When will the Rain Come?
There was amble rain in April and May, but then it stopped completely. As the days of June passed people in the small agricultural town of Bolton began to worry. By the end of the month, they were very worried. Gardens began to dry up and the corn and hayfields showed no promise of growth. And the reservoir, upon which the people of the town depended for water, began to have a lower level. This had never happened before. The memories of even the oldest residents could not recall such a dry month of June.
And the dry spell seemed only to target this particular town and surrounding area, as not much more than fifty miles away there was rain as was normal. And the weather forecasters tried to keep up the dry spirits of the people by saying that they were “almost certain” that there would be rain “some time soon.”
But that was not to be. July continued the drought. Fire warnings were issued. No one could have a bonfire in the town or the surrounding country. People were told by city officials that they should “refrain from watering” their lawns. In front and backyards, the color brown began to dominate, the green to dissipate. By the end of July townspeople and farming families began to panic.
The Indigenous Neighbors
Part of the township included an Indigenous reserve. There was a relationship of distance between the members of the local band, and the people of the town. There was individual racist prejudice, of course, but for the most part people just lived in mutual distance.
An exception was the mayor of the town, George Newson and the chief of the band, Fred Big Arrow (there was a funny story Fred told about the origin of the name, but he did not know what had originally inspired the long-standing name in his community) both young men, were friends. They had gone to school together and had been members of the high school baseball team as pitcher and catcher.
One day, when George and his family were having dinner at Fred’s place. After the meal was finished, George took Fred aside and asked him “Did your tribe ever have any kind of rain ceremony, say a rain dance?” Fred said, honestly, “I really don’t know. But then I have never been very knowledgeable about the old ways. I can ask some of the more traditional people about that if you would want me to.” George just nodded his head in response.
The next day, Fred talked to one of the most respected elders of his community. When he asked about whether there was a traditional ceremony, the old man just smiled at first. Fred knew that he should be patient and wait for the old man to respond.
When the elder began to talk, he said, “There is a way that I have heard of that might be able to bring rain. A long time ago, our people had a rain dance. I know a few things about that. If you want, I will tell you. But I am a little sleepy right now, so I might not be able to tell you all that you need to know. Ask me again tomorrow and I will describe the ceremony to you.”
Chief Fred (which most of the members of the band called him) visited the elder the next day. He brought tobacco with him to honor the elder and his knowledge. He took copious notes about what was described to him, slowly, by the elder.
Chief Fred called his friend, mayor George that night, telling him about what he had learned. They both agreed that a rain dance might go a long way to lifting the spirits of the town, and ‘who knows…..?’
The next day, Fred gathered together some of the women, men, even the children of the band, and described what they would have to do. They dedicated themselves to the task, within little more than a day they all knew well what they would have to do. Fred then called George again and said that they were ready to hold the ceremony.
The Saturday of the Dance
The Saturday night of the dance there was a great gathering at the reserve. There was a strong sense of anticipation that something important was going to happen. The old man who had told Fred of the dance sat just a little outside of where the ceremony was performed. A smile graced his face for the whole time. When the dance was over, the applause for the dancers was loud, as were the shouts of encouragement. The spirit of both communities was raised.
The Next Day
The next day, many citizens of the town arose early, hoping for rain, most of them not fully confident that it would take place. Around eight o’clock in the morning, the people heard a sound in the distance that they had hoped for over the last two months. There was what some what later describe as a ‘roar of thunder’ in the distance. People dashed out of their houses and saw a truly beautiful sight. The sky to the east was dark with clouds, momentarily illuminated by flashes of lightning. It was not long before that sight was joined by the welcome sight and sound of pouring rain. ‘The rain had finally come!’
When the rain hit the town, many people were doing a ‘rain dance’ of their own in celebration of the long hoped for change in the weather.
Meanwhile Back at the Reserve
Meanwhile, back at the reserve, Chief Fred walked out into the rain with a big smile on his face. He had to give thanks to the elder for his gift to the people of the band and of the town. Again, he brought an offering of tobacco to honor the elder. He knocked on the door, heard the shuffling of the old man’s feet on the floor, and then had the door opened for him.
As they both stood in the raid, he said ‘thank you’ to the elder in one of the few words in the traditional language that he knew. Then he gave him a hug. “We are grateful to you for teaching us about the ceremony. You have brought hope for everyone on the reserve and in the town.”
The elder then smile and made a sound that in a much younger person might consider to be a giggle. “I have to tell you something. We did not traditionally have a rain dance. I made it up. But the reason I did was that I learned something from my grandmother. She was a truly wise person, one who knew things others did not. She used to tell me that she could feel a change in the weather “in her bones”. She would often say to me ‘it is going to rain soon’, and as far as I can remember, she was always right. Within a day or two of her saying that it would rain. The day you asked me whether we had a traditional ceremony to bring rain, I felt a change of weather coming, ‘in my bones’. I thought that maybe you would not believe me, so I made up a traditional ceremony. I also thought that it was time that the townspeople treated us more like the neighbors we have been for many years, with a little more respect. Please do not tell anyone of what I have just said to you.”