The Real Feel

Gardeners, like farmers, talk a great deal about the weather, so I’m sure I mentioned our wet spring, the four wettest on record, if you must know. After that deluge, however, the weather gods have kept the faucet firmly in the OFF position. We’ve had less than an inch of rain in a month!

And it’s been hot. Too hot to hang out in the garden, except very early in the morning. This makes me grumpy, especially since watering a gigantic garden isn’t exactly inspiring work. Holding a hose and sweating like a prize fighter is nearly as glamorous as it sounds.

But, as always, I try to find the silver lining. For example, the lawn might be crunchy but at least it doesn’t need mowing. The crops of beans, berries, and carrots are much smaller than usual, but the tomatoes and peppers are absolutely loving the drought. I’ve got dry-farmed tomatoes!



Sunflowers are stoic, too, and the bees appreciate it.

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The dozen small fruit trees that comprise our orchard were looking decidedly droopy, so I lugged a five-gallon bucketful for each tree from the far side of the house. Two buckets at a time equals eighty pounds each trip. Yesterday I did the same for the berries. Brightside thinking: that’s my upper body workout for the week.

As I wait to hear whether my publisher wants my next book, I’m doing my level best to apply the same bucket-half-full (pun-intended) outlook to my writing life. I tell myself I’ve had a good run during a difficult era, that I’ve already achieved far more than I ever expected. (Note: My expectations are as low as my ambition is high. Makes for interesting arguments with myself.) I’ve been thinking I could take up painting or return to playing guitar. I could try a new sport—suggest one for me! Or I could figure out how to relax and do less. (Cue laughter.) And, yes, I know I am beyond fortunate to have such choices, I really do.


Even when the skies look like this, it might not rain. And whether that’s a good thing or not depends on whether you are a tomato or a green bean. Vegetables have no choice in their requirements, but people often do. As I wait for news and rain, I experiment with frames of reference, different ways to spin the uncertainty. Maybe it’s just self-protection, a way of souring the grapes dangling out of reach. I’m good with that, with whatever reframing keeps me sane and content as I anticipate whatever may fall from the sky, or fail to.

A rain dance that doesn’t bring rain is still a dance, and the real feel is what matters.     


Folding the Map

Last year, my husband, Richard, and I moved from California to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Everyone asks us how we came to choose the remote little town we now call home.

"Wait," you're thinking. "Why the heck did you leave California?" Lots of reasons, but mostly because we'd been there a long time and it was costing way too much money. Our daughters had headed off to college and we wanted to turn a page. Or fold a map.

We were asking a lot of our new home. We wanted land, space to stretch out, to grow vegetables, plant fruit tress and give Richard a reason to fire up his chainsaw now and again. We wanted hills, if not mountains. (I wanted a river, too.) And we wanted something that California was short on: seasons. Of course, that's part of what makes California a hard place to leave. All that glorious sunshine, months and months and months of it. We were clear sky junkies.

No surprise, then, that we talked a lot about weather. We'd visited a good portion of the U.S. but because we are both trained as scientists, we tried to forget that it was 100 degrees the entire week of July we were in Massachusetts and put our trust in data. We studied climate maps: rainfall maps, percent cloudy days maps, misery index maps, trying to figure out where we could land softly and happily.

(I'm going to stop right now and say that there is so much beauty in this country, we'd have been hard-pressed to make a bad decision. We just needed some way to decide!)

We read enough about the weather to qualify for an advanced degree in meteorology. Finally, we took one of the maps (maybe it displayed days spent shoveling) and began folding it. We folded down the West Coast (been there, done that, and too rainy in the north). We made a crease along I-40 and excluded the Far North (too cold), and another along I-80 to the south (too hot). The swath in the middle lacked mountains, so we folded back everything to the west of the Appalachians. We weren't going to get our acres in the mid-Atlantic, either, at least not that we could afford. 

What we were left with was less of a map than a lump of origami executed by an excitable monkey. But at least we knew our state: Virginia. Not in the broad level plain running to the sea, but in the valley cupped between the Allegheny and Blue Mountains.


We are lucky to have portable jobs and the flexibility to choose where we live. If you could up sticks and live anywhere (in the U.S. or elsewhere), where would it be? Or are you already there?