Monday, July 20, 2015

Yeah!! The Rain!

In 1991 Ian McMillan passed away.  He had lived here, in our local San Luis Obispo area, and worked tirelessly to protect the splendors of nature.  At the time of his death, we had been experiencing a profound drought and our rainy months of November, December, January and February passed with barely a drop.  But then, Ian died and we had what came to be known as the "The Miracle March."  It rained.  It poured.  We had gentle soaking rains that opened the soil so it could hold the water.  And then we had thundering down pours that fill our reservoirs.  And, not only that, we had rain every month for the rest of that year.  It was great.  And what people had said would take us twelve years to accomplish, water-wise, happened in just one.

Last month, our friend Allyson Nakasone passed away.  She was another wonderful local environmentalist, having been the executive director of our ECOSLO, Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo, for a time.  And she did a great job there.  As her successor, Pam Harrington noted, "Give Allyson two beers and she could get anything done."

So now, here we are in the worst drought our state has seen in all of it's recorded history.  This drought even tops the one John Steinbeck famously wrote about in my favorite of his novels, To A God Unknown, which describes how the great drought of the late 1800's affected the lives of Californians.  As happened then, even the oak trees are suffering.  As I look out over the groves of oaks that so picturesquely grace the flowing hills that skirt our beautiful "Seven Sisters" Volcanic peaks, I see some that are turning grey from having dropped their leaves.

These magnificent trees often live 350 years.  So, the maturest among them were youngsters during that former California drought.  The oaks are our primary native food plant in this area.  They are why the first nations peoples, the Chumash, were comparatively so wealthy.  With the abundant acorns as their staple food, they didn't have to work so hard to survive and had more time for art, trading, leisure and ceremony.

As our drought has settled in and especially as this winter and spring came and went with barely any rain, I've been speaking with our trees and suggesting that they do as Michael Roads advised during the recent great Australian drought where they went for seven years with out a drop of rain.  He told the Australian evergreens in his area to drop their leaves and save their vitality in their trunks and branches like deciduous trees do in winter's cold.  They did and it worked.  When the drought was finally broken, his trees leafed out and their lives were spared, whereas most of Australia's native forests died for the lack of rain.

Our weather here in San Luis Obispo is beautiful.  We joke about the weather report because with such consistent repetition  a report seems silly.  It is always sonny and warm, but not too hot.  Sometimes we have fog in the mornings and it is often breezy in the afternoons.  So, as we were heading out for Allyson's memorial, the day before yesterday, I was delighted to see some clouds gathering end even better yet, coming from the south.  So, I said to Frank, "Hey look, maybe Allyson is going to bring us some rain."  It was nice and sunny for her memorial the the Botanical garden and even the same for another friends 98th birthday party which we also attended later that day.

As I lay in bed that night, dozing, I kept being woken by what I thought might have been the flash photography of some late night revelers in the neighborhood.  But then, as it persisted, I went out into the night to see.  I was thrilled to find that it was lightening, no thunder, as it was too distant, but frequent flashes and some very soft occasional rumbles.  By the wee hours of first light, the rain was coming down, gentle at first, then really falling in sheets.  I slipped out to the patio in my bare feet and turned my face to the sky.  The drops fell with ever surprising little pats on my skin, soaking into my hair, until I was slick and dripping and dancing and twirling with delight.  Wet and elated I snuck back indoors, leaving little pools and puddles on the floor.  I dried myself off and slipped with wet hair back into the bed and whispered, "Thank you Allyson for the lovely rain."

© Josephine Laing, 2015

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