastic bags, aerosol paint cans, diapers and fragments of shopping carts. We waded along carefully, me in flip-flops and Fu in bare paws, trying not to get poked or cut by junk on the bottom, past doves and flycatchers settling down for the night and past places that smelled like piss--the world is full of smells, even for a human, after a long drought and sudden rain--until we got to a new spot-burn along the bank and a fallen palo verde branch that blocked the channel, creating a slow-moving eddy of char and consumer detritus. There we turned back and headed upstream, as the pink light of the sunset glinted on the black ripples. (Really. It did.)

It was water. It was running, and we were thrilled to have our feet in it. It's not much in the way of nature, maybe, but it's what was there.

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