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Girl out of Water - Oh This Heat!

7/2/2012 7:57:28 PM

Tags: summer, heat, berries, irrigation, Maura White

I was returning to the farm from town and the car’s thermometer read 109 degrees.  Imagine my relief when, 26 miles later, turning onto our road, it fell … a whole two degrees down to 107!

The local newspaper reported that we had the “hottest day since records have been kept.”  While I enjoy setting records as much as my fellow man (Guinness Book of Records is much quoted by us all), the one for record heat is not one I am enjoying.

It is only July 1st, and all the grass, hay fields, and meadows on the farm look like it usually looks at the end of August.  That is the usual time when, after three months of summer, the grass crunches under your feet and is brown, but we don’t mind so much because we can look at the calendar and tell ourselves that it’s just another couple of weeks until the weather will turn.  After all, according to the calendar, fall is just a few weeks away.

But this year, the grass was brown and crunchy by mid-June.  This seems to be one of those summers that we all read about in early 20th century literature, as well as in American History:  the drought was so severe and protracted in the mid-1930′s that families not only could not feed themselves from their crops, they also could not pay the mortgage payments because they couldn’t raise crops or livestock.  Hundreds of thousands lost their family farms in the 1930′s.  Two and a half million people left America’s farms and migrated to cities.  All of that seemed to be ancient history to me, until this year.

Leaves are starting to curl on the plants that we are hoping don’t die this summer.  And the 800 berry plants we planted are hurting!  They started out with lots of berries, but as the plant became more and more stressed, they are self-pruning themselves.  All the berries stopped growing and dried up to hard little pseudo-berries.  When you pull them off the plant and drop them into a bucket, they ring like dropped ballbearings in there … NOT the sound you want to hear from picked berries!!

Berries before the heat and drought.

Berries ready for picking right before the heat.

What’s left of the berry plants after heat.

Coming in from watering the other day I made the mistake of looking at the thermometer.  It read 139 degrees.  The thermometer is in the full sun, so that explains the over-the-top reading, but if it’s 139 in the sun, what was it in the shade?  I didn’t have the energy to move it to find out.

My parents grew up in the desert in Southern California.  When we would visit my relatives there in the summertime, it was like walking into an oven.  I didn’t know how these people lived in that intense heat!  I remember standing outside with a breeze blowing across you that was not a cooling breeze but felt like a blast from a huge furnace.  This summer, standing outside watering the hundreds of plants that we are trying to coax to continue to grow, I am reminded of that feeling.  My mother told me stories of living in that heat and trying to keep the house cool.  As a girl, she watched her parents get up extremely early to open the house up to the last gasp of cool air.  But as the sun came up they would close the house up, lowering blinds and closing windows and curtains to keep the heating sun rays out of the house.

Everything moves at a slower pace in this heat.  The wild birds seem to fly less.  Even usually heat resistant bugs seem fewer and far between.  On the other hand, when the sun goes down, the sounds of the country pick up.  I think all the wildlife is more excited than I that the heat has eased a bit for the evening.  One of our neighbors who raises peacocks, quail and chickens, has a ruckus in their yard when all those birds start yelling and chirping every evening at dusk.  I imagine that they are yelling, “Thank goodness the sun went down and we can finally BREATHE!!!”

A childhood friend who lives in the beach town where I grew up e-mailed and told me that they are having a record summer also:  the most beautiful summer on record.  No fog, no excessive heat, ocean temperatures that are refreshing, and sunny and mild.  All around a heavenly summer.  I booked a flight home after I talked to her that is open ended.  Because, hmmmmm, let me consider:  I could be watering and pruning and farming in this heat, or I could be here …

My hometown (Photo courtesy of Elise)

- Maura White grew up on the Pacific Coast in a sleepy beach town and has lived all over the country, as well as in Asia.  What a change it was for her to move to the country, and she uses humor to help her make the adjustment.  She and her husband are working to make their farm, Double Star Bar Farms, a successful family farm. She keeps busy with her stained glass business, which you can check out at  You can read more of her stories at She keeps saying “You can take the girl away from the ocean, but you can’t take the ocean out of the girl!”   Copyright © 2012, Maura White. All rights reserved.

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