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 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 www.southernstainedglass.com. You can read more of her stories at whitem4.wordpress.com. 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.