Unmistakably, hail

YESTERDAY it hailed. In the morning great, tumbling gray clouds moved in from the north and made the earth like a dripping sea cave, dank and slightly mean, as if too much heaving seaweed clogged the flow of water in and out and nothing moved right. Then a strange, long shaft of sunlight, a bright line sketching shiny whiteness across brown soaked walnut trees without leaves. Just a quick streak. The clouds closed over it, swirled and swallowed, and the heavy brown floor of earth and green weeds darkened like the back of a large animal rolling over during a trick. Then the hail. First, the inability to tell thick rain from slight hail. Second, the wind aggravating the trees and all the noise of all the elements arguing for all their worth. Third, unmistakable hail crashing and bouncing like millions of hard, white beans jumping up and down in the grass, in the ivy, in the shrubs, off the roof of the parked car, and off the startled fence. It hailed and hailed until the beans took over. They crowded out the greens, the browns, the mahoganies with more than their essential whiteness. They jazzed a magnificent, loud, rattling, world-class clatter that rose and rose in volume, pitch, and resonance so much that the world, or at least the North American continent, was a pipsqueak by comparison.

Two cats were astonished and covered their heads. A dog rose three feet off the ground in surprise. A gopher felt the earth shake and started digging singlemindedly for Peking.

The earth was a glossy, ash-white mess.

Then the hailing stopped.

Then it started again.

Then it was indecisive.

Then . . . it . . . stopp . . . ed.

No wind. Suddenly no wind. All there was was the tintinnabulation of dripping, dripping, dripping, the old song of transition between what has fallen and what will rise. Everywhere the hail was debriefing its mission, fading, shrinking, ungathering itself in the harboring green of grass and weeds and throttled ivy. It was slowly, secretly, fading and disappearing without so much as a nod or scraping sound or even a loving murmur into the earth.

The clouds, as always, went away. The ineluctable sun -- the color of a red scrapboook -- spread fresh warmth and the cherry bloom of well-being everywhere. Spiders tentatively assessed the damage and went to work on repairs. Birds acted as if nothing had happened. Clear black puddles were strewn everywhere like hunks of pewter. The smell was so good it was better than a loaf of hot bread on the table.

Yesterday it hailed.

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