I can think of little else that influences our daily life like the weather. Who does not think about their comfort at the beginning of each day? It may be a vague thought about another same old summer day or necessary preparation for harsh weather warnings.
Some people might simply need to adjust a thermostat to guarantee their comfort. Some might add logs to a warming fire and turn down the damper. Elsewhere, curtains may be parted and windows raised to allow fresh air and sunshine inside. Sundresses are slipped over warm bodies. Somewhere, raincoats are shrugged on over flannel shirts, umbrellas carried just-in-case, slickers wisely folded inward and tied behind saddles. Parkas, thermals, hats and gloves or shorts, sandals and air conditioners: all considerations for a day’s comfort.
We know how weather can influence our moods, don’t we? We talk about winter blues and cabin fever and how too many bleak, sunless days leave us feeling sad or cause us to feel fretful. We grow antsy, we pace like a zoo cat, we sigh long breaths of boredom and while struggling to stay industrious we start things we never finish. We sew and then set it aside for later, we read words in a book and don’t retain them. We deliberately think up things to do and then don’t want to do them. The days stretch long.
Summer of course is America’s number one favorite season. Because of the customs of our society, summer, for many, means more free time, traveling, swimming, playing … and heat. We relish it at first, don’t we? We are joyful with the excitement of our plans, of the idea of getting off of the beaten path of work and school and schedules. So why then do so many of us soon begin to long for fall? We wait for the first mellow, buttery light and the cooler nights and a sweet smelling softness that soothes us. For some of us it is a time that draws us back into sync with our lives. The changes of the new season put us, again, on the track of daily undertakings with a willing spirit.
But what happens when the weather turns against us? When the weathermen send out warnings? Isn’t there a sense of helplessness and worry, not to mention fright? After all, we are well aware that there is nothing we can do about what course the weather takes. If it is fierce and carries a potential life-threatening energy, as tornados and floods often do; it surely sends us for shelter or higher ground to protect ourselves. What about such things as deep, prolonged freezes, winters that run too long and cold, weather such as that which affects the growing things on our planet? Ah … and speaking of growing things, what about drought?
The Drought and I
Some days this drought haunts my spirit. I have lived my life here, on the arid side of this mountain range, for nearly sixty years. I cherish the life here and suffer the death. I have seen the wettest winters when I thought these hills would wash away into the valley below, when seasonal creeks ran wide and deep and clay-colored, taking bits of land to the river. There has been winters that brought rain I thought would never stop. Rain that changed the course of streams with a force I never could have imagined.
And, I have seen the dry years when there was hardly a trickle of water to be seen anywhere, when springs could not produce enough flow to water anything but the smallest herd of cattle or none at all. I have seen too many cattle trucks rolling up and down the valley, hurrying to take the next load from the parched grazing land. I have seen land cracked like shattered glass, bleak and begging for moisture.
After only a single low-rainfall winter and spring, I begin to hear murmurs about drought, that we are in one, that there would be one. It sounds like a dirty word, a threat. I have listened to conversation about the rain coming in, too much too soon or, too little too late. I hear how a storm knocked the hay down or ruined what lay cut and nearly ready to bale. How the harvesters and trucks couldn’t get into the row crop fields to harvest and transport the vegetables. But, at the same time the cattlemen where thankful to get the grass up and going and if it stayed warm enough and kept raining it would be an outstanding year. The weather, the weather …
But this, this is a drought that will affect these hills and the valley below for a very long time. This is much worse than a dry year, or even two dry years. This is the dirty-word drought. There is no “fixing” to be accomplished in one wet year. Every day I feel like I am witnessing a death and, in a way, I am. The hills that surround us, the same ones I have ridden over, the ones I have hiked and sat upon and dreamed on and loved for all these years seem oddly different to me. Much of the ground is all but bare, alkaline-pale, and the scant, summer grasses have paled and bent to the dust. The greens of the floras are burnt to shades of olive-drab.
When I ride, the earth beneath my horse’s hooves seems inadequate, thin, and I can imagine breaking through as if it were made of papier-mâché. I yearn to hear the creek gurgle around the rocks and fill upon the smell the dampness. I miss the pungent odor of wet moss and the fishy smell of the tadpole ponds. I miss breathing in that tang, that flavor on my tongue of rich leaf mold, damp and deep beneath the oaks. I long for the rain as if it were a lost love.
It has changed me some, this drought. There are days when, if I dwell on it for too long, I feel as if I may fade away into the too-blue sky. I imagine my spirit lying over there, on the ridge, curled in the dust, parched, heart as dry as paper, waiting. Waiting for rain.
Post script: As I finish writing this a strong south wind is blowing and rain clouds are building over the mountains. Rain is predicted. I feel giddy with expectation!