monsoon rain over downtown Tucson from Tumamoc Hill

The Last Photograph

Coolpix Elegy

monsoon rain over downtown Tucson from Tumamoc Hill, ? Paul Mirocha
Monsoon rain over downtown Tucson from Tumamoc Hill

I checked the rain gauge this morning on Tumamoc and it held 0.57 inches. Must have been from the night before although I don’t remember hearing it rain in town. Huge cumulonimbus clouds were building already in the southwest over all the mountain peaks. It started sprinkling again when I was carrying the rain gauge tube back outside after measuring it. A cloud of winged termites flew up from the Desert Lab cactus garden. I saw the little red velvet mites coming out that feed on them.

This afternoon a huge monsoon raked over the valley from the southeast. I ran out from my office to take a photograph of the wall of cloud and rain moving? across the valley towards downtown. I thought I had it timed pretty well since I could watch the storm approach, so I would be safe inside by the time the storm hit the Hill. While taking my photograph, I began to feel rain on my back. Two storms. I heard several young girls on the road running and screaming. The rain was so surprising, and cold like being dowsed with a pitcher of refrigerator water. They had no shelter so must have been drenched.

I ran, but was soaked to the skin by the time I reached my office. Later the gauge read 0.59 inch. About a tenth of the local annual rainfall in one day. Soon the rain blotted out everything. Out the windows it was like a thick fog.

That storm hitting downtown was the last photograph taken by my Nikon Coolpix 8400. I?ve had it since it came out in 2004. Friend and slave, it has gone with me on three trips to the Malaysian rain forest, Guatemala twice, and went with me through the ruins of Ankgor in Cambodia. Yes, it let me down a couple of times. I have tens of thousands of photographs on disk from this camera. In the last couple of years it frustrated me a bit as it showed its age, moving slower and slower, although probably I was just becoming more and more impatient as I was swept up with the fast digital age of image making. To be honest, I became a better photographer as I learned to compensate for its limitations.

A few months ago Leo, just turned two, saw it on a table in my office and carried it to me, saying, ?dis dada?s.? I wasn?t quick enough when he dropped it on the floor. It suffered a crack in the body, yet still worked, although it may not have focused perfectly after that. I knew the end was near. Better to go this way than to expire unused in a drawer somewhere after I had upgraded to a bright new mode with double the megapixels.


Later I walked up to the summit. The valley was beautifully dark and wet, the air cool and clean, the light even and shadowless with the baking sun still behind clouds. A layer of clouds hung below the Catalinas. Here and there shafts of sunlight lit up the mountains around the valley. Another dark storm moved south of us. On the way back down the hill, I passed a saguaro that must have been hit by lightning in the past week or so. It was charred, broken in half, and three huge arms lay on the ground around it. It looked like it had just exploded and fallen apart.

On the way home I crossed the Santa Cruz River bridge. It was flowing bank to bank. Thrilling. Monsoons do that, releasing dopamine in the mammalian brain.

My joy lasted until I got home. There was water on the floor in the hallway. Just to be sure, I asked if anyone had spilled water there. No luck. I had to face the reality that had been happening for several years now. Part of the ceiling was stained brown and coming apart. Although it did not leak when it was not raining, I finally made the connection and called two roofers to come and give estimates for a new roof.

Sunsets in monsoon season are gorgeous. The only visual missing is angels moving up and down among the clouds. Or maybe I just don’t see them. All ended with fireworks over A-mountain and Tumamoc Hill after dark.

The next day, people were talking about the weather. I heard a mother telling her story: The streets were so flooded that the police had blocked off the route home and the she was stranded with her kids in her car. They asked a policeman why the area could not accommodate the monsoons, since they happened every year and it was a newer subdivision of town. ?Oh, they didn?t expect this much rain,? was the response. The story ended with a friend with a large truck giving them a lift home.

?Actually, it was all kind of exciting,? she said.



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