Midsummer Dreaming

Spring into the solstice, our enduring drought, turning the moon blue

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
Midsummer’s Night Dream; Puck’s epilogue

The earliest sunrise of the year was Sunday, June 14; yet, the longest day of the year is June 21.

Here we are in late spring, on the verge of summer (preparing to “spring into summer”? too much?), with unseasonably cool weather in the middle of a crippling drought.

Nature—confused or confusing?

DSCN3102March 20, the first day of spring, seems relegated to the fringes of our calendar of communal obligations:  Holiday demands. Shopping frenzies. Awards season. Fund-raising appeals. School activities. The back-and-forth of extracurricular activities.
Stuck between the faux bacchanal of St. Patrick’s Day and the indulgences of spring break, the actual Spring Equinox is oft mentioned but seldom authentically celebrated as a meaningful demarcation of the seasons and transition to a “rebirth” of the natural world.

The summer solstice, the official start of summer on June 21, gets even less respect as its false start is typically signaled by Memorial Day and the end of the school year.
Midsummer is also a Northern European celebration that accompanies the actual solstice (or take place on a day between June 21 and June 25 and the preceding evening. The exact dates vary between different cultures).

[15 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Summer Solstice]

This year, the first day of spring was a perfectly nice 70-degree day with a partly to mostly cloudy sky. You certainly recall it was an unseasonably warm and desperately parched winter, so the transition, the Vernal Equinox, seemed even more ceremonial this year, since it had been feeling like spring (or certainly not winter) for weeks. (Ah the guilt of enjoying the great weather while knowing that some predict California may be “out of water” in a year if we don’t get some exceptional precipitation this year.)

So, is nature confused?  A very early but very dry start to the spring growing season…an unseasonably cool late spring…a full day of light, drippy precipitation the first week of June.  (Let’s not call it rain. The argument would point out how paltry the wetness was relative to the Seattle-like grayness of the day.)sunflower

The weather is “unseasonal” and the temperatures are “unusual”; the new growth that occurred in February and March “unreal”; the slowing of development in some of the vineyards due to coolness “unexpected” (sorry, I just got “quote happy”)…but these are relative to human standards.  The earth has been working through variations and cycles for, literally, eons.

And, as I look back over my blog posts, I’ve been talking about dry winter and early spring for the last several years.  I, in my short half-century have noticed changes.  In fact, most incredibly, in the 8 years we have been growing at River Myst Haven, there has been dramatic variation in the seasons. It’s been unmistakable.
[For now, for this post, I am setting aside the issue of how or why the weather and climate are so very atypical—causation and politics.]

I believe that nature finds a way, and, rather than debating the collective phenomena of the physical world, we should find a humility that allows us to better know our place in it.  Or, expressed far more eloquently:

“How, then, did we fail to take into account just who or what we were dealing with when we plundered the Earth? It’s probably one more manifestation of the patriarchal mentality, dismissing the Earth as a powerless feminine reality.”

Humility before the forces of nature by Carol Meyer

Our gardens are constructions of our preference—a mix of plants chosen to suit our desires with only minimal regard to the influences of local or, dare say, native conditions.  With a hubris exhibited only by our species, we cull plants from around the world and place them in our cultivated spaces if we’ve been told they have even the smallest chance of surviving.

RMHviewcropsmallGardens by human design, horticulture, are often quite engaging and can be monumental achievements in vision, design and execution—they appeal to our very core. We are quite literally cultivating delight.

The “transformative power of the natural world” saves us from ourselves.  When we cultivate, it is a controlled natural world, still with the power to transform and delight, but our attempt to make what we most love about nature more accessible. We cultivate and curate, but we’re still on nature’s terms when we do.  Our efforts to enhance, enrich, enliven, are always based on timeless, basic rules and laws of nature.

Plants, in their native conditions, are well adapted to survive, even in extreme conditions.  The seed itself is a marvelously hardy vehicle to transcend time, place and annual environment to perpetuate the botanical parent.

And yet, we get so very fixated on the ebb and flux of our environment as if it’s the exalted privilege of our species to make and remake the physical world without consequence.

Which Drought?DSCN0971
Water? Water? Everywhere?

Prior to 2011 (when California officially declared drought), surface water made up two-thirds of the state’s supply. Groundwater now makes up a full 75 percent of California’s total supply, up from one-third. (PBS Newshour)

And today, the State Water Resources Control Board issued historic cuts to water rights in the state (LA Times).  Long a part of our history, it’s starting to feel perhaps a bit odd that individuals and companies have “rights” to natural resources that are essential to our ability to survive.  What the “Rule of 3”? We can “survive” 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 week without food?  In an era of dwindling supplies, should others control rights to massive amounts of these essentials?

Being a California native, I remember clearly the drought of 1976-77.  We ran our washing machine “gray water” onto our lawn (the grass smelt so very clean & fresh), and if it was yellow, it mellowed.  (In our own home.  In a shared restroom, there has to be a public health determination to just flush…)  We did it because we cared and wanted to make a difference—there was value in helping help the community.

Perhaps it was the influence of the apocalyptic films of the decade that made us care. (I mean, how many times do you need to watch “Soylent Green,” “Silent Running” or “Logan’s Run.”)  However, I recall a much more collective mindset, at least in my teenage mind.

If we breakdown the concept of “drought,” we can have a much more straightforward discussion:
“…four basic approaches to measuring drought: meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socioeconomic. The first three approaches deal with ways to measure drought as a physical phenomenon. The last deals with drought in terms of supply and demand, tracking the effects of water shortfall as it ripples through socioeconomic systems.”

Natural resources are integral to our socioeconomic systems, but we simply can’t equate the totality of nature as being resources for economic use.  Every material that we desire—from food to clothing to iPads—come form processed natural resources:  biological plants as factories processing raw materials into stuff we need and like to eat to buildings we call plants, built factories, processing raw materials into clothing, cars, technology…Sunflower2

Priorities—the right of the individual to have enough water to survive (3 days) versus the right of the individual to own water for production.  Both have rights, but they cannot be equivalent social priorities.

And what of the rights of nature? Ah, the moral and ethical challenge of leaving enough water for the environment—be it helping salmon survive or preventing the ground beneath our communities from collapsing from draining the ground water.

I’ve come to understand that my responsibility as a naturalist isn’t to enforce a specific perspective, objective or opinion on the natural.  I seek to serve as a curator, a keeper of a heritage—not of nature itself, but of a connection to and experience of the natural world.  I didn’t help create it, and it isn’t mine to hold or possess—I can’t define a specific experience of nature that is mandatory.  However, I do believe I have an obligation to inspire wonder and awe in that which surrounds and defines all that we create as a species.

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