The other day a little bird told me she was a pluviophile. Pluvio, I thought. I knew I had come across it recently, written it even. They didn’t teach young moles Latin at my earthy Swiss school so I took the next best route and consulted Great Uncle Mole’s Oxford English Dictionary. Pluvial: belonging to rain. And yes, the niggle of familiarity was the French revolutionary calendar; the Pluviôse its fifth month, the rainy season spanning January and February.
There were several pluvios of one kind or another. It was a word that found its natural home in the 19th century. Cornelius Nicholson, a man with splendid eyebrows and great tufts of white hair either side of his bald dome, doctor of letters, fellow of the Geological Society and the Society of Antiquarians, director the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, sometime mayor of Kendal, wrote of the butter-women in his district being ‘exposed to the pluvial elements’ in 1832. The irascible and controversial Orientalist and translator of Arabian Nights, Richard Burton, was never one to hide his erudition, even when describing the simplest journey. ‘Irritated by the pertinacious perniciousness of Pluvian Jove’, he wrote of one wet day when he was traveling along the west coast of India sometime around 1850. I should give him the benefit of the doubt. It may have been the monsoon. Across the Atlantic some forty years on the poet James Russell Lowe wrote of the ‘artificial pluviosity of the gardener’s watering pot’. But after that the etymology of the word more or less falls out of usage.
At least … Something about Great Uncle Mole’s barometer is tickling my mind. Yes, there were other weather-measuring instruments that had belonged to his Mama and Papa (known as Gamm and Gump among my generation). When Great Uncle Mole had barely been breeched they had all spent a stint as weather-watchers in the Bernese Alps. One of the instruments had been a pluviometer, a sort of funnel and cylinder. Gump was quite obsessive about reading and recording the rainfall, even when he was in his dotage. Maybe pluviophilia is in my genes.
There was no mention of a pluviophile in the old OED. Perhaps it has been driven to germinate by this everlasting dry season. What used to be the lawn, the lovely lush green-ness you see me wading through above, is now just cracked earth. It was only days after that photoshoot in early February that it was mown down. Once the mature blades of grass had gone, all that was left was dead undergrowth.
Pluviophile. Saying it aloud makes me sigh with the deep contentment of a mole who is at one with its true nature. I say it slowly. It has a spacious, melodic, watery sound to it. Even if the word does not have the authority of the dictionary, it has come into usage, and so this true nature of mine is recognised by others, experienced by others, even. I am not the the only pluviophile in the world. There is the little bird who declared herself to me for one.
As I’ve been writing I have heard a strange sound, a sort of light tapping on the tin roof of my shed. I sit on the stoop so that I can smell it, too. Drops of rain. Not many, but its a start. And the birds are chirping, too.