Sophie in Santa Cruz
People sure get worked up about rain here. I first wanted to illustrate this by writing about how everyone looks out of the window, the way European kids do at the first sign of snow, as soon as rain starts to fall or about how they suddenly panic about what to wear. But then the opportunity for an even better example presented itself – the UCSC tradition called First Rain.
What is First Rain? According to the website (yes, there is a website for this), the following conditions need to be met for this tradition to take place
Consistent rain from 18:00 to 22:00
On a school night
And what happens when the stars, or in this case rain drops, align in this way? Why, in proper hippy fashion everyone meets in a designated place, strips off all their clothes and about 200 naked students run to every residential college on campus to chant ‘Let’s get naked!’ and recruit more people before jumping in the campus pool about an hour later. It is one of the most bizarre and exhilarating things I have ever done! Not to mention strenuous – running up and down the campus hills makes sure you’re never cold (and Santa Cruz Octobers hover around 13°C at night, significantly warmer than a Dutch autumn). It’s an experience that is difficult to describe but while you are running through the forest in a horde of whooping peers you know this is something you will never forget.
As I strolled past the pool full of bobbing nude bodies I remarked to my friend how I don’t feel naked at all anymore. It’s all a question of social norms. Absolutely everyone there was not wearing clothes and that made it seem like we were all dressed in perfectly normal fashion (pun intended).
I don’t think this practice would translate well to the Netherlands. How would you qualify the first rain of the year? Would you have to hold it in January? Or would you just hold it every day? In the first case, it would probably be too cold, and in the second, the novelty would probably wear off pretty quickly. Anyway, it wouldn’t be the same anywhere else without the redwood trees, the living quarters that look like communes sprung directly from 1960s counterculture movements, and, last but not least, the campus’s very own pool emitting steam that drifts away over the ocean into the night.