Chance outdoor meetings on recent damp days in San Francisco tend to start or finish (or both) with the statement, “but we need the rain.” No information is conveyed by these words. Their recipient already knows we need the rain. And the speaker knows the recipient knows it. Perhaps it is said aloud to be sure the nature gods hear it and continue to pour forth the blessings. Perhaps it reveals competitive piety – a race to first claim awareness of our climate-change sins. Or maybe it has just become a pleasant closing of a street encounter along the lines of “good bye.”
Of course, we don’t need the rain. San Francisco’s water supply falls 200 miles east of here and is collected in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, eternally under attack from activists who insist their motive is environmental restoration, not anti-capitalism. We don’t pump water that falls at sea level up into our reservoirs, nor do we collect water that falls on the coast. A coastal system that dumps rain in San Francisco does not mean it’s raining in the Sierras.
So California’s High Sierras need the rain, not us. But saying “but we need the rain” does little harm. Saying it lets the gods know we are grateful; and saying it reminds each other to be thankful.
“We need the rain” may have more in common with “good bye” than is apparent to most. Etymologists tell us that “God be with ye” became “God b’wy” by the mid-1600s, and a few decades later was “good b’wy,” well on its way to our “good bye,” which retains the ending “ye” as a reminder of its genesis
In the homogenous cultures of pre-enlightenment Europe, God was a fact of the world, not a belief of religion. “God be with ye” wasn’t seen as a religious sentiment. It was an expression of hopefulness about a universe that was powered by God almighty, the first cause and prime mover, who might just be a providential God hearing our pleas that He be with ye. Am I overly cynical in seeing a connection?
Rain be with ye.