What I think about while I’m practicing my rain dance

It just might rain here in Los Angeles! It’s been raining in Northern California, and we’ve been warned not to get too excited, it probably won’t make any significant difference in drought conditions, but it’s still a nice change. It cleans the air and we’re appreciative of any moisture.

Tonight's sky
Tonight’s sky

Last week we sat outdoors enjoying a light mist, willing to get wet simply for the pleasure of remembering what it feels like. I captured a tweet from someone a few miles north of us musing, “What is this strange liquid falling from the sky?”

Available water and current drought conditions are a concern to every Californian. The constant broadcasts warning us of dire “we are running out of water” conditions is more than a little unsettling.

Which brings me to one of my favorite pastimes. What will an official drought mean for my garden? Should I reconsider planting a summer vegetable garden? Tomatoes take water!

 “A Naturalist at Play in Coastal California and Beyond,” is nearly 500 pages of collected anecdotes and literary sketches from naturalist Vernon Hunan. I’ve had this book for a while, but have only recently started reading it.

Hunan shares, in simple terms, years of personal observations of the natural world in and around his home in coastal Central California.

Ten years ago he wrote, “You know how people are about weather–it is a continual crisis. There is always too much rain or not enough, a heat wave or a cold wave, too much or not enough wind, snow, or fog, frosts too early and snows too late, floods or dangerously dry fire conditions. As a boy, I found this attitude repellent and resolved to simply accept weather unless there was good cause not to.”

About  drought conditions he says,  “We probably can’t prevent or stop them, but accumulated information will have us better prepared for the next one. And rest assured that another one will come.”

California, and much of the western United States, is a desert, last time I checked, but it’s amazing to me how many people don’t seem to understand what that means. California received less rain in 2013 than in any year since it became a state in 1850; however, scientists studying tree stumps have stated that the past century has been among the wettest of the last 7,000 years.


The longest droughts of the 20th century occurred from 1987 to 1992, and 1926 to 1934. Ancient droughts, however, documented through tree science, are frighteningly long: 850 to 1090 and 1140 to 1320.

A 200-year drought would get our attention.

I recall watering my garden with gray water in the ’80s. I really don’t want to do that again.

I do agree with Vernan Hunan, however. Wringing hands and worrying about whether or not we’ll have rain is of little consequence. What we do while we experience drought conditions, although individual to each person’s concept of sacrifice, is what we can think about.

Hunan’s contemporary writings and observations are very well documented and follow in the tradition of Thoreau, who believed a natural historian must remain near one precise location. By that definition, we can all document what we see and experience à la Thoreau!

On a recent visit to the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens I simply stared at Henry David Thoreau’s writings.

Thoreau's writings

An autograph manuscript of “Walden; or Life in the Woods” is exciting to me, even under glass…

…as were Emerson’s handwritten notes for a eulogy following Thoreau’s death in 1862. These are on permanent display at the Huntington and I visit them almost every time I go. Can I really receive inspiration through a glass display case? I think so.

We have green lawn and succulents and cacti. We have both a water garden and a rock garden. Where do we go from here? I’m not sure, but I’m observing and taking notes.  I guess that means I’m keeping a garden journal.

Do you think one hundred years from now any one will want to read mine? Maybe our blogs are our on-line record for the future.

Next time we are together we’ll talk a little bit about this interesting drought tolerant palm. Or is it a palm?


And if you promise to pay attention, I’ll share a little bit about my favorite naturalist, John Muir. Here’s a sneak peek.

John Muir's photo book
John Muir’s photo book

I’ll share with you about John Muir’s Pasadena connection–practically in my back yard. I get excited just thinking about John Muir as a neighbor.

But despite those beautiful moisture-heavy clouds I shared with you earlier, no rain yet.  I suppose I’d better keep practicing my dance moves, huh?

60 thoughts on “What I think about while I’m practicing my rain dance

  1. Mr.N learned about John Muir in school and is now a big fan. 🙂 You are so well read about so many topics Debra. Fascinating to think that it’s the least amount of rain since CA became a state, yet it’s the wettest century in 7,000 years?! Wild!

    1. John Muir is a fascinating man, Kristy. I’m glad Mr. N has started to learn more about him. Muir shows up in so many historical contexts because of his partnership with Teddy Roosevelt. I’m not all that knowledgeable, Kristy, but I have a few topics that really do interest me and the same “cast of characters” seem to show up. So much of what I’ve learned in the last few years has all centered around my interest in how water came to Los Angeles. From there, I have added so many different pockets of information. I love it when that happens! I am glad you enjoyed hearing a few of those amazing drought statistics. I was very surprised at what I learned!

  2. All fascinating thanks Debra, but I do hope you get rain. It seems that the current population of California have not really seen a long drought, so 2013 must be quite a shock for everyone, yet it is not all that unusual in the long view … you are like us, living in a dry country! Apparently El Nino is coming back to keep us dry, so you might benefit from La Nina and some rain.

    1. I think the drought is being so dramatically received, Christine, because it is affecting the state’s farming. California agriculture is a large part of our economy, shipped across the country and internationally.It’s going to be interesting to see what happens if rain continues to evade! I have been reading about the El Niño predictions for 2014, and in particular the predictions for Australia. Interestingly, the effect of El Niño on California is generally increased rainfall–in particular in Southern California! It has something to do with southern jet streams! It’s been a few years since we’ve had a true El Niño effect, but we’ll have to see. It’s all fascinating to me. We did get a little bit of rain last night…very little, but it was lovely! 🙂

      1. and so did we, just a few mls, but the day has been soft and cloudy, so that is nice 🙂 I think scientists are still working on understanding the southern oscillation index and the El Nino pattern …

    1. Oh the Huntington, Andra. You have no idea. It’s something else. I’d love to take you all around. 🙂 I’ll definitely be sharing more manuscripts that impressed me. The info about 200 years of drought kind of shocked me, too. Let’s hope not!

  3. I am really interested in learning more about John Muir – not well-known in Europe but fleeting references to him have caught my attention and I have had a book on my wishlist for months… I hope you get some rain soon, even if it is only enough to remind you how it feels!

    1. Thank you for sharing with me that you are interested in John Muir, Cathy. He was a phenomenal naturalist and conservationist who worked tirelessly to preserve the natural beauty in California and beyond at a time when wealthy industrialists were only interested in “progress” at any price. I admire him so much and am always interested in sharing bits and pieces of his fascinating life! We did have a little light rain last night. It wasn’t much, but it was lovely! 🙂

  4. I do hope you get your rain. We haven’t had any rain in Sydney for ages either and everything’s starting to look very brown. We’re praying for rain as well but the farmers even more so! xx

    1. The landscape gets brown and my skin is dry! LOL! And I’m glad you mentioned the farmers. That’s a serious concern to us, too. Agriculture is definitely negatively affected. There is a lot of controversy right now about who is getting the water! And apparently the farmer’s are being seriously rationed. Bottom line–praying for rain is a good focus!

  5. Staring at someone’s writing from the past, inspiration? I THINK SO!

    I think you best practice your rain dance, there’s no harm in doing a kindness for nature and your fellow man by dancing, while accepting that what is – is. 🙂 And what a fabulous post. I always feel a bit more educated after visiting you.

    1. The rain dance was effective…slightly. I may need to practice my moves to get beyond the light sprinkles we experienced last night. But it was nice to have any moisture at all. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and thank you very much for such a kind comment.

  6. dandyknife

    That sure is a lot to think about. I’ve never lived in a drought-prone area; it must make people so uneasy, waiting for the rain that won’t come.

    1. I think the constant news chatter about the drought and the way the agricultural economy is already being affected by the lack of rain is unnerving. We have had droughts before and they’re never “kind” to the farmers, and they are inconvenient to those of us with “formerly green” property. But it is a long way from disaster. I took the time to do some reading on the topic mainly to get informed, but to move away from some of the “doomsday” talk. I will tell you that I attended a seminar a months or so ago in which the historian was speaking about the role of water in California and his belief is that eventually the population of the Southwest United States will move to Canada, because you have plenty of water. He didn’t exactly explain how that was going to happen. I do hope it isn’t another one of our invasions. Remember, though, I warned you in advance. LOL! We may be neighbors yet!

  7. We are having yet another snowstorm here in the east. I wish I could pack it up and send it to you. We had a drought in the 90s and I remember the restrictions. Fortunately (and no matter how much we whine!) we have been very lucky the past few years. Here’s hoping you get rain!

    1. I suppose we will eventually have the rain we need, Kate. I do think all the hand-wringing is beginning to get to me. By the talk on the radio and news you’d think they’re going to restrict bathing. LOL! If it comes to that, we may be tapping other states to import your snow. It’s a shame there’s no good way to make that happen. Maybe 100 years from now there will be giant pipelines the way we now transport oil!

  8. Oh, you have my attention, dear friend. I’m sitting up straight in my chair, hands on my desk, eyes at the screen. Muir? In your own backyard. I can’t wait to hear the connection, but, first must calm myself down at your close encounters with Thoreau and Emerson. One of my most favorite memories was the day Tom and I spent at Walden Pond, on a crisp, October day. To see his actual journals, written in his own hand – what a thrill.

    Keep doing your rain dance, Debra; it can’t hurt and, well . . . I wish I could send some of this moisture we have, in the form of snow, your way. I have concern for you and all of California and the west, for drought immediately concerns all of you, and, in the long run, all of us.

    1. I have never been to Walden Pond, Penny, and that’s always been such a magical reference to me. I’d love to! The Thoreau and Emerson papers at the Huntington really do make my heart sing–just to see the handwriting. John Muir was friends with Pasadena’s mayor, another very strong conservationist at the time, and to be honest, I’m just now really making “acquaintance” with all the particulars. I am so glad to know that this will interest you, too. By the way, we did have a little light rain last night, so maybe with practice my dancing will get stronger and bring better results! It was nice to have even a light sputter! LOL!

  9. Nice, Debra. Thoreau and Emerson, my heroes. And John Muir too! You’ve got all the right reading ammunition! I’d never heard of Vernon Hunan, but looks like I had better add hm to my collection.

    My sister and I went to high school with John Muir’s grandchildren in San Jose.

    1. Oooh! That’s fascinating that you went to school with John Muir’s grandchildren. That’s a great little piece of historical connectivity! I think you’d like this Hunan book. He lived in Lompoc during the writing of the hundreds of lovely entries, and he doesn’t even touch on anything as far south as I live, but I am still learning so much about coastal living up and down the state. I know you’d enjoy it. Emerson, Thoreau and Muir continue to inspire us, don’t they? That’s why I get excited just seeing their handwritten letters!

  10. Your rain dance must have done something. It rained nicely in Pico Rivera last night and I would imagine elsewhere.

    I wonder if any of our online writing will be around in 100 years. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to make up some print copies just in case.

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

    1. It’s so nice to hear from you, Arlee. I had to chuckle at your comment about making some print copies of our blog writing if we’re interested in contributing to a historical record. I’m sure you’re right! I am having some of the same concerns about the multiple 1,000s of digital photos I have on hard drives. When will those be inaccessible. LOL! I’m in San Gabriel, and we had a nice light rain. It wasn’t much, but we’ll take it, right? I’ll keep up with the dancing and hope it leads to more. Thank you for stopping by, Arlee.

  11. Dear Debra, I so hope you get a chance soon to do your intricate and foot-stomping rain dance. But whether you do or not, your attitude seems to be such a realistic and pragmatic one and it’s partially based on the interesting reading you are doing and on your own background as someone who explores the state where you live. You have come to value and treasure the nature of California’s geography and geology, flora and fauna. Your sharing all this is a great gift to us and as you say, maybe your journal for future readers decades from now is this blog. A lovely, if somewhat sobering, thought. I like to think of you as a Thoreau, a Muir, a Hunan. You fit the graciousness of these lovers of nature and simplicity. Peace.

    1. Thank you for such a lovely and warm response, Dee. I am extremely touched that you speak so generously of what I have to offer regarding what I can share from California’s very diverse natural history. I am so genuinely interested that it comes as a great gift to me that I can write about what I’ve discovered (or uncovered) and then have friends like you who encourage me forward. It would be lonely to have these interests and nowhere to share them. 🙂 Thank you so much, dear friend. I hope you’re doing well…and I’m hoping that Punxsutawney Phil was mistaken and that spring comes to you a little earlier than expected. ox

  12. Debra, you bring up so many good points! Your questioning and comments about whether or not to plant a garden and I never thought that all of our blogging may be a very interesting archive for the world one hundred years from now. I liken it to how we try to decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphics. I am not in your situation but I am thinking to still plant a vegetable garden of veggies that don’t require a lot of water just so you are keeping the water cycle going. But I am not a scientist so I don’t want to speak as if I know what I am talking about. It has been some time since I dropped in. Real life gets very busy! ~Thea

    1. It’s nice to hear from you, Thea. I do understand that so many things can get in the way of blogging. LOL! I do plan on a small vegetable garden. Some years I get more involved and grow more than we personally use just because it’s fun. I don’t think I’ll do that this year. Keeping it small will hedge against too much water. We aren’t on mandatory rationing yet, but we’ve lived through that before and it gets tricky. I remember taking some of my laundry to the laundromat rather than washing at home–and using the water in my garden! I’m not sure I’m willing to do that again! LOL! We’ll have to see where this goes! ox

  13. I just got informed that it rained last night. Great news. I was just replying to a blogger that California needs rain badly. The weather must’ve read my comment. 😀

    1. I do recall when Colorado had a very extreme drought, Eva. I’d forgotten that! I hope you were able to get some of your skiing in this past weekend. California ski resorts are suffering because of the drought, but I hear that snow machines are being put to good use! If this keeps up, maybe we will be importing water from Colorado. LOL!

  14. This post taught me a lot. First of all, I didn’t realize so much of California was essentially a desert. Secondly, I’m glad you dance did some good. We’ve had rain here, at least, and for us, a lot of it. Finally, I’ve always wanted to visit the Huntington.

    Hope your week is going well. Sorry to be so late getting here. It’s been a crazy few days.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    1. I have wondered if sometime in the future, perhaps waaaay into the future, there will be some kind of conveyance to ship water from a rainy state to a dry state! After all, they can move oil through pipelines, why not snow? LOL! I probably won’t be around to see it, but I think it’s a future possibility. 🙂

  15. Nice bit of contrast with our flood drenched south east, Debbie! 🙂 It’s amazing what scientists can do (and predict). I’ve become very philosophical about the weather in my old age (yes, that’s me, smiling like a fool in the rain)

      1. I have an 80 year old auntie living alone in Devon, Debbie. Last night on the TV news it showed a photo of the railway line in her little town Dawlish collapsed into the sea! I phoned her and she was safe, and chirrupy as can be 🙂

        1. You auntie sounds delightful, Jo. I just love older people (I guess older than me, lol), who have such delightful spirits. We need those wonderful examples in our lives. I’m glad she’s fine…that sounds like a terrible accident. My goodness!

  16. Pingback: When life turns up the heat, do you expand or contract? | breathelighter

  17. “resolved to simply accept weather unless there was good cause not to.”” brilliant, I should do this more! I’ve been hearing about your water shortages, we are having the opposite problem. We have wet years and dry years, then it goes around again……. we are safe, dry and warm. The garden is wet and not too cold. Time to get the seed packets out soon!

  18. Wow, those ancient droughts are amazing! It’s hard to imagine a 200 year drought, but in those days, there weren’t so many humans requiring water as there are now. It’s going to be interesting to see how water issues are handled in California and the rest of the west in the next decade. Hopefully, the drought will end soon.

  19. You’ve done research on drought. Thanks for sharing! It’s worrisome…We have not had a good rain since last fall, and years of drought in Texas is getting worse.

  20. It’s not just the drought that’s the problem, but California’s ever increasing population, Debra. it takes a lot of water to supply the needs of 38 million people. If it can barely be achieved in an unusually wet century, it’s going to take a lot of ingenuity and probably a change of lifestyle to do it if the drought stretches to decades. Planning your garden differently sounds like a good first step.

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