Winter turns Perth from a perky cheerleader into a goth girl smoking under the bleachers. Yesterday, I stepped in a deep puddle and had to slosh home to change my shoes. A white cockatoo nibbling on seeds in my neighbor’s driveway raised his head as if to say, “Loafers? Really?”
For most of the year, the city sparkles. Sunshine bounces off windows and sunglasses. The Swan River suggests the aftermath of a collision between two cargo ships transporting tinsel and sequins. But come July, things get dreary around here. The river darkens and the big Aussie sky hangs heavy with clouds. The stars, typically celestial exhibitionists, become painfully shy.
Rainstorms are frequent and severe. If heaven exists, all angels in the southern hemisphere are hard at work on an assembly line, tasked with dumping buckets of water onto their descendants. I frequently gather soccer balls, hula hoops, and Frisbees from the front patio so they don’t blow across the street. This makes me feel purposeful and foolish, like a Floridian refusing to evacuate. A lone kookaburra often perches on the telephone pole outside our kitchen window and shakes his feathers repeatedly.
One perk of all the rain is the prevalence of rainbows. When I see one, I always wonder about the first person who observed this marvel:
“Jerry, you’ll never believe what I saw this morning when I left the cave to collect more berries.”
“What did you see, my darling?”
“An enormous, colorful belt across the sky. It was there one minute and gone the next.”
“Stop messing with me, Darlene. What’s a belt?”
Today I had neither plans nor motivation, so I went to the beach. It was too cold and blustery for swimming, so I wrapped myself in a puffy coat, long scarf and a beanie. I looked like a Mongolian baby.
If you head west on Eric Street from Stirling Highway, you reach the top of a hill and then suddenly, the Indian Ocean is in front you, massive and turquoise. As I got closer to the coastline, I could see and hear the waves crashing. The water evidenced a dangerous and angry Mother Nature at the end of her rope.
The beach was free of humans but the water was not. At first I was shocked to see surfers, but then I remembered in Australia, people are either brave or foolish, depending on your perspective. Four daredevils were being thrashed about awfully close to the rock jetty that protrudes from Cottesloe Beach like a giant’s index finger. I could hear them hooting with either terror or glee, and as I walked down the beach clutching my scarf that was determined to fly out and join them, I kept an eye on those boys.
My thoughts, like rainbows or sudden gusts of wind, were there one minute and gone the next. I thought about bicycles and how I wished I enjoyed them more. I thought about my daughter’s tree costume, whale sharks, Pauline Hanson, and whether or not rooibos tea would taste good with almond milk. I thought about the French gymnast with the broken leg.
And then, standing on the beach watching the surfers, one thought consumed the others like a tsunami. What if I’m doing all the wrong things? As my eyes began to fill with tears, I heard a loud rumble and within seconds, it started to hail. I took off my glasses and stuck them in my coat pocket and began to stumble in the direction of my car. The ferocious wind pushed me sideways. I could taste salt water on my lips. I looked out to where the surfers had been just moments ago, but I couldn’t see through the storm.
I slammed the car door, tossed my soaked beanie on the passenger seat and peeled off the wet paper maché previously known as my scarf. I checked my phone and ate some almonds. There was no way I was driving in this storm and besides, I needed to see the surfers.
I turned on the radio. It was Etta James. “You smiled and then the spell was cast. And here we are in heaven, for you are mine at last.” I remembered when my young cousin sang this song at her Bat Mitzvah, and how shocked I was to hear such a big voice come out of such a small person.
Soon the rain stopped. I counted four surfers and drove home, grateful for all the little things and mystified by the big ones.