The Pleasant Pull Of Puddles

It was 7 a.m. A dedicated early-morning athlete, I craved a bike ride, but it had rained all night. I looked out the sliding-glass door onto the backyard deck and stared at the wide puddle that materializes there after every rain.

Just as I hoped, the drops were soft and easy, so few in number I could almost count them. The puddle's gentle ripples told me I could go out without getting soaked.

A few minutes later, I gave in to a childish urge and instead of dodging a puddle of unknown depth in a shopping-center parking lot, plowed right through it. The spray brought back memories of doing this as a child. Though back then my tank of a bike had fenders fat enough to eat lunch on, I often got drenched. It was childhood exuberance, and it was delicious.

But now my enthusiasm for these underrated wonders of nature is sublimated into an adult framework: If invited at a social gathering to join in a conversation about puddles, I will only opine that I appreciate them for their utilitarian benefits.

While it has been said that into every life a little rain must fall, this is not necessarily true of puddles. Puddles contain a wide range of fluids, and while the fallen-rain variety may be statistically the most common, it is hardly the only significant or useful kind. A puddle of slimy ooze on the driveway once told me the transmission shop really hadn't fixed my car's problem, and a telltale puddle on the kitchen floor was ample proof that the dog should have been taken out before bedtime.

I now appreciate the literature of puddles. Some of it is benign, even complimentary. E.E. Cummings must have been a puddle fan, for he wrote, "it's spring /when the world is puddle-wonderful."

But others had more sinister views. Alexander Smith said, "A man gazing on the stars is proverbially at the mercy of the puddles in the road." And then there is Anonymous. As wide-ranging as his observations are, he apparently never learned to care for puddles. "Doctor Foster went to Gloucester /In a shower of rain; /He stepped in a puddle, up to his middle, /And never went there again," he wrote. As if the good doctor couldn't have walked around it.

Puddles can be devious. More than once an otherwise friendly-looking puddle has disguised a pothole huge and fierce enough to eat my car. And their sense of humor can be exasperating: The little pup of a puddle I couldn't resist walking through on my way back to work one afternoon turned out to be a six-incher if it was an inch. It left me with squishy shoes and soggy socks the rest of the day. But I'd do it again.

As useful as puddles can be, as cantankerous as they are, they are humble and quiet in their departure. The late-afternoon sun can turn them into gleaming jewels when you look at them from the proper angle, and gradually they simply disappear. The stuff of which they are made rises invisibly to the heavens. No one sees a puddle leave, but everyone knows a puddle has been there.

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