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Praying for rain - Daniel Silliman

Drought-withered corn has its own color. It looks like a sepia-shaded yellow, or an over-starched and roughly wrinkled khaki.

In Texas, when I was a kid, we had a drought that started before winter was really even over and all the corn -- fields and fields of it -- dried, died and turned that color. Some of the farmers plowed everything under, in late June or maybe early July.

They gave up and tried to start over, mid-season, and sent up clouds of dust as they plowed down the corn, and brought the crops back to bare dirt. They started again with a planting of cotton.

Then the rain came.

It was not enough rain to save the remaining corn fields, but enough to rot the cotton, enough to kill the hopes of even those who had hoped against hope. Drought, like sin, catches everyone.

That's what I think of, when I think of drought.

I wouldn't know we were in a drought, in Atlanta this year, if I weren't told. I don't see farmers' fields, where I drive, to see crops die, and I haven't seen our local lakes drying up into mud puddles and cracked dirt. Most of the lawns I see are still mostly green, though maybe the grass is a little brown around the edges, and maybe an unusual number of cars are covered in dust.

I'm sure we're in a bad drought, but I'm blind to it, just believing what I'm told. I'm not from here. I don't see the signs.

All I know, apart from what I hear, is that it hasn't been raining. It splatters a little. Spits a little. The clouds shift around in the sky. But it hasn't poured, drenching down, soaking us all.

I miss the rain.

My parents live out by Seattle, so I miss that rain, the way it would start so slowly you wouldn't even see it begin, and two days later, it would still be coming down. It's misting, moss-growing, day-long-drizzle rain.

I miss the Texas rain, too, and the midwest Michigan rain, and the rain we got in Philadelphia, where the storms were spun off of hurricanes and shot out water, slashing trees, filling up the streets and overflowing pot holes.

My dad runs a landscaping company, so I spent my childhood summers mowing lawns for him. It's rain-dependent labor, but also labor that stops with the rain. When the drops came down hard enough for windshield wipers, hard enough that the grass would clog up underneath the mowers and clump up and stain the sidewalk, we would stop work. We would go to a gas station, or the lawn mower shop, or a local library, and we would wait, watching the sky for half an hour to see if it would stop. If the rain kept coming, we'd go home.

Those days, those afternoons, I'd spend reading and listening to the pounding on the roof.

Which was reason enough to love the rain.

My dad says, too, that it rained really hard before I was born and after I was born. It flooded twice that year, and maybe I got used to the drumming sounds.

I guess, too, that I always confuse rain with something more than rain. To me, it's like peace is falling from the sky. All my worrying stops. A belief that the world is, in some way, good, redeemable, worth saving, slowly unfolds with the sprinkle. It's falling down on everyone and it's a visible sign of the possibility we could all be clean.

Droughts seem so apocalyptic, full of the doom that makes clear that no one's going to get out of here.

I was horrified by a National Geographic once, that was full of pictures of places without water: Cracked places and parched places. Tongues swelled, animals and humans panted and everyone watched while the earth blew away. It was a more horrific vision, to me, than anything contained in the ghastly endings in the Bible.

They say we have 85 days of water left. And then what? It's not a thought I can consider rationally.

It was raining this morning, when I walked outside, and I felt like I could breathe for the first time.

Daniel Silliman covers crime and courts for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254, or via e-mail at dsilliman@news-daily.com.