Book V. Canto 32

Book V 

Canto Thirty-two

Raindrops falling on the surface of the ocean water in their numberless multitude sound like sorghum grains landing in reed baskets, the finer spray swept away by capricious winds, mimicking chaff carried off in the winnowing dance. Raindrops, pregnant with the seeds of memory, descend from Heaven to imbue every form of creation with the history of its life. The eye of Heaven gazes upon each drop as it condenses, delighting in its growth from atomized suspensions gathering slowly into water. The inattentive onlooker imagines that every raindrop is just like the next, but the eye of Heaven sees the stories seeded in each one by vapors rising from the earth to meld the currents of the Nile with the mists of Amazonia and the rapids of Chiang Jiang, with the breath of Wimihsoorita and her Great River sister, with the myths of Tongala and yes, the songs of Jordan. When the overflowing clouds finally let their waters go and send them back to earth, the currents of the waiting Nile and all her sister rivers of the world bless the Heavens for their bounty as they swell and flow. The sands of the Sahara, the Rift Valley Highlands, Nam Lolwe Ataro, too, all receive with open hearts the falling infant drops of rain.

Vapors carrying echoes of fables from the Arctic, the North and South Seas, the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic, even the Pacific, and the Mid-Earth sea twixt Egypt and the old Roman lands, all meld together in a single bead of dew. Oases wells that spend their days remaking the bending forms of date palms in the depths beyond their still, glass surfaces send along three or four vanishing notes to add to the drops received by Nam Lolwe. Drying waters suffused with stories of creation rise endlessly, and then, quickened in the gathering clouds, fall back to earth – sometimes still as water, but other times, where the air is frigidly thin, as delicately woven crystals threading out in hexagons, or as icy pebbles dashed crashing to the ground.

Raindrops, snowflakes, hail stones, their fall is but a measure of the time lived by a single soul loosed from the whole. Although it is rare, some join before colliding with the ground below: they drift together, mingling as one along the way, or are swept into the path of other descending drops by sudden gusts of wind. A few which formed together in the bosom of the clouds, barely aware before their separation, now fall side by side, or reunite as they tumble, sometimes recognizing one another, sometimes not.

Just like the eye of Heaven, and just like Nam Lolwe, the Spirit of the Mountain of God’s Repose looks upon the falling rain and snow and hail with boundless joy, receiving untold stories from places and times of unimagined distance. Like every living being, the raindrop’s life begins the moment it condenses, lasts for the length of its descent to the ground, and ends whenever and wherever something breaks its fall. Then it is no longer distinct. Those falling into the soil spread thinly in solitude and soak into it completely, becoming part of something else, no longer the single drop. A different fate awaits those that fall into a river, a lake, or a sea, joining the multitude of their kind. There they meld with other drops, dissolve, and then become part of something greater than themselves, inscrutable where one begins and where another ends.

The Nile, which has for countless ages flowed north, against the wind, is home to a raindrop that knew the river in its youth. This drop is now at once in the forests of Uganda, in the plains of Sudan and the valleys of Egypt, and even dips a bit into the Mediterranean. It has known every raindrop that ever entered the river’s changing currents and recognizes those who have left many times only to return newly formed. This raindrop spent its early days, upon falling to earth, in the tiny whirlpool of the river’s source spring deep in the heart of Africa. When heavy rains came and washed it along, it found itself clinging to the banks where it could. By then it was no longer round, nor even alone; it was shapeless and vast, melded with others, and thinly spread. This was especially true in the years of drought when the river, once torrential and thick, shrank to a trickle along the bedrock, and then to little more than a stain at the bottom of what was once its course. This ancient raindrop has seen the whole world through that part of itself that mingled with the rising mist to form other clouds, returning not to this, but to some other river, or winding up on the surface of the sea lapping against the hull of a drifting Portuguese carrack. This ancient raindrop prepared for the end, losing most of itself as the Nile impotently turned into vapor. Buried moisture sank deeper down below the bone-dry clay, becoming harder and harder to summon, even from the deepest wells. But life is patient and eternal, be it long or brief. When the rains returned after a much-protracted drought, the thirsty river, drunk with bounty, swelled up and flowed again, bearing so much water that the ancient drop could scarce believe that Heaven had borne such a deluge. This is the nature of life in the world of Time. While it falls, each drop is alone. But after the fall, and even before, it cannot separate itself from the cloud, or the river, or the lake, or the sea.

On the Mountain of God’s Repose directly beneath the equator, three peaks awaken to the manifold histories carried to them by clouds from every place in the world that is touched by rain, their glaciers holding each account precious, every one a treasury of Memory that finds its way slowly, in the flowing melt of warmer days, into springs and streams and rivers that bear tidings from the red clay foothills of the equatorial mountain range along meandering courses flowing north, and then east, and then finally south across the sprawling grasslands of the savanna to meet the ocean coast.

Here and there, umbrella thorn trees, their tap roots delving deep into the ground, their lateral roots bracing, stand erect among the grasses of the savanna, leaning into the nibbling lips of those giraffes tall enough to pluck small, tightly packed leaves from among sentinel thorns where weaver bird clans hang their palatial nests. Wending their way among the trees, the giraffes keep sparse company and spend their days navigating around anthills big and small in their lopey and deceptively nimble gait. When giraffes visit the waterholes, the hippos and egrets and other small waders clear the way for them, mindful, perhaps, of how far down the giraffe must reach for even a small sip of water. Gazelles, too, and impalas, often gather in small groups hiding in the tall grasses, but the wildebeest prefer mighty congregations, especially in the seasons of migration. Other grazing herds of unnumbered medley and the great cats that live among them all gather around shared waterholes and river lakelets. It is not unusual to find them all together at the waterholes alongside avian hosts, like the ibis and egrets who keep pace and counsel with elephants, surely the grandest of these lords of the savanna. Deliberate and communal, the ways of these colossal beasts manifest an age-old love abiding for the waters brought to them by rivers, brought to them by rains. They roll in mud and splash and tread, and dawdle away hot afternoons in the grassland pools, ponds, lakes, young and old alike, unmindful of the water snakes that slumber in the reeds and grasses all along the banks. The lion prides that sometimes come to share the watering holes are maybe even envious of these insouciant giants, or maybe just bewildered by their love for mud and water. All these creatures, great and small, drink in all Creation’s tales carried in the falling rain sent by Heaven’s eye or gathered in the waters of the rivers that traverse their lands and empty out to sea and to oceans that embrace the sky.

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