So many things I used to take for granted, among them, sanity, a waistline and rainfall. The first two appear to have departed for good, but glory be, it rained last night!
I know exactly when it started, because at 8:40 p.m., Chloe planted herself next to me, grinning and making “Let’s go!” noises. I had just let her out half an hour before and if she was telling me she had an appointment with a skunk outside, I was most definitely not falling for it this time.
Five minutes later, she was back at my side, ears perked up in that quizzical puppy “don’t-you-love-me?” position that humans are incapable of resisting. Okay, okay, I’ll take you out. (Soho, notably, did not budge, or even bother to lift her head. Diva.) What was up? Chloe raced downstairs and rushed out the door and I realized it was POURING!
Chloe parked herself in the middle of the yard and stood there for several long minutes, luxuriating in the drops pelting her fur. Never mind that she just had a bath, she IS, after all, descended from the Water Spaniel.
It has been at least a year since I’ve experienced rain in California. We were out of town during the last real rain we had back in February, and since then we have watched vegetation wither and heard the eerie calls of coyotes and bobcats come ever nearer as the lack of water forces them to hunt closer and closer to our house.
I took a cue from Chloe and stepped out from under the porte cochere to stand in the rain alongside her. What I noticed even more than the feel of the rain was the smell – that loamy, earthy, mineral smell, like the terroir of a nice bottle of Cotes du Rhone. Heavenly! Nearly three-quarters of an inch of rain fell last night, enough to give the thirsty coast a nice sip and, regrettably, to cause some mudslides further south of us. What everyone wonders as they dry off, though, is whether this lovely shower is a one-hit-wonder or if, perhaps, it heralds a rainy winter for parched Southern California.
Amid varying predictions ranging from newspaper-selling headlines threatening a Hundred Year Drought to more circumspect suggestions of a moderate El Nino, that anthropomorphically-named warming of Pacific Ocean currents that might hopefully precipitate some precipitation, all we can do is wait and hope. I wonder, though, if, like Chloe, the animals might have a better sense of what’s going on than we do with our computer models and calculations.
For the past six weeks, we have lived in a raucous avian construction zone: dozens of Melanerpes formicivorus, better known as Acorn Woodpeckers, announced their arrival with dawn-to-sundown chatter that makes the crows’ caws sound like lullaby music by comparison. The woodpeckers, easily identifiable by their scarlet-hooded heads, alternately rasped and pecked all day long, flying busily back and forth from our oak trees to our palm trees, tucking acorns into the grooves they fashioned with their beaks. As soon as the sun rose there would be the unmistakable rat-a-tat-tat-tat and then that ear-splitting call that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology rather charitably describes as a “loud, squeaky waka-waka-waka” – no need for an alarm clock (not that I ever sleep anyway…)
We have lived in this house for more than twenty years and, granted, we may not have been paying close attention, but we can’t remember a fall when we’ve had such a dedicated crew of woodpeckers on site. Our red-headed army seems to have dispersed in the past week, but I wonder, could their insistent labor be a portent of the winter to come?
Folklore is rife with “signs” that purport to predict seasonal weather. The Farmer’s Almanac publishes a list of “Twenty Signs of a Hard Winter”; one of them is “an unusual abundance of acorns.” It is my fervent hope that those woodpeckers know something I don’t and that all those acorns they socked away in our palm trees are a harbinger of a rainy winter ahead.
They’re not telling, and neither is Chloe, but we just had another shower this morning and I’m taking that as a good sign. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!