Still Under the Rain Bird’s Spell

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For me, the most evocative human sense involves what comes in at the ear. And one sound in particular has the power to conjure up my entire, sweet childhood, from my first moment of consciousness till the summer I left for Greece, closing behind me the door on Rain-Bird-drenched California. I hear a Rain Bird, and I am back in 1950s Pasadena, where water made all things green and human possible.”—Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

Weekly Hubris

By Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

In California, c. 1955, the author, surrounded by Rain Birds. (Photo: F. Jack Herring.)

In California, c. 1955, the author, surrounded by Rain Birds. (Photo: F. Jack Herring.)

2019 Boleman-Herring Weekly Hubris

PENDLETON South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—1 August 2022—Bear with me, and close your eyes. If hearing is the final sense to wink out, at the very end of a human life, it is also, I think, the most evocative. Proust would differ with me: “When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered . . . the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls . . . bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory.” So much, I say, for Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel, and his petites madeleines . . . .

For me, the most powerful human sense involves what comes in at the ear. And one sound in particular can conjure up for me my entire, sweet childhood, from my first moment of consciousness till the summer I left for Greece, closing behind me the door on Rain-Bird-drenched California. 

I hear a Rain Bird, and I am back in 1950s Pasadena, where water made all things green (and human) possible. Without water, what would Los Angeles have been? (And whatever will it be when the water is gone?)

Sitting on our porch here in South Carolina, half a century later—half a long century of privilege and plenty defined by who has water where and when—I still look out on a lush garden made possible by irrigation, and greenery maintained by a humble network of soaker-hoses. Our small patch of lawn is kept green by a sprinkler I first encountered in Pasadena, in the 1950s, and, if I close my eyes, I am still back there . . . and my age still a single digit.

The susurration of the Rain Bird—and once you’ve heard it, it’s unmistakable—dates only from 1933, when a Glendora citrus farmer tinkering in his little shed came up with the design. 

I had no idea until two years ago that the auditory hallmark of my childhood had a colorful history, and that it began with a rural farmer named Orton Englehart, some two decades before my short, brief tenure in suburban Los Angeles. But, by the time I took up residence at 3320 Crestford Drive, where my father (a golfer, naturally) had installed Englehart’s sprinklers round and about our acre of ivy, dichondra, and bird of paradise plants, the chirr and whirr of a “horizontal action impact drive sprinkler” had become the soundtrack, for me, of summer.

Here in Pendleton, my father’s original early-50s artifact lives on. Two years ago, Robin, using 22nd-century bonding agents, reattached Jack Herring’s ancient prototype to its equally-ancient tripod, and I can hear it now, whirring around the vegetable garden behind the house as its brand-new (ordered-from-Amazon-by-Dean) sister sprinkler waters the lawn out front. 

For Coastal Native Americans, the Rain- or Thunderbird was believed to bring lifegiving rain, and the bird features prominently on Hopi and Zuni Pueblo pottery. Englehart, honoring that tradition, thought his solid, wily, and graceful little contraption resembled a bird. And it does. A mechanical bird whose song takes me, much older, but still under its spell, back to a seemingly simpler time. 

At the foot of the long driveway up to the first home I remember. (Photo: F. Jack Herring.)

At the foot of the long driveway up to the first home I remember. (Photo: F. Jack Herring.)

I, and Tommy Persio, among the Pasadena poppies. (Photo: F. Jack Herring.)

I (in pop-beads), and Tommy Persio, among the Pasadena poppies. (Photo: F. Jack Herring.)

With Christa Russell, peddling lemonade on Crestford Drive. (Photo: F. Jack Herring.)

With Christa Russell, peddling lemonade on Crestford Drive. (Photo: F. Jack Herring.)

Impact sprinkler prototype

Click image to visit page with video, Rain Bird—California’s Gold (12002).

To order Elizabeth Boleman-Herring’s memoir and/or her erotic novel, click on the book covers below:

Elizabeth Boleman, Greek Unorthdox: Bande a Part & a Farewell to Ikaros

Elizabeth Boleman Herring, The Visitors’ Book (or Silva Rerum): An Erotic Fable

About Elizabeth Boleman-Herring

Elizabeth Boleman-Herring, Publishing-Editor of “Weekly Hubris,” considers herself an Outsider Artist (of Ink). The most recent of her 15-odd books is The Visitors’ Book (or Silva Rerum): An Erotic Fable, now available in a third edition on Kindle. Thirty years an academic, she has also worked steadily as a founding-editor of journals, magazines, and newspapers in her two homelands, Greece, and America. Three other hats Boleman-Herring has at times worn are those of a Traditional Usui Reiki Master, an Iyengar-Style Yoga teacher, a HuffPost columnist and, as “Bebe Herring,” a jazz lyricist for the likes of Thelonious Monk, Kenny Dorham, and Bill Evans. (Her online Greek travel guide is still accessible at www.GreeceTraveler.com, and her memoir, Greek Unorthodox: Bande a Part & A Farewell To Ikaros, is available through www.GreeceInPrint.com.) Boleman-Herring makes her home with the Rev. Robin White; jazz trumpeter Dean Pratt (leader of the eponymous Dean Pratt Big Band); Calliope; and Scout . . . in her beloved Up-Country South Carolina, the state James Louis Petigru opined was “too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.” (Author Photos by Robin White.)
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2 Responses to Still Under the Rain Bird’s Spell

  1. Daniel Dodson says:

    If it/a people/etc. doesn’t bear fruit, don’t water it. When it rains, it pours. On paying the water bill for each person & residence: Coastal solar farms create steam from sea water to produce electricity to separate sea water into hydrogen & oxygen and pump the hydrogen to arid lands where the hydrogen is burned to produce water & energy. The coastal steam is condensed for coastal municipalities. The salt mounds used perhaps to build sea walls to delay the rising oceans. The sound of summers to come: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mah26og11ms

  2. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring says:

    Dan, about me (and Homo sapiens in general): “Too soon dumb; to late smart.” xoxoxoxo e

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