Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Doesn't It Sometimes Make You Wonder?

Once, when I was a younger man trekking with my dog in a remote part of Scotland, I saw it rain bubbles.

At the time I was as clearheaded and healthy as I have ever been in my life, and I remain certain that what I saw and experienced that day was no illusion and no mere anomaly of precipitation, light, or perspective.

No, what I saw, and captured time and again in my hands, were bubbles, multiform and frequently sheened with shimmering rainbows, and moving and behaving exactly as bubbles are known to move and behave. They floated, bobbed, drifted down in a steady, languid shower and then sailed and shimmied on the breeze.

There was no mistaking the bubbles for mere globules or droplets. Nor was there anything of the quality of berm or the fleeting and insubstantial products of carbonation; these were real, unmistakable bubbles, and most of them were at least as large as Christmas tree ornaments. A few of the bubbles I encountered were as large as volleyballs.

A man who wanders for a solid half hour in an utterly benign shower of bubbles will of course seek an explanation for such a phenomenon. My hosts at the time, an elderly couple who were distant relatives, were nothing if not matter-of-fact characters, and they did not seem to find my story entirely credible. They politely admitted that they had neither heard of nor experienced such an admitted curiosity. The other locals were no more credulous regarding my tale, and I was left with a mystery that has only grown more wondrous with age.

I spent three years in Scotland after graduating from college. I was trying to scare up a sociology dissertation that I never did get around to writing or even properly conceiving. When I returned to the U.S. I often found myself regaling friends with the tale of the day it rained bubbles. This was usually over drinks --for a great many years after my return I conducted most of my conversations over drinks-- and I discovered that listeners who were sufficiently lubricated were generally willing to find the story more credible and to offer up all manner of hypothetical explanations for what I experienced. None of these attempts at explanation, however, struck me as satisfactory or sufficient.

Nearly thirty years after I stood there in the middle of that forlorn, windswept place staring up with wonder into a sky filled with swaying bubbles, I placed a call to a local meteorologist of some renown and told him my story. He asked a number of questions that seemed to me irrelevant and then lapsed into a momentary silence.

Finally he said, in an almost apologetic tone of voice, "This was, as you say, quite a long time ago, and I'm guessing that what you're telling me didn't happen exactly as you remember it."

I thanked him for his time and hung up the phone.

Here's the thing, though: it did happen exactly as I remember it. I can still picture my dog leaping in the air and snapping happily at the bubbles. I can still see a particularly perfect specimen resting in my palm and then bursting without a sound.

I walked through nature in a shower of bubbles.

I was young, and in a rare, happy place in my life. And though it pains me still that I was unable to share the experience with another person who could also carry that wonder with them for the remainder of their time in this world, I'm nonetheless grateful for that single corroboration of one of my earliest and most fiercely held beliefs, which is that life is so much more --more magical, but also just plain more-- than most of us ever even try to imagine.


  1. One of my favorite things about these posts is that first there is well-written talk of something that may or may not be real (gnomes, bubbles, old girlfriends), and the reality of said items is irrelevant since the writing is enjoyable. But at some point something indubitably real reaches out and grabs you, in this case "life is so much more --more magical, but also just plain more-- than most of us ever even try to imagine." And that's what elevates the enjoyable writing to the realm of beauty.

  2. Wow, Oreo. That's wonderful and thrilling to hear, particularly given the generally howling vacuum of this nonsense. I thank you for responding and for being so kind and thoughtful in doing so.

  3. ... images that accompany stories are delightful ... would you source them?

  4. Thanks, Raymon. Unless otherwise acknowledged, all the photos are mine and the other (scanned) things are from my folders of rummage finds.

  5. Scotland, rain bubbles...this transports, at once I am there.