Rain: a natural and cultural history

My family and I lived for five years in the North American rainforest of Southeast Alaska.  In those days, it rained over three hundred days a year. To this day my children prefer a rainy day to one filled with sun. That’s one reason why this book called out to me.

It’s a compendium of archaeological, historical, and scientific facts about our most common precipitation. Also, included in it are a series of mini-biographies of people who are renowned for some connection to rain.

One of these includes Princess Anne of Denmark who tried vainly several time to sail to Scotland to marry her fiancé, King James VI.  Violent storms blew her back to the Nordic regions twice. This was in August, 1589 during the time known as The Little Ice Age. King James VI eventually enlisted his navy to take him north to marry her.

However, more storms erupted and kept the newly married royal couple from returning home for months. One side effect of these thwarted journeys was the king’s lifelong preoccupation with witches that enticed him to attack and even kill the supposed offenders.  Shakespeare wrote Macbeth around this time using contemporary fears of witches to add atmosphere and conflict to his script.

Other people profiled in Rain include Charles Macintosh who manufactured the first successful rain coats from rubber. Did you know that not until the early 19th century did people have decent rainwear?  Before that they wore long capes and hats to protect themselves from rain.

Another fun section is a mini-history of the umbrella, an anti-wet tool that men had difficulty using. In fact, not until the fictional Sherlock Holmes took up the umbrella, did it become socially acceptable for men to use them.

The book provides a fascinating history of weather forecasting and weather broadcasting. The early days of weather on TV featured jokesters and pretty women.  David Letterman, for instance, once congratulated a storm for reaching hurricane status.  Did you know that Raquel Welch started her career as a weather girl?

One section of the book devotes itself to weather in America, including a history of western expansion into Nebraska and the Dakotas and other parts west. Did you know that Nebraska was first settled by whites during a very rainy period?

And what would a book about rain be if it did not explore the fascinating lore of rainmakers? In 1891 the Feds payed for a patent lawyer from D.C. to blow up explosives in the Texas sky to make rain. The forestry chief of the area, “strongly advised everyone to have his ark ready for the deluge.”

Alas, no deluge came. When no rain fell in San Antonia and only scattered drops in other parts of Texas, the patent lawyer named Dyrenforth was mocked in newspapers and called Dryhenceforth.

This finely-written, well-researched book will give you lots of facts about one of life’s most essential natural phenomena.  On one of these fall nights when raindrops make a rhythmic pattern on your roof, read it and feel blessed. After all, this could be dry California.