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Power wash

I enjoy getting dirty—clearing out the garage, grubbing in the garden. And I love cleaning up afterward with a thorough douse and scrub in a strong shower. In some former prehistoric life, I was the hominid who ran out of the cave in a monsoon, to glory in the pelting cascade and gusting spray. A good thunderstorm is nature’s high-end shower-massage.

Early this summer we had a humdinger in Saratoga, a gale-force gullywasher that sent schoolchildren to the basements and me to my office window. The storm began by smudging the sky with charcoal, then drawing an opaque dark curtain to smother every trace of light. Under the black sky, though, all the air at eye level was glowing an eerie olive-green. The wind arrived in a huff and left in one too; at its height it bent the treetops at right angles, driving the teeming rain sideways and lashing sheets of water against Dana Science Center’s arrow-slit windows. Once or twice it shifted and whipped the world from the other direction. The scene outside (and the rapt audience of co-workers inside watching the show) reminded me of “dramatic footage” from a Storm Stories special on hurricanes. In fact the T-word—tornado—was uttered on TV and radio, but none touched down near us.

It didn’t last ten minutes, but it was exhilarating to witness. High and dry, I still felt refreshingly hosed down. The storm had washed clean the hazy, gooey heat spell that preceded it, and now the stale air was blown aside, dust and pollen flushed away, and everything rinsed until it ran clear. Not surprisingly, the wind KO’d power lines to campus (and other parts of town), so our computers and lights went dead and stayed out for hours. That was cleansing too, in a way, since it snapped the nine-to-five tedium and freshened our dulled brains with sudden drama,
a small but chilly splash of fear, and a spectacular sound and light show.

Outside afterward, campus sidewalks and roadways looked unpaved, their surfaces covered by a pureed blend of soil runoff, tree leaves, bark shreds, seeds, flower petals, and twig fragments. In the standing puddles, floating thickly and beginning to raft up around the shorelines, was a chalky butter-yellow dust—the concentrated pollen of the north country’s brief growing season. The city streets were similarly littered, and a few were blocked by huge torn tree limbs. That was hell for the road crews (and of course for the trees) but a bonanza for dogs. Fallen branches bring the world of the canopy—birds’ nests, tree-frog spoor—down to street level where its exotic scents, reeking of foreign intrigue and cryptic histories, can be minutely analyzed—and then peed on. These opportunities are rare and sweet for dogs, and they relish them.

I share some of my dogs’ interest in the fallen flotsam. The curious collection of detritus is a strange specimen extracted from a normally inaccessible site, and also an archive of outdoor life before the storm—an old moth cocoon still glued under a leaf, a derelict wasps’ nest, a precision-drilled woodpecker hole. But mainly, and most gratifyingly, it’s the evidence—the dirt in the drain—of a vigorous house-cleaning binge. —SR