The Saratoga Sun -

By Keith McLendon
Retro Blog 

Dancing between raindrops


The west is a dry place.

I know this is a shocking revelation to those who live here and I apologize for intruding on your blissful unawareness.

Coming from the coastal south, I was used to thunderstorms though.

Sorry, that should be Thunderstorms with a capital “T.”

Down there, rainfall would last literally weeks—with the occasional hurricane to break the monotony.

Somehow the west still gets hurricane-force winds but a storm might only last 15 minutes … and you can dance between drops if you are careful.

It is an interesting and fun fact that line dancing was invented to keep cowboys (and cowgirls) dry. The formulaic movements employed in this particular hoedown staple was discovered by researchers at the University of Wyoming to be the best series of mathematical movements to avoid any western rain. This rain avoidance dance eventually spread like wildfire amongst hydrophobic cowboys and even among less-informed dancers.

Wyoming did its part to deceive me though. The first year I lived here (decades ago, now), it rained semi-continuously for weeks.

In another indicator that it does not usually rain here a lot, quite a few roofs leaked. I remember sitting in an office with several coffee cans, buckets and other vessels slowly filling with roof-filtered water.

I noticed several other businesses and dwellings with the same drippy predicament.

But I had been here a while before the extremely rare and sadly temporary sogginess occurred.

After packing up and emptying my house in Houston for several days and then driving my U-Haul truck for about 13 hours on my way out west, I got my first introduction to the dryness to which I would, eventually, become accustomed.

Exhausted, I stopped the rented truck in Amarillo, Texas at a little roadside motel named the Quanah Parker Inn.

Shortly after opening the door I was fast asleep—only to awaken several hours later to the dream that my hair was made of straw. Upon becoming as fully cognizant as I get, I found that my hair had, indeed, taken on a definitely strawlike texture.

My hair, along with the rest of my body, eventually became accustomed to the dryness (conditioner helps)—but that was only the first physical change I would find living in the west.

Nose goblins

Moving from sea level into the elevated and rarified Rocky Mountain air combined with the general lack of humidity dried my sinuses out to the point that my nose actually bled a bit for the first few days I was out here.

This still happens today (on a lesser scale) when I return from a vacation down south.

I have since become familiar with the nasal nuggets that form in the arid climate.

I imagine my nostrils now look like the inside of a cave complete with stalactites and stalagmites built of dessicated mucus.

Through casual observation over the years I have noted that nose picking is generally more prevalent and less of a social faux pas in the west than in wetter climes—just try to be low-key about it and for damn sure don’t be caught eating any of it.

All this nasal discourse has served to knock loose an indelible memory of my maternal grandfather (a fairly famous Texas lawyer) saying that he had read in a book of etiquette that picking your nose is acceptable as long as you don’t look at it.

Unfortunately, like George Carlin, I want to know what the hell is coming out of or off of me.

Trust me, I could go on about boogers for a while (like how amazing it is to pull on one that keeps coming until you can feel it pop off your brain) … but some folks get disgusted by this kind of thing pretty quickly.

Dust in the Wind

Another consequence of wind and dryness is dust. The west is largely composed of this basic atomic element.

I first noticed this phenomenon as I unpacked my still-in-the-box entertainment center and kept having to brush powder off the thing as I assembled it.

Good housekeepers clean their knick-knacks off on a regular basis. I, however, traced a smiley face in the dust on the Darth Vader helmet in my living room … and thought it was funny enough to leave it that way. That gives you a fairly accurate insight into my dusting agenda.

Upsides too

There are benefits to rainlessness and a general lack of humidity though.

For one thing, items tend not to deteriorate as quickly here. It is not uncommon to see untreated wooden posts or structures from 100 years ago. Old cars sit in pastures and though the paint might peel from them, they rust only lightly.

I drove down to Houston one year with a Jeep that had a ball hitch on which the chrome had worn off. No problem here, but upon returning to Wyoming I discovered that a week in humidity had covered the ball with a healthy coating of oxidation. A previously unnoticed scratch in the Jeep’s paint proved the same.

Leave crackers out for a few hours down south and they rush toward a mushy state. The same crackers in Wyoming can sit out for a week and still be crispy.

The absence of precipitation also means that we have a lot of sunny days. According to one website, Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming are in the top ten sunniest states in America. The only large area with more sunshine is in the southwest where Arizona and New Mexico top the list.

So if you don’t mind picking yourself up and dusting yourself off in the sun, the west just might be for you.


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