Big Jim: Summer rains

2013-06-21T00:00:00Z 2013-07-11T11:52:19Z Big Jim: Summer rainsJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

El Día de San Juan is almost upon us and the summer rains can legitimately begin in three days.

Notice that I wrote “rains” rather than “monsoon season.” That’s what they were called when I came here in the 1950s – or las aguas in Spanish, and that’s what I prefer to call them.

I’m sure there are good meteorological grounds for using the “m”-word, but when I first heard it I took it for an attempt on the part of recent arrivals to make our region more valid by pretending it’s somewhere else – south Asia, for instance.

Of course we have a number of terms for the heavy, sudden rains themselves – chubasco in Spanish, and the more light-hearted “gully washer,” “toad strangler” and even “turd floater” in English.

When it rains, it RAINS. But not everywhere at the same time. Our summer storms can be very localized. In fact one of my favorite occupations is watching one of them sweeping across the valley, lightning and all.

When I say “localized,” I mean it. There are times when a nice, heavy rain seems to stop at our property line. I have even heard about a man who accidentally left his double-barreled shotgun leaning against a fence. When he remembered and came back to fetch it, the storm had passed through. The right barrel was full of water, while the left barrel was full of cobwebs.

There’s a serious, sober side to our summer rains, however – the possibility of flash floods. If you see a sign on a dip in the road that says “Do not enter when flooded," please believe it! Every year there are news stories about people being rescued from flooded washes. The rescuing is usually done by a professional or a volunteer at the risk of his or her own life.

The scary thing is that the storm that produces the flood may be far away and behind you…but if it’s uphill from your wash, it could literally roar around the corner and get you. Next time you go under the railroad overpass at Stone Avenue, look at the measuring stick. That water can get deep!

But if you don’t take shelter under a tree (lightning) or cross an arroyo at the wrong time, the summer rains can be wonderful. The temperature drops, the toads sing, human spirits lift, and next day you have the option of seeing a grateful desert.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at tucson.com/wildcatgear.

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail bigjimgriffith@gmail.com

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