Have you seen the news? Earth is trying to purge Northern California from the planet with rainstorm after rainstorm. Bomb cyclones, atmospheric rivers, all sorts of impressive-sounding terms are bandied about by meteorologists, locals in coffee shops, the bartender who pours your dark beer while the rain pelts the windows. My little rain gauge in the backyard gets emptied daily and seems to quickly fill up to the 5-inch mark and on and on.
However, there are waterfalls. Many of them to investigate. Cascades where before there were only dried up drains. Great rushes of water through what are normally barely damp trickles. To walk the banks, point out salmon writhing upstream, hug the drenched bearded moss wrapped around an oak, take refuge under the motherly branches of a towering redwood.
This is the good stuff.
Life-affirming water that penetrates the parched bones of a landscape that so desperately needs it. Flooding is a danger to life and property, of course, and our house is sandbagged like a bunker on the beaches of Normandy. But even if there is a little fear, there is also wonder and thanksgiving.
🛰Amazing at the satellite images this morning. Those who ask, “Where’s the storm”? It’s still coming. The rain this morning is not the main event, so to speak. Heavy rain is expected later today. Blue dots are lightning flashes. #cawx pic.twitter.com/Q3E4xYur5m
— NWS Bay Area 🌉 (@NWSBayArea) 4 January 2023
Just when you start to think it will never rain again, when you start counting the seconds in the shower, when images of parched desert landscapes start to slip into your vision, when you wander in what was a lush meadow, seemingly for just a few months ago, when the tips of every tree seem to be brown, when the whole earth seems to be a tinder box ready to burst into flames – the rain.
Now the trails themselves are small rivers that build up sediment banks and deposit silt in low-lying grasses. The salamanders are out in force, their padded toes and powerful tails kicking and pushing them through temporary wetlands. Where are they in the summer? one wonders. Little water sprites, they seem to only come to life when conditions are just so, manifestations of healthy rainfall.
Turtles, insects, birds, fish, they are all here now. Well, they’re always there, but they also seem to be rejoicing in the life-giving moisture, as if they too were wondering: Will it ever rain again?
It seems now, at least in California, that winter is the new spring. A transitional period that signals that life is breathed back into the natural world. Here, spring, the traditional spring, is indeed a flowering of life, but also a signal that it will soon turn to ash and dust, while summer, ever longer summer, wrings moisture from the earth.
Winter now means renewed life. And this is perhaps a signal that as the climate changes, as the earth itself changes, even the seasons are changing. Where winter once meant cold, hunkering down, closing up, waiting for the sun’s embrace, it now signals the real season of life. Or at least remind us that without the torrential rain, the worries about flooding, the bending of trees under the weight of snow, that *this* is what we’ve all been waiting for. That spring is more like an autumn harvest, when we reap the bounty of winter, our reservoirs like nuts hidden by a squirrel, the soil fattening up on the water will have to see it through a long, hot summer.
None of us know what the earth really has in store for all of us. Now, more than ever, questions like “will it ever rain again?” doesn’t seem so stupid. They seem very real, very possible.
But for now, it’s time to explore swollen rivers. Emptying the rain gauge and watching happily as it refills. To stomp puddles with our children, to quietly gaze at the salmon bringing their oceanic nutrients to the forest. To know soon, the brown muddy ground will become lush and green, and the cycle and us will be renewed.
Top photo: Gage Walker