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Thunder wars with lightning in the distance while wind relentlessly shoots a thousand raindrops against my skin. I just turned nine years old but can’t help wailing like a toddler. My seven-year-old brother whimpers in my father’s arms. We’re on the Artists Paintpots Trail in Yellowstone National Park, but we’ve forgotten all about the geothermal wonders we’ve come to see. Instead of hiking, the three of us cower beneath the fattest lodgepole pine we can find.
There’s a fourth member of our family, but she’s not joining us under the tree. My mother stands in the middle of the trail, exposed to the elements, beckoning for us to join her, to stand our ground instead of hiding. Her hood is down, flapping in the wind like a cape. Behind her, wisps of white smoke escape from a fumarole.
“Isn’t this fun?” Her voice is the melodic line against the beat of the rain.
The more the three of us struggle, the more my mother seems to relax. Rain sorts the ends of her hair into rivers. She closes her eyes, leans back, and tries to catch it all on her tongue.
“Look,” she points at the sky, rippling like liquid silver. “It’s so beautiful.”
Twelve years later, heavy rain beats me to my knees on the shore of Trout Lake in Glacier National Park. I should feel fear like I did in Yellowstone; instead, I’m my mother standing her ground. Cancer claimed her just a month earlier, after we hiked nearly 50 national parks together. And beneath that blackest sky, inside my collapsed tent, I finally realize what she was trying to teach me all those years ago: You can’t control out-of-control things.
Years later, after becoming a mother, I finally appreciated how rain forces you into the present moment, a gift we lose as we outgrow childhood. This is what I love most about rain: the pitter-patter that drowns out the past and the future.