One Monsoon

From a continent away, a young Peace Corps worker senses that all is not well back home.

| Fall 2017

Nepal Hill Village

Monsoon rains, which typically begin in June, mark the beginning of Nepal's rice planting season.

Photo by Don Messerschmidt

One Wednesday morning late in the rainy season of 1964, I sat at the open window of my room overlooking the tiny hill town of Kunchha, where I lived. I was watching huge clouds expand overhead, upward and outward across the blue Himalayan sky. I knew that by noon the temperature and the humidity would rise proportionately. Those cumulonimbus clouds are the largest, most magnificent and dramatic of the nimbuses, and experience told me that they were the harbingers of a rainstorm that would blow in around tea time.

At first, the weather that morning seemed no different from any other morning since June when “the rains” began. But, while the clouds looked the same as always, there was something about them that nagged at the back of my mind, something foreboding. Even now I can feel it, much as I had then. At that time, in that place, my semi-conscious mind seemed to be playing a game with me, inexplicably evoking strong memories of my maternal grandfather who lived thousands of miles away in Alaska.

I occasionally thought of Grandpa while I was living and working far off in the Himalayas as a Peace Corps volunteer. I remember him with a touch of nostalgia even now, all these decades later. But on Wednesday, August 26, while watching the sky brim with clouds, I felt as if he were there in Kunchha with me, if only in spirit.

In my youth, Grandpa and I had been very close. While growing up in Alaska, he had been like a father to me, introducing me to nature and the outdoors. He taught me about trees and flowers, wild animals and birds, and the weather, especially how to ‘read’ the clouds and foretell storms.

Grandpa was already nearing 70 when we bonded, and like so many elders with a philosophical bent, he would tell me (then an inexperienced youth) about the wonders and mysteries of the world. He was something of an armchair mystic who, with candid fascination, often pondered aloud his own mortality.

On the cold, rainy day in September 1963 when I left Alaska to join the Peace Corps, Grandpa joined my parents to see me off at the Juneau airport. It was there that he had quietly told me something like this: You are young, Don, and today you are starting out on a grand adventure. It’s one I’d like to have done. But my adventures are nearly over. My days are numbered...