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25 October, 2009

Land of Lilinoe

Years ago, when I should've been writing my thesis, I laid on the bed in our Honolulu apartment and watched the sky. Nothing unusual there, me being a pro procrastinator and the view being out over town toward the ocean through the glass doors to the lanai, but that time sticks in my head because instead of the usual blue sky or Pinatubo sunset, it was rain that enthralled me.

Perched on the south slope of Puowaina hill, our place was saved only by the tradewinds from being an oven in an urban, leeward heat-scape. But on that day the deep moana blue of the ocean and cumulo-dotted azure of the sky was replaced by wave after wave of rain sweeping in off the Pacific. A band would pass and the sky cleared enough to see the next one blowing in.

Squall lines, I guess the salts would call them, but the winds were puffy, the rain misty, and instead of closing the door and cowering in the face of stormy onslaught, I found myself willing each rainwave closer, tolerating the intervals only because the clearing and warming made the next arrival that much sweeter and soothing.

Having so many names for winds and rain--sometimes specific right down to the sound, the intensity, and the valley where they fall--Hawaiians probably have a name for that rain, but all I know is that when it comes that way, misty and delicate, it is lilinoe, maybe noenoe also on that day.

What the Salish peoples call their rains remains a mystery to me for now, but I know that the fine misty rain lives here, and not just on that rare day when tropical moisture and backward winds make magic. Sometimes the atmosphere collapses and clouds come down to earth, or fog spores burst from their hiding places in the moss, or Puget Sound steams. However it happens, we may spend days or weeks walking in a liquid atmosphere.

Sure, there are downpours and dowsings, squalls and storms, but there is plenty of lilinoe as well. The fine droplets fill the air, sometimes glowing with sunlight whose source cannot be pinpointed, but which glows from every iota of the atomized rain. [Damn Hollywood for using the title Liquid Sky, which is the phrase I feel swimming through this atmosphere.] Often the only drips are from the trees that capture the mist and gather it into rivulets before letting go from twig-tips and leaflets. On these days my beard creates measurable precipitation.

Sometimes it shrinks beyond droplets and mist to something like vapor, wettening everything without ever raining. The firewood tucked safely under a roof grows damp as the corpuscular fog courses into every crack and cranny. The edges are washed from everything, and sfumato creeps to the fore in every landscape. Sounds are swallowed, and only the nearby exists.

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