There is an old sandbox in my garden that my daughter and her childhood friends used to play in. The children are all grown now and as a result the sandbox is rarely used. Its future has become a subject of debate between me and my husband. For sentimental reasons as with other garden memorabilia I have been unable to dismantle the sandbox. So it continues to sit beside my house, completely hidden most of the year by five full Miscanthus, and visible only in winter when the grasses are cut back. Still full of sand it was virtually ignored until one windy morning this winter.
I had walked out to empty a small bucket of food scraps in the composter. Coming back inside and securely closing the door behind me, I commented on the strength of the wind. My husband was having breakfast.
“It’s a rain wind”, he said. “A wind out of the south is almost always a harbinger of rain for us”. Turning the radio dial to the weather station I heard confirmation of an approaching storm with perhaps up to three inches of rain. My thoughts wandered to the rain gutters around my house that had not been cleaned and a crack at the base of my patio door that had not yet been repaired.
With great optimism I drove to the local hardware store to purchase burlap bags. A gray haired man asked if he could help me. I followed him to the back corner of the store where a dialogue ensued.
“How many?” he asked.
“What are they for?”
“Sandbags. Isn’t the rain wonderful?”
“Yeah…..we need it so badly”.
Remember the first rain of the season a few weeks ago? My husband and I turned all the lights off in our house, opened the windows, and just…..”.
The man finished my sentence. “Listened?”
“Yes” I said, smiling in agreement.
He continued. “That sound was like quenching a deep thirst”. Two inches fell, but even then the doomsayers were predicting ‘not enough’ precipitation this winter……another year of drought.”
“I hope we get as much as they are saying with this storm.”
“We will”, he said assuredly. “We will”.
At this point the man had five bags over his left arm. He was getting ready to hand them to me when I said “better make it six….no….seven”. He added two more burlap bags. Then we said goodbye and I took them to the counter to pay.
While driving home rain sprinkled lightly on my windshield. Getting out of the car, I retrieved the bags from the backseat. Thinking my husband would deal with them later in the day when the precipitation increased, I flung them on a bench and went indoors.
Within an hour a squall had settled over the area. Through the side door window I could see rain pouring in a solid sheet from the roof edge. A pool of water was forming just outside the door. Bending down I felt the living room carpet. The edge was damp. Putting on a raincoat and hood I walked out the front door and around to the side of my house.
From the middle of the roof edge a large amount of water came down forming a puddle below while at the end of the wall the downspout stood dry. The highest rain gutter at the center of the roof was obviously clogged with pine needles, preventing rain from reaching the downspout. Quickly I ran around to the front for the burlap bags. The easiest and closest source of sand was the sandbox. Starting to shovel I filled one, then two then three. They proved to be quite heavy. Dragging them to the patio I first swept the standing water from the bricks then slid the sandbags against the base. With a shovel I created a small trench in the soil along the side of the house to encourage the accumulating water to spread away from the foundation. Then placing sandbags against the wall I stood back.
When I checked the rain gauge the next morning it measured one and a quarter inches. We had been waiting a long time for this storm.
Now spring is here and water rationing has begun in some places. A conversation about rain can be heard every night in the living room of my home. Last night it began with my husband. “Some experts believe there is a Pacific Decadal Oscillation pattern developing”. Looking up the definition I learned this is a climate variation like El Nino in quality, but lasting much longer. It would not bring inclement weather now but perhaps next winter.
With each month that goes by we come closer to that possibility. I remember in the early 1980’s there was an unexpected and very unusual weather occurrence in September. I remember because my daughter was little and my relatives were about to arrive in California to visit the nursery for the first time. Rain roared outside my window throughout the night. By morning the air, plants and garden paths were pristine and vivid in color against a whitewashed sky. I expect it could happen again. In fact I'm counting on it…..a September storm in 2015.