The Long Dry
January this year was wet and cool. January in this part of the world is usually hot and dry, of course. It was a very unexpected turn of events. The garden soaked up the rain, but normal plant development was out of kilter. Plants got bushy, but didn't flower.
In February, the rain dried up and the temperatures rose. It was an unprecedentedly hot end to summer, with weeks of temperatures in the high 30's and 40's. Autumn began unusually warm, and has stayed warm. There was a second crop of raspberries, which was prolific and still continues. The tomatoes suddenly went mad, and produced a bumper crop. But I was watering, of course, with water pumped from the river. Without this, there wouldn't have been much of a garden at all. The plants hated the scorching sun, and many frizzled up, even when they were watered.
It's hard not to love a prolific second crop of raspberries, or the sight of a couple of jonquils flowering already, or the daffodils I have planted only a month ago already popping shoots up. It's a version of the pleasure people express at the 'lovely weather', that means extra time at the beach, or sitting late outside a café in April because it's still so beautifully warm. Perhaps too a microcosmic version of the excitement some multinational companies are feeling at the thousands of kilometres of new territory that is being opened up by the melting of the permafrost.
People in the Maldives losing their country because of rising seas are not excited. Nor are people living in northern Alaska who are losing their homes and livelihood because of the melting permafrost. I wonder if there was once a time, perhaps not so very long ago, when they were happy that their summer went on longer, perhaps the children could play out of doors for a few more days, and they didn't have to rug up quite so much. At what point, I wonder, did they stop loving the long summer, and start dreading it?
This is what I feel at the sight of the daffodils pushing up now in the garden. Alarm, concern, dread. Delight is what you feel in Spring when the bulbs come up, signalling that winter is coming to an end, that nature's sure diurnal round brings new life again, and that the knowledge you have about growing things (not just decorative plants either, but FOOD) is still good.
This morning, I woke up to rain. I could hear it, lying in bed in the dark. I got up and pulled the curtain, and saw grey clouds hanging low over the whole, valley, and the rain falling like a mist. Years ago, such a morning as this was not such a welcome sight. You'd have cursed having to change plans, stay inside, battle heavier traffic. You'd have been glad when the rain stopped.
Now, I am happy when it starts. Now, I long for an end to the relentless march of hot sunny days. I check the weather forecast nearly every day, (something I never used to do), and my heart sinks. I check the sky for the clouds that often drift past, disappointed and anxious that they are so rarely rain clouds. We check the pasture - the grass is not growing, the ground is dry as a bone. We worry about the cattle - will they have enough to eat through winter?
Now this morning, rain! Relief, happiness! I go out and feel it on my face. I listen to the water trickling down the pipes off the roof on its way to the rainwater tank. I check the rain gauge - only 5 mls so far, but I am superstitious about saying its not enough; I'm grateful for any at all.
A faint rainbow forms briefly, then a much heavier shower chases it away. Up in the top of the huge old eucalypt at the back of the house, a group of galahs look as if they are being blown about by the wind. But then I see that they are actually hanging upside down quite deliberately, spreading and flapping their wings, then righting themselves, shaking themselves off, and then doing it all again. They are bathing in the rain!
By lunchtime, we have had 10 mls, the sun is out again, and I know that's it. My anxiety about it - about climate change in my own tiny part of the world - does not blow away with the clouds, but is a settled and permanent part of my life.
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