Saturday, January 2, 2010

drying out

i staggered into the shop like a traveller in search of an oasis. "i need something for my skin!" i whispered through cracked lips. it is december, and hasn't rained in several days. and my skin is reacting like i've been sun bathing in a desert in august. it is red, itchy, and deperate for moisture. it reminds me of my first winter in montana, where the dry air and hard water gave me a rash on my back.

back in the present, my sister says, "i'm turning into an alligator. my feet are completely cracked."

on the news cast, the weather forecast begins cheerily: "you can put away that lip balm and moisturizer! the rain is coming back."

it's true northwesterners can be pretty wimpy about some things. we are so completely adapted to moisture, that a cold dry spell in winter throws us for a loop. what are we not wimpy at all about? well, rain, of course.

"During the long winter vacation it rained continuously, the sky a low thick motionless rain-cloud, the warmish wet-cold season without dry corner. After day-long rain it rained all night, the dark liquescent, dripping from trees. When he woke in the night to heft his life, he listened to the rain as natural history, the Pacific extending over the land. Huge sopping clouds floated over breakers threading the beaches and struck against mountainsides, rain pouring from an armada of smashed hulls, drenching the craggy crawling forests, drowning green hills black, soaking the grass-lit fields. In the dark Levin remembered the rain of his childhood, blown in wind against the faces of tenements, engulfing the leafless backyard tree in foaming bursts; but when it had ended - after a day, three, a week - it had ended and enter light, the worshipful sun. Here was no sense of being between rains; it was a climate, a condition, the water burbling, thick, thin, fine, ubiquitous, continuous, monotonous, formless. Once in a while he saw two rainbows in the same sky but after rainbows it rained. Wherever Levin went he went in rubbers, raincoat, umbrella; the only other man he saw with an umbrella was Professor Fairchild. Students stood bareheaded in the pelting rain, talking leisurely, even opening a book to prove a point. Meanwhile Levin had grown neither fins nor duckfeathers; nor armourplate against loneliness."

--from "A New Life", by Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud, who wrote "The Natural" and won the pulitzer prize for "The Fixer", taught in the English department at OSU for four years. During that time he wrote "A New Life", about an english instructor from the east, teaching for the first time in a beleaguered liberal arts department at a small agricultural school in a town called Cascadia. Although OSU wasn't so excited about the portrayal at the time, we happily claim Malamud now. And although "A New Life" isn't his best work, it's great read for those who know OSU and Corvallis.

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