Land’s End: Joyful Noise

Winter rain in Orange County? There’s an app for that.

My husband is a native (and therefore hopeful) Californian, and in winter he sleeps with the windows open, hoping for rain. The splash on the patio, the droplets on wet sand, even the smells of a gathering storm give him primitive comfort. He lies in bed listening to the wet sky fall on the wet town and the wet coastline beyond it, and I, lying next to him, wonder whether generations of drought have given people here an inborn fixation with water. The soaked lemon trees, the coursing storm drains—they give him a feeling of richness, and he counts them as blessings when the rain comes pattering. 

For me, rain at the beach has been more of an acquired taste. I grew up in a place where winter was for weather stripping, and for years after we bought our house here, wet skies mainly made me worry about the state of our rain gutters and the perils of mold. Outsiders scoff at California “winters,” but they don’t understand what rainy salt air can do to siding. Not to mention that first batch of showers that, without warning, will trigger a mudslide. Or the December downpour that feels romantic until it shorts out your Christmas lighting. 

So, yes, it has taken me time to see the bright side of rain in Orange County. But lately I’ve come to appreciate the alternative to our relentless sun. And I wish I could say I’d gotten religion after walking alone into the desert, or watching “Chinatown,” or reading up on snowpack. But the truth is, technology changed my view of precipitation: A few months ago, during a spell of particularly dry Santa Anas, my native Californian kids downloaded a rain app onto my phone. 

It was a joke. We laughed. “Simply Rain,” the app was called. So simple! Then, one day, I was desperate to sleep on a plane, so I put on my earphones, gingerly clicked the icon, and—zzzzzzzzzz. Wet drops splashed in the foreground. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Underneath, wind rushed, or maybe it was a muffled wave breaking. Ambient noise had never done much for me, but apparently sound has come a long way since those Aztec rain sticks hippies used to keep next to their futons. At my destination, the app helped me sleep despite uncomfortable air mattresses and long train rides. By the time I returned to the hot autumn skies of coastal Orange County, I couldn’t snooze without the thing. 

Now at night, thoughts ebb and flow on the sound of all that digital water. What does it mean to take such comfort in electronic rain? Are brains just bits and bytes? Is this the conditioning of 30-plus California winters? Or is this what happens as real rain gradually becomes scarcer? In this land of ever more thirst, ever more primitive nature, what sounds will comfort the native children of my native children? 

The thoughts don’t last long. I doze at the drop of a hat now. Still, I have started to count my blessings as the app thunder rumbles in exactly the same spot it always rumbles, and the app wave crashes and the first app raindrop hits: I have been blessed with another real winter, and with this real Californian husband, who is so hopeful that he has thrown all the windows open. Maybe tonight, real rain will come, battering the shingles and rattling the rain gutters. We’ll be listening for it, lying here together, feeling rich.


Illustration by Brett Affrunti

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue.

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