It’s a cold, rainy day–what started as sleet overnight has transitioned to rain, with strong winds. I brought my reverse umbrella with me when I went to the Zen Center this morning: not only does its inside-out design make it perfect for stepping into and out of cars, it holds up nicely against the wind, and its C-shaped handle hooks over one’s wrist, leaving one’s hands free.

The other side

On rainy days, there are far fewer pedestrians out and about. Before meditating at the Zen Center, I parked in Central and walked to Graffiti Alley and back, and there was hardly anyone on the streets: no panhandlers, cyclists, or passersby bustling with shopping bags. Many people stay home when it’s rainy, but if you own a good umbrella and a solid pair of boots, rain needn’t be an impediment. Instead, your umbrella gives you a heightened sense of privacy, like a superhero’s cloak. Stepping through and around puddles, you can peer from beneath your quiet canopy, seeing without being seen.

Teddy bear

Umbrellas are often characterized as the domain of the old and odd, which is perhaps why I am so fond of mine. According to wilderness magazines and the ads that fill them, truly outdoorsy types venture forth in parkas and ponchos made from high-tech synthetics. When is the last time you saw an intrepid weather reporter facing a snowstorm or blizzard with an umbrella?


But Henry David Thoreau walked with an umbrella, and this points to the real reason for my own appreciation. You can’t climb a mountain or scale a cliff-face while holding an umbrella, and it’s all but impossible to run with one. But naturalists and flaneurs alike walk more deliberately than that: an umbrella, it turns out, is a perfect implement for saunterers. Forget about marching to the beat of a different drummer; strive to stride within the circle of your own umbrella.

Raindrops on holly

Today is what the Irish call a soft day: gray and misty, with gauzy bands of drizzle wafting beneath an overcast sky. There is no need for umbrellas on soft days: a windbreaker and ball cap are all you need, along with an antsy dog who demands walking in all weather.


On soft days, Toivo and I have the streets, sidewalks, and aqueduct trail almost to ourselves. On our way to the place of pines this morning, we saw a distant border collie herding her owner toward the dog park; on the way back, we saw a woman walking a white Pomeranian that looked like a powder puff on a leash. Overhead, fish crows called and finches twittered, and underfoot, the needle-strewn trail was damp and spongy, as soft as fog.

They say that April showers bring May flowers, a saying that suggests spring rain is tolerable only if you focus on future beauty. But on a day like today, April showers are their own reward. After months of snow, mere rain cannot daunt us. After months of snow, any precipitation you don’t have to shovel is warmly welcomed.

Bleeding hearts

The past few days have been wet, with weather that alternates between mist, drizzle, and outright rain. This morning was foggy and damp, and even now the trees are still dripping with moisture.


Drippy spring days when you can almost hear the grass greening always remind me of Genesis 2, where God plants a garden “in the east, in Eden,” where “no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth.” Eden is a paradise because it is lush and well-watered, with streams that “came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.”

In the midst of a lush spring, it’s easy to believe in an Edenic garden where there is no shortage of water and the plants all but water themselves.

Drizzle drops on spider silk

Today has been a drizzly day: the kind of day when you don’t mind staying inside grading papers. After lunch, I went outside to photograph drizzle-drops on spider silk:  dewy jewels that draped our backyard shrubs with webs of wonder.

This is a test entry posted from the Flickr app on my tablet, just to see how and whether it works.

Autumn berries and leaves

The sun has been playing hide-and-seek all day, occasionally appearing with gold-gleaming splendor, then retreating behind a stern brow of cloud.

Autumn berries and leaves

Earlier this afternoon when the neighborhood was bright and glowing, J and I set out to walk to lunch, and by the time we’d reached the end of our street, the day had slipped into an ominous gloom. There was a pelting of raindrops and a scatter of sleet before the sun reappeared as if nothing had happened. In “now what” November, you can expect any sort of meteorological mood swing, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.

This is my Day 8 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.


April was warm and dry, so this year we seem to have reversed the usual seasonal progression, with April flowers bringing May showers.

Rain on leaves and blossoms

Last night I collected a pile of essay portfolios in Keene; tomorrow, my literature students will submit their final exams online. This means I’m hunkered down with a heaping pile of grading, something I’m actually looking forward to. There’s something comfortable and even cozy about curling up with a pile of papers when it’s gray and drizzly outside, and I’m looking forward to staying close to home and enjoying my big backyard now that I’m done with commuting to Keene until summer school starts in a few weeks.

Mullein seed pods

Another morning steeped in gray drizzle. A sprawling rose bush stands studded with raindrops and thorns.

This is my day thirteen contribution to this month’s River of Stones.

Mama duck and duckling

If you ever want to photograph Boston’s “Make Way for Ducklings” statue without throngs of children perched and posing on mama duck and her brood, just walk through the Public Garden on a rainy evening, when you’ll have the place almost entirely to yourself.

George Washington among tulips

On Saturday night, J and I took a rainy stroll through the Public Garden on our way to a symphony concert, just as we did last year. Whereas last year, the Public Garden was full of tulip-appreciators of all shapes and sizes, on Saturday night, the rain kept all but the most diehard park visitors away, including a couple in wedding finery who stayed huddled in their limosine rather than venturing outside for a spring-green photo-shoot.

Soon-to-be-nesting mute swan

Although it was too wet for swan-boats, the Public Garden’s resident mute swans were undeterred by rain, one of the pair standing sentry at their usual nest-site. It won’t be long until this sentry will be sitting on a stick nest while her mate runs off any intruding ducks. Until then, a rainy Saturday night is a quiet time in the garden, the weather perfect for waterfowl of all kinds.

Make way for ducklings


This morning, apropos of nothing, I remembered the Ray Bradbury short story about a robotic house that continues to function after its inhabitants have died in a nuclear blast, and the opening line from the Sara Teasdale poem that gives the story its title:

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground…

My recollection of this story and these lines wasn’t entirely random, of course. It was raining softly this morning, and the air is rife with the smell of snow-melt and mud. Despite all the talk of April showers, I find March to be the rainier month: April rains are warm and full of promise, but March rains are cold and bleak, more akin to winter snows than summer storms. If you’re walking an old, slow dog, even a soft March rain will soak right through a raincoat or parka, chilling you to the bone. It’s easy to imagine the world is either beginning or ending on a cold, rainy March morning: an open case whose jury is still out.


This morning and on other dog-walks this week and weekend, my thoughts were with Japan. When you’re walking an old, slow dog on a cold, rainy day, it’s easy for your mind to wander, and as I felt the elements seep through my raincoat and clothes this morning, I kept wondering what it would be like to be homeless, traumatized, and disoriented on gray and drizzly day like this. The weather in Japan right now is like spring in New England: chilly with only an occasional promise of warmth. What would it be like, I wonder, to find yourself cast out in weather like this, the earth moving under your feet, the ocean rising up to swallow you, and the detritus of a power plant left in shambles threatening to irradiate you?

These past few nights, J and I have spent our evenings watching CNN even though their presumably “breaking news” only repeats the same videos and stories over and over, the same worries and questions still unanswered. Instead of looking to the familiar journalistic faces to give us answers, I’ve come to see this evening TV-time as a kind of meditation, the same pictures and videos repeating again and again like a kind of litany. No matter how many times I see the videos of waves swallowing cars and houses, I keep watching in disbelief; no matter how many times I hear the stories of people swept out of their loved ones’ grasps, I can’t help but be moved. No matter how many times we witness and hear these stories of catastrophe and disaster, they both shock and surprise, as if we didn’t actually believe that suffering, death, and impermanence truly exist in our sheltered lives.


Last night, there was a bit of truly breaking news while J and I were holding our nightly CNN vigil. At one point during his evening broadcast, Anderson Cooper announced with stunned amazement that the remaining workers at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had been evacuated due to elevated radiation levels, a news flash that caused the nuclear scientist Cooper had been interviewing to nearly sputter with surprise. How could workers simply walk away from a malfunctioning nuclear plant, leaving it to deteriorate into total meltdown unattended? This morning, we learned that workers at the plant have returned, risking their own lives and health to avert the crisis, but that moment of sputtering disbelief still makes me think of Ray Bradbury’s eerie story. What would happen if humans were annihilated, leaving nothing but their computers, power plants, and other gadgets to continue chattering, whirring, and irradiating in their absence?


In that Ray Bradbury story, the futuristic house that continues cooking breakfast, washing dishes, and reciting poetry after its inhabitants have been vaporized, leaving nothing but silhouettes on a charred external wall, is ultimately destroyed by fire, the end of its world coming with a “great quantity of smoke.” Are we arrogant enough to believe our human inventions will continue to function without us, defying both entropy and inertia? In that Sara Teasdale poem, the speaker concludes that “Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree, / If mankind perished utterly.” This morning, walking in my own soft rains, I couldn’t decide which weather was better: rains that might cool a nuclear reactor left to its own devices, or gentle sun to shine on survivors with a mercy not shown by earth and sea.

Pointless graffiti

I’m back from a soggy dog-walk, with raindrops falling from gray-flannel skies; Reggie is dotted with the first crop of beggars ticks. Rainy days are good for staying home and grading, which is good since I have papers to read and classes to prepare. But right now now, I’m relishing a moment of calm before the day begins, even though the day has already long begun. I hear my upstairs-neighbor stirring, and occasionally I hear Reggie breathing as he rests in a soggy spot on the kitchen floor. And when I’m quiet, there is the background sound of rain — the world’s most soothing sound. When you stop and truly, deeply listen, what do you hear?


Listening is almost always calming, even when your surroundings are noisy. The Zen Center is in a city neighborhood, so there are always the sounds of passing traffic and noisy neighbors: auditory itches you want with all your being to scratch. And yet you train yourself not to scratch that itch, returning to the inner silence of meditation rather than chasing the distraction of outward stimuli. It’s not that you drown the sound out, as there is absolutely no aspect of pushing it away. Instead, you let the sound wash over you; you let it permeate and percolate through your being, remaining passive and receptive. You let your Self be dissolved by sound until there is no Hearer, only Hearing.


But that happens only occasionally. In the meantime, while you’re still human and humbled, you struggle with sounds, choosing the ones you like and railing against the ones you don’t. You play endless songs in your head, pumping psychic quarters into your own internal jukebox so it plays and replays your favorite songs, your favorite thoughts, and your favorite fantasies over and over.

Real, actual sound — the pops and thuds and slams of the tangible world around you — shake you out of your inner trance because these sounds drown out, for an instant, the inner radio that keeps chattering, humming, and buzzing through every minute of consciousness. One sound — Ha! — cuts through every sound like a blade through warm butter. The honk of a horn, the cry of a child, the bark of a dog: these sounds are precious — psychological lifesavers — because they burst the bubble of our inner fantasy.


This is why the Evening Bell Chant insists that listening to the sound of the Dharma room bell destroys hell: the waves of sound that wash over you and the vibrations of sensation that seep to your inner core bring you back to the heaven of Here and Now, where enlightenment, change, and compassion happen. Coming back to Here and Now, you automatically leave behind the hell of both Yesterday and Tomorrow. What is either one of these but an infinitely elusive, illusory dream?

The magic of a mantra doesn’t lie in its meaning but in its music. When you chant a mantra, its words resonate down to your very bones, your body becoming a vibrating vessel of truth and light. This sounds otherworldly, but it isn’t. It’s as near as your nose, as immediate as your ears, and as tangible as the toes which tingle with every chanted syllable, alive.

Spray can

If you want to wake up, simply open your ears, and the singing Universe will serve as your alarm clock, tapping raindrops on your window to rouse you.

It is indeed raining in Keene today, but I wrote this entry last Thursday, on a morning when the sound of rain nicely resonated with the chapter on “Hearing” from Diane Ackerman’s Natural History of the Senses, which I’m re-reading with my Creative Nonfiction students. “The sound of rain” made for a good in-class writing prompt, and these scenes from Modica Way in Central Square, Cambridge make for good rainy-day visuals.