Springtime’s Most Rambling Metaphor

hailstonesThree times in as many weeks: hail. Pearly gemstones plinking down, making a spectacle of themselves, just when we all thought the day might clear. Last week I got caught out riding my bicycle downtown, white pellets the size of snow peas pausing on my black jeans then vanishing with a chuckle into the denim.

I’ve had many decades of life now to compile subconscious assumptions about hail. It struck me as I rode along, ducking my helmet and trying to brush the hailstones from my legs, that I might have been a harsh judge. With no meteorologic know-how to back me up, I’ve always thought of hail as a dithering weather, unsure and undecided, capriciously seasonal, torn between snow and rain. Then when you least expect it, a chest-thumping show of sissy indecision.

Oh, hail, I’ve thought, make up your mind!

Running down the hill last night with the dog—knees creaking, feet slapping the trail too weary to lay themselves down with any grace—I felt my inbetweenness like radio static. Not young, not old, journalist by day, would-be-novelist at night, excelling at one or the other, but seemingly not at the two together.

The dog and I, we ran too high and too far and now, though the dust-dry trail was spooling below us like a rope all the way down to the water, there was no forgiveness in the tilt of things. Even the dog was running clumsy, tongue lolling. And where moments ago, a hot evening sun had me swiping the sweat back into my hair to keep it out of my eyes, the clouds abruptly clamped the blue sky shut and gave us rain.

Rain, then hail.

Hail! I wanted to laugh out loud, having had hail on the brain since the last time. Under-dressed and overtired, I was swinging one leg desperately after the other, hoping not to slip in the slick-slime mud shining like a new skin, now pocked with pebbles of ice. Hailstones the size of orange pips were nipping at my bare arms.

And it came to me: hail might simply be hail. Uniquely itself, neither or both. It didn’t need to choose. Hail can fill whatever bucket it damn well wants. Salt and sugar, fact and fiction, mountain and sea.