Spring 2022 – I’m opening the kitchen window to hear what’s happening outside. Albeit softly, it’s raining. After days of anxiously checking the weather radar it seems to be finally happening. Soft rain is falling on the land, it’s mouth wide open to absorb it. In one single night plants and trees seem to have revived, unfolding their almost poisonously green leaves. Did you know that trees grow their branches in such a way that they channel the water directly to their roots? I didn’t.
The first year we arrived in Umbria we were welcomed by a wonderfully warm spring. As soon as March we were having lunch outside, admiring the fruit trees in blossom months before the city trees i knew in Brooklyn. Peaches, prunes wild and domesticated oozed a sweet perfume attracting swarms of insects. Apart from bees i saw huge beatles, their bodies a bluish black, with wings that seemed too small to carry their weight, insects with white speckles on their wings, and all kinds of flies completely unknown to me. All of them together produced a humming baseline like an orchestra warming up before a show. This was what it actually means when we say a place is buzzing with activities.
The summer that followed felt like a furnace gradually turned to its maximum capacity in which the flowers wilted, the grass became yellow then brown and the oak trees started to turn their leaves as early as September. Many afternoons we hid in the relative coolness of our thick-walled farm waiting for the outside temperature to drop to a bearable 32 degrees. Our red tomcat Signor Rossi spread his majestic body out on the stone flooring and wouldn’t set paw outside until after sundown. Summer in Umbria sure was hot.
That fall we learned from our neighbours that it had been an exceptionally hot summer. That most fruit trees, including many of ours, didn’t bear fruit in order to survive. The much enjoyed early spring had been in fact the end of a winter without sufficient rain followed by a sunlit spring. I remembered that we had used a pickaxe to dig holes in the dry clay ground to plant lavender in March. Now I knew why.
That summer changed my relationship with the weather forever. Although our suffering had been constricted to dead grass and hot afternoons inside the house, we had witnessed the growing despair of our neighbours who are mostly farmers. Being dependent on water wells, they ran out of water that year. Their crops failed and so did their income. For the first time in my life I saw what It means when water actually runs out.
From that summer on i’m measuring the rainfall on our property. Next to the two cisterns that can hold 15.000 liters of rain water we installed water barrels that add another 4.500 liters of water. A regular summer week consumes 1.000 liters of water only to keep the vegetable garden afloat, leaving the rest of our 7.000 square meter property including fruit and olive trees to fend for themselves. Last summer it didn’t rain for four consecutive months. The olive trees yielded one third of their normal crop.
I’m starting to understand why most religions – ancient and current – often place their god(s) and angels in the sky. It is to the sky we turn for the force that makes or breaks our lives, all lives: the weather. After another sweltering summer and a spring with insufficient rain, this year i can only hope and secretly pray for the best. For every rain storm, i’m deeply grateful.
Stella, April 22nd 2022