By Jeff Main for Good Humus Produce, courtesy of Capay Valley Farm Shop
Waiting for Rain. It’s been a long six months since we felt rain on our faces. The last rain was in April, mid-spring really, and now it is mid-Autumn, with a long, long summer just passed. That is a long stretch without moisture, and the refilling of those hardy California natives is almost visible. Depending on perspective, “hardy California natives” brings to mind our flora and fauna, our pioneer ancestors, the original California tribal people, or our own sweating bodies. We are all united by a common existence centered around six months, more or less, of enduring and/or reveling in the dry heat, and waiting for rain.
Rainwater. The uncontrolled element of the California experience. It comes pouring out of the sky at its own pace, in its own time and where it will. Once it hits the ground, we can moderate its life, channeling, diverting, storing, and yoking it to our own uses. But when it comes rolling in from the northern or southern Pacific, it is a spectacularly unleashed, unstoppable, living, breathing, part of our planet’s life.
I spend the months of September and October, and sometimes November, waiting for the rain. The boundary between the wet and the dry season, the first rains, is often abrupt. As I have learned more about its effects on my year, it has cast a longer and longer shadow over my late summer and early fall work. I have learned that once those rains hit, I will not be out on the tractors again, with brief unpredictable exceptions, until March. My race, and it is truly a race, in the months preceding the rain is to have all the winter plantings in the ground, the cover crops planted, the weeds cultivated. There has to be enough in the ground to feed us all through the short, freezing days of December and January and the madcap days of late February and early March, when everything in the ground wants to be fruitful and spread its seed over the earth, and paying little attention to the nutritional needs of those who planted them. The race to do all this, coming as it does at the end of a marathon of summer harvest, is difficult to maintain. Every part of me is tired, the days are shorter, the summer harvest tunnel has a light to the end of it, the trees are still and waiting, psychologically I am at one with that around me: tired. But, with the looming end waiting somewhere around the corner, every short break taken is also underlain with the nagging knowledge that this break may mean a section unplanted, a patch uncultivated, a door unvarnished, a roof unbuilt. And so, the first soaking rain of the fall becomes larger in anticipation, until it is always with me. As September moves into October, the imperative mounts until I am itchy, antsy, and frustrated at each delay that seems designed to take me away for the maximum amount of time possible.
Going way back into my childhood, I love the rain. Going back to when I never got cold, being in the rain was therapeutic, cleansing and intimate, all rolled together. I still love the rain, though I get colder than before, and though running in the rain is less of an option. It feels rich. Rain dripping from trees onto a path feels like a promise that everything is alright in the world. It feels like a guarantee of another day or week or month of life.
So, can you imagine the magnitude of the first rain of the year at Good Humus? Suddenly, what was dry and workable is wet and unworkable. Suddenly, what was of utmost importance will have to wait. The release is incredible, the beauty overwhelming. If we have done a good job, have worked through the breaks, have stayed focused and can say we have done what we could, that much is covered and much is protected, then we are through preparing for the rain. After all these years, the realization comes. We are never to be fully prepared for the rain. The rain comes when it will. When it comes, then we are finished preparing for the rain. It’s that simple.