Cheyenne bursts through the kitchen door.
"Yes, it's raining!"
The moment I was sure the rain would last more than a few minutes, I covered my easel and began cleaning my brushes.
It has been a long, hot week. The air smells wonderfully of moist soil. The eaves are already dripping into the storm drains, plut! plut! plut! and filling the clay-lined reservoirs situated at the lowest corner of every structure in Ordinary.
"Come on!" Cheyenne yells from the bedroom. "Get your stompin' clothes on!"
I'm halfway down the hall when she hurries from the bedroom, red kerchief on her head, bib overalls rolled above the knee.
I race to change and join her on the stoop.
"Come on!" Cheyenne says.
We grasp hands and run like school children through the rain, our faces tilted up, tongues out to catch the fresh, cool drops.
Almost everyone is racing to the north end of the barn. We turn the corner and Cheyenne pulls me back just as a big forkful of hay plops to the ground.
"You almost wore that!" she says.
"Always wanted to be a blonde," I wink.
We are in an enclosure roughly 20 x 30 feet. A bamboo fence surrounds this end of the barn, the gate wide open. In dry weather, a finely woven net covers the space. The net lets in sun and air, keeps out birds and critters. The netting has been rolled back now, and three strong-muscled villagers are pitching clean straw from the loft.
The rest of us leave our sandals outside the fence and step barefoot onto the muddy ground. Some jump in with both feet, risking a slippery spill.
I step in gingerly. I have to warm up to the idea of muddy feet. But then it feels so good--gritty, cool, squirting between my toes.
The mud makes a "gloock" sound as I lift first one heavy foot, then the other. Rain drips down my nose. I lick raindrops from my lips.
Someone shouts out the first bars to an ancient work song, and soon we are stomping mud and miming the motions of the words in rhythm, exaggerating the long notes.
I've got a mule and her name is Sal
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal.
She's a good ole' worker and a good ole' Pal,
Fifteen years on the Erie Canal
We've hauled some barges in our day,
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay . . .
Cheyenne loses her footing and grabs my arm, nearly pulling me down with her. Jessica grabs me round the waist in the nick of time. Somehow we all manage to stay upright.
Jessica has a big splotch of mud on her red hair, sliding onto her cheek. I think to wipe it off, but my hands are already gooey with mud.
She smiles and turns full circle, arms raised, jazz hands wiggling hokey-pokey style, never missing a beat.
We're tramping the straw into clay and sand that were carted here after the last rains. If the rain lasts long enough, we will have enough dauble to finish the exterior walls of Peter and Livia's cob house.
Peter and Livia are getting married in September. We erected nearly two-thirds of their house during the last hard rain in April. With this downpour, we should have more than enough to finish the job.
Already, the building crew is wheeling away barrels of sticky mud, long straws poking out this way and that.
Later, Merilee and Cheyenne will assemble a crew of teens and younger children. They will show them how to sculpt and smooth the edges around the door lintels and windows before the cob sets hard.
If there is enough mud, the builders may build some interior walls or shelves, and the students will have an opportunity to carve and sculpt designs in them.
Peter and Livia, who have been planning their home for many months, have chosen patterns for the designs and unique window shapes they prefer. The builders, with Merilee and Cheyenne's help, will see to it that the children's creative energies are channelled toward themes pleasing to the young couple.
"Mom!" It's Tracey, Merilee's daughter. "I can't feel my feet!"
We all turn. Tracey is wobbling on one leg, half buried in the mud. Barely able to hold the other above the surface, she's grown six inches of mud foot.
Jonathon steps over, scoops her up in his big, hairy arms and rubs the mud off her feet in one motion like it was whipped cream. He sets her down, shakes the mud from his hands, and rubs the residue on his overalls.
"Holler when you need another foot wipe." His grin is wide.
It is good to see Jonathon happy again, his face free of the pain that marked it for so long.
Despite the downpour, it takes some time to thoroughly moisten the deep layers of sand and clay and trample in enough straw to hold the mixture together when it hardens.
I am grateful for the heavy rain, continuously washing away the sweat and mud from my arms and face.
Just as our band begins to show signs of fatigue, Beryl, who is supervising the house construction, steps inside the enclosure and gives the signal to the loft that we've enough dauble to finish the house. The loft crew set aside their pitchforks, give the thumbs up and disappear, soon reappearing at the barn door.
Dry, they recoil a moment from the rain, then wave good naturedly to our muddy band and head toward Peter and Livia's home site. They will help the building crew mold the walls and set the glass for the windows.
My legs ache from stomping the sticky goo. They itch too, from the mud and minute straw cuts. The children are still having fun. Some of the teenagers have taken to mud fights and wrestling.
Merilee, Chey and I decide to take a break and head for some bales of hay in the dry barn.
"Whew! That wears me out!" I plop down hard, knees giving way too soon.
"But it's so much fun," Chey says. "Look at Ruby! Eighty-three and stomping like it's a rain dance."
Ruby is my mom. Through the barn door, I see her, sure enough, holding up her skirt in a slow motion mud-foot dance. Seeing us, she waves and keeps on dancing.
"She's smarter than we are," Cheyenne says. "Paces herself."
Ruby likes the outdoors more than in. Until just a few years ago--after her eightieth birthday!--she would take off hiking before sunup and return after sundown with a knapsack bulging with roots and herbs.
"That's my mom," I smile, loving the tall woman with the strong, calloused hands who can run circles around me to this day.
"The sun's coming out," Merilee says. "Let's catch a rainbow!"
By the time we reach the barn door, the rain has trickled to a drizzle and the sun is lighting everything northeast with a yellow and white glow. The air is heavenly fresh.
"There it is!" Tracey shouts. We turn and watch the rainbow grow from faint to brilliant, it's arch expanding gradually till it spans the valley.
"Wow," someone says.
"Wow," we all say.
I inhale deeply.
Sudden hush. All I can hear is the steady dripping of rain off tree branches and eaves.
I give thanks for this day, for this joy, for this rain.
Cheyenne takes my hand, then circles my waist.
I give thanks for this loving woman next to me.
Tracey takes my other hand, and pulls her mom to her, who already has her arm around Ruby's waist.
In front of us, and to the left, Jonathon puts an arm around the shoulder of his son Jacob.
I give thanks for the love in the world, for the joy, for the peace that is ours every single day.
The infinitely sweet notes of a meadowlark trill across the yard and, miraculously, the colors of the rainbow deepen.