Dr. Grauer's Column - Alone in the Rain
Alone in the Rain
I was tempted to call this story, “The loneliness of teaching children about the sacred connectedness of all creation,” to be ironic. See what you think.
We were up in the lush, rural village called Pukyu Pamba, in a jungley, mountainside lodge run by the family of Manual Guatamal, twelve students and two teachers. The previous night, it grew very dark outside and, there cozy in the main hall, all dressed in local costume, we danced along with some villagers to the traditional music played by nine musicians (guitar, violins, other strings, accordion, flute, two singers). As the music began, we heard something that had not been heard here in six months—drops of rain. We swirled to the music, the rain pinged the roof top increasingly, and the locals ducked out front and held their hands out with delight, just to feel it.
We are rainmakers and the locals are all smiling. We are magic.
We were set to leave at 6:00 AM the next day to hike to around 14,000-15,000 feet, up Imbabura, “The Grandfather.” (One third of Ecuador is Andes Mountains). I worried whether the hiking paths would be in good enough shape, not slippery. “It will be fine,” said Tua, our guide and shaman. Secretly, some students would rather just lay low, not hike far and high up on a mountain.
After the dancing, fumbling in the dark, I found the thin path past the llamas and chickens to the little cabin up the hill. I was struck by how dark it could be. I entered the cabin, alone and vulnerable, and watched as lightning shook the walls. Out the window, I could see the sky flash, and was counting. The thunder came eight seconds after the lightning, and soon four seconds after—less than a mile. It was coming this way.
The next morning, three students had stomach ailments and would not go on the mountain hike. I knew they would just sleep—it had been four days in the Andes away from home, eating strange food. I knew I would sit alone in the lodge all day and that I would appear happy to do that, happy to miss a day and do my duty, a lie every good parent and leader tells.
I sat alone in the dance hall where we had celebrated the previous night. Dawn broke slowly, and of course all the people and the music were gone and the hall felt bare and meaningless now, and a little cold to sit in. Native handicrafts and weapons lined the walls and the stone hearth. I wanted to make a fire against the damp air so I wouldn’t shiver, and I pawed around for matches but there were none anywhere. I sat alone in this lodge at the long communal eating table before the long row of windows. All morning I missed the mountain hike terribly, or the thought that I’d never see the grand images from up on The Grandfather that I was imagining, high above the clouds—higher than any place in all of North America. I was experiencing it vicariously, imagining myself up there in thin air. I thought of other days I have missed, sitting back like this for sick students, a thing they don’t cover in the graduate school of education. I started creating pastimes: answering emails, making notes, reading my book on native spirit medicine (which was of interest now after the week of studying with indigenous shamans).
Next door, a workman was on the roof all morning, hammering. I tried to be indifferent to the thumping but it was growing on me, moving inside my head.
So I wandered over to the fireplace and picked up the mandolin that was left leaning on the stone hearth. It was made of an armadillo shell and I began to play, making up a song about the Andes, the condor, the colors, and about the two worlds I live in. After a while, I became aware that my rhythm matched the hammering of the workman on the roof and I wondered if he knew.
My phone rang. It was one of the sick girls from the cabin down below—I had put them all in the same cabin and demanded that they call every hour, though they didn’t. They were okay. They said they would just sleep. “Will you call every hour?” I asked, in loco parentis.
“We will call again later.” They won’t. I was the last thing on their minds.
We hung up. There is nothing for me to do or achieve, it’s a little nostalgic. It is already a memory even as it is happening, and I am glad for writing this memory in my journal. Soon, a woman in a traditional Andean tracht came into the room, last night’s dance hall, smiling, and held out a plate of oranges fallen into eight perfect slices. “Muchas gracias.” I told her husband, still in his hand embroidered shirt from last night, “No matches” and “Fire in the fireplace?” the way you speak to people with hearing loss or of foreign tongues, and he nodded. In no time, the fireplace blazed orange.
I began eating the oranges, making it like a little ceremony. The rain was gone. Outside the window, the mountain was muffled in white mist and the far mountains showed themselves intermittently, along with the town far below and its geometry of streets. Oranges have always been the sweetest, richest thing in my life, along with chocolate, and of course coffee—all of which have grown well here for hundreds of years. “Find the plants that call to you like a friend,” the Kichwa curandero had instructed us just yesterday. The plant lore book explained that the orange fruit was somehow for balance (which matches my sign, Libra), and that cacao seeds were the gift of the Aztec god of wisdom, Quetzalcoatl. So, I recognized my spirit medicines. The girls would sleep all day, bless them. I wandered around outside a little, took some photos, and the llama started following me around, which was a little concerning. Do llamas bite? Or spit or something?
It is weeks later now, around 6:00 AM, the holidays have just begun, and I am sitting alone in the damp pre-dawn, in our new campus building called the Justice Center, on the dance floor. This building was three hundred thousand over budget to build, it is beautiful and elegant, and it leaks. Outside it is raining, and I have come here to monitor. Where does the leak come from? Will there be mold; will there be flooring damage; will the insulation be ruined? There are several contractors, men who keep their eyes down when they shake your hand, and so far, all have been saying the leak is the other contractor’s fault, so none of them will fix the leak. I said, well, I’ll get the leak fixed myself, but our board said no, I’m not allowed to fix it—it’s a warranty thing. I am remembering an old Firesign Theater comedy routine called, “Waiting for the electrician or someone like him.”
The rain intensifies and the drip starts up, and every few seconds, another drop lands in the bucket I have set up. I’m sitting on a pillow I positioned by the leak, being there and not doing much. I brought matches, and I light a scented candle. The candle was made by my 27-year-old daughter who, for the first time ever in our lives, is not home for the holidays. She is in Connecticut. The atmosphere is soft, grey and gauzy as dawn comes and I sit and imagine different ways this room can come to life and light with kids and teachers. The water drips with a steady, soft thumping. I wonder if this is some kind of life metaphor. Here I am. Now my daughter calls on Facetime. After that, I send a text message to the builder so he will know this leaking is all real. He replies, “Take photos,” code for him having no plans to come here and fix any leaks or anything else.
After a while, the rain lets up, the dripping stops after a few more minutes, and I start packing up, thinking about breakfast.
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