It rained this weekend. Almost everyone I’ve talked to was bummed about it. They’re disappointed with the weather, as if rain is unpleasant, certain elements of the natural world, annoyances. I wonder if they feel that way about gravity. Or certain shades of green. Or the way the big bang strew the constellations. John Muir didn’t. He loved the natural world in all its moods. He didn’t just like sunny weather. He liked weather.
I heard he would jump in the path of an avalanche and ride it down the mountain for fun, which I doubt. But I do believe he climbed tall trees during fierce storms just to feel the driving rain stinging his face and the branches flexing in the gale. Windsurfing meets Qigong.
“The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing,” he wrote in Mountain Thoughts.
Maybe he found some special mushrooms on his hikes. Or maybe he had a desire to be deeply immersed in the experience of the natural world that is alien to us now. I’m sure he knew how to find or make shelter in a storm, but for the times when he was caught out, well, Gore-Tex was still 117 years in the future in 1868 and there were no space blankets; Muir’s wool and leather gear would be soaked through. Hypothermia deep in the backcountry was serious back when a shot of Scotch was considered rewarming.
In Laguna Beach, if there is a sign of rain, people get their $400 synthetic jacket, their $200 Hunter boots, and layer up to brave the five minutes of the day they’re not able to avoid the rain by staying indoors. Even if the ocean toxicity spike after rainfall was a thing of the past,Orange County lives across a deep divide from the self sufficient aesthetic of Muir and company.
That’s why I was amused to see the fellow above. I was shooting photos of the biggest storm of the winter a few years ago. Unprecedented rainfall, flooding, landslides, closed roads, high winds blowing down tall trees. I was running around Laguna shielding my camera from the maelstrom when I saw this guy at Main Beach, going for a swim like a modern day Muir, heading out to ride the rip currents in a roiling ocean, in February. No wetsuit.
Here are some other images from that day.