Anticipation of Fall

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In the midst of summer, under July heat and between berry-picking and trips to the lake, my mind always begins to move to fall. On chilly mornings, or when a breeze picks up and thrashes the plants out front, I feel it coming, though its arrival is still months off yet.

It’s always been at this time of year that I start knitting. Crafting for cold weather lets me channel the euphoria and creativity that the first chill and yellowing trees light in me. As I work I imagine the smell of rain and fallen leaves and pumpkin and roast chicken, and my soul leaps with excitement.

Now that we’re back in the Pacific Northwest I am overjoyed for the promise of cooler weather and rain.  The season will be rung in by my daughter’s second birthday. We’ll return to cooking inside and lighting the wood stove.

I’m not knitting my way through this summer– partly for lack of time; partly because my daughter would object– but instead I’ll be thinking ahead as I dig and plant our fall garden. I’ll be stacking firewood, storing potatoes, picking hazelnuts, and nailing siding up on the hay barn.

As always, there is more to do than there are hours in the day or energy in my body. But we’re moving forward, chipping away, and I’m feeling blissfully inspired.

Rain Means Puddles (And Happy Toddlers and Waddlers)

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In nearly four years, we’ve had few enough real rainy days that I can count them on my ten fingers. The drought has been aggressive and draining. But when it does rain here, the episodes are torrential. The clouds grow dark as they turn and flex. Then they open up abruptly and dump cascades onto the arid, tightlipped Earth.

California rain differs from Oregon rain. My hometown in coastal northern California accrues nearly as much annual rainfall as Eugene, Oregon, but in fits and spates relatively rare to the Pacific Northwest. The misty drizzle of so many days in Oregon is foreign to its southern neighbor. It’s that perpetual cooling dampness that draws the verdant abundance of the land, feeds the fantastic fungi, and soothes my soul. It also makes spring sunshine a worthy celebration.

Staying Warm

As we listened to stories of kayakers in Healdsburg’s parking lots and highway closures in San Francisco, as my mom complained that she thought her windows might shatter behind the wind and rain in Sonoma County, and as local people scrambled in the path of the anticipated “megastorm,” we went to bed last night under a gentle drizzle.

We had prepared to cook by candlelight, perhaps in the fireplace with the Dutch oven. We’d gathered flashlights and moved the penned goat to a stall in the barn. And when it appeared nothing would materialize, we were disappointed if not surprised.

In a place, and a time, where even clouds are a rarity, I’ve come to use my imagination to enjoy a cozy winter hunkering-down. Even on warm days if the clouds roll in I turn on lamps and keep a pot of chili or stew simmering on the stove. Just to enjoy the feeling of warmth, of desiring warmth.

So yesterday, excited but skeptical, I bundled up and donned a hat and scarf for my drive to work.

My drawer of handmade winter accessories have hardly been touched since we left Oregon and I miss them. Making new ones was my way of welcoming the fall. I’ve kept my husband and me in more hats than there are chilly days for, and my daughter’s supply is growing. Soon enough, they’ll once again be essential.

This morning at 4:30 I got up to make coffee and noticed lights glimmering off the front field as if it were a lake.

It’s still too dark to tell the extent of the flooding, but on the flat, drought-hardened valley floor, rain backs up quickly. The old, old house groans overhead, and I’m enormously grateful that we managed to remove the dead trees from our backyard earlier in the week. Today will be a first, and likely a last before we leave the Valley for good.

After The Rain

Most people probably don’t give grass a great deal of thought or attention. At least not usually. I’m sure I didn’t before we moved to the Central Valley of California.

It always gets hot here, topping 100 degrees for great stretches of the long summers. I remember visiting my grandfather as a child and marveling at the porch thermometer that read 92 degrees at 10 pm.

But we moved here just as this historic drought settled over the state, so it’s not just the heat. It’s that we haven’t seen rain, not more than a sprinkling or a rare ten-minute downpour, at any time of year. The ground is cracked and hose water just rolls into little black snowballs in the dust.

Over the past few weeks, there have been two or three momentous smatterings, so light and brief as to warrant little attention if they weren’t so unusual and so desperately needed. I didn’t think they could possibly ignite life.

The lack of grass, or weeds or wild greenery, has a more profound effect on life and attitude than I would have expected or had ever considered. The dull gray earth here, accentuated by the widespread use of herbicides around the abounding agricultural crops, is numbing. It’s ugly. It’s sad. Our free-range chickens leap into the backyard to eat every green morsel from our garden, and the sheep and goats mope dumbly between feedings.

Last year, in late-winter, a light rainfall extracted a comparable and fleeting flash of green, so I know it won’t last. That’s okay. Our new home will provide us with rain and grass and mushrooms sooner than any California rain will.

And in the meantime, there’s this.

I’m stunned and thrilled that the wild onions held a spark of life all this time. In a few weeks, they’ll be pickled with rosemary and honey.

If the mustard persists, we’ll be enjoying fresh greens soon.

Even an opportunistic squash seed seized the moment of satiety.

And one more survivor I did not expect, a calla lily whose flowers are enormous, dark purple curiosities with large black stamens. It’s been dormant– I thought dead– for two years.