What’s the sitch with rain protection?
The Yahoo! Weather App predicts there’s a 75% chance of rain starting at about noon, so you don your raincoat before leaving to run errands. The downpour begins during the drive, prompting you to turn on the windshield wipers to medium speed. You step into the Target parking lot, only to be blasted by a much stronger squall than expected; an umbrella will be necessary, even for the short distance into the department store. Your casual leather boots have thick soles, offering protection during the brief walk through standing water. Once inside, rain is no longer reaching you, as there is a waterproof roof atop the cavernous structure. As you exit, 20 minutes later, with two plastic bags full of fresh toiletries and undershirts, you pause under an awning to gather courage before the wet dash back to your vehicle. Water runs turbulent from a nearby gutter outflow.
We have so many items and structures and appliances to control rain, to guide it away from our dry, clothed bodies and onto the ground. Whats the sitch?
Being dry is often desirable. It is, in almost all cases, the baseline state of existence for humans. If you haven’t planned to be wet, and so don’t have a way to become dry again afterwards (e.g. a towel), being covered in water can be a real problem. Textiles hold onto fluid more tightly than our outermost layer of skin, so when clothes become wet, achieving overall dryness again can be time consuming. Water conducts heat more readily than air, so being cold will often follow quickly after becoming wet. Furthermore, water is an essential ingredient in the mixture microbes need to flourish; having wet skin for long periods (greater than a few hours or so) can encourage yeasts (or worse) to grow on the damp, warm surface.
So, given these realities, smart men and women throughout history have invented ways to keep our bodies dry, in spite of nature’s best efforts. Nice work everyone!!
…No, that’s not the end of the sitch. We haven’t yet learned anything new or offered a solution to a problem or analyzed a confusing reality… Thus far, this would barely qualify as a situation.
But what if I told you rain protection does not only stem from items that can be bought and sold? What if I were to claim that we have a variety of traits we are born with, attached to our bodies, that provide protection from rain?Eyelids? Eyelashes? Ever heard of them? Try this: tape your eyelids securely to your eyebrows, then walk out into a thunderstorm. Not so pleasant, is it? Even with that raincoat.
Head hair? Have you seen this? Hair growing from peoples’ head? Yes, it has become a fashion statement in our modern world. But, did you know, the ski jump hairstyle, the one where adolescent boys gel their bangs at a stiff, 45 degree angle out from the plane of their scalp, did you know that began as an attempt to keep the face clear of rain? Similarly, the mohawk was first designed as an attempt to guide rainwater to the sides of the face instead of over the front, and the mullet was created to shunt fluid toward the back. New analysis of artwork and artifacts from Babylonian burial sites suggest that, in their society, it was commonplace to use hippopotamus snot to sculpt head hair into a variety of functional shapes, most of which were done to protect the face from inclement weather.
The influence of rainfall on our evolutionary and societal development can not be overstated, and the list of features shaped by skywater (as we sometimes call rain here in the office) is quite long. That is to say nothing of the millions of other animals and plants with specific rain influenced adaptations. We don’t have the space (or patience) to get into all of those in this sitch.
I do, however, feel it is important to mention one final rain-protection feature, because it rarely gets enough credit for its ingenious design. You could say it’s been hiding right under our noses the whole time… though I suppose that would imply we all have an additional nose underneath our normal nose. Because I’m referring to the human nose. Its tented shape, its oily surface, and the downward orientation of its smell-openings allow even the most drenching rains to flow right off, onto the ground instead of into our breathing tubes.
The nose, of course, is recognized primarily for olfaction, our ability to smell. This sense allows us to judge what food is safe to eat, what other humans are desirable to stand near, etc. This is an important and pleasurable sensory input, one that I would not like to be without. That said, if I lived in a world where my nostrils faced skyward, where I was at risk of succumbing every time it rained, a world where I’d seen friends and family drown under fast moving thunderstorms, only steps away from the safety of a nearby overhang… I would sacrifice my ability to smell. In order to stay dry and stay alive. Thank God we’ll never have to make that choice.