Written in north Cornwall late October, 2020
(A four-minute read)
The rain poured down. The wind slashed across the slate front of our rented flat a stone’s pitch from Polzeath. That was the reality all night.
This morning the only storm signs are the large white breakers across the sea laid out in rows and columns like military tombstones flat to the horizon. The swells are so big that their tops can’t hold themselves up; they break into piles of spume that flash white for miles.
Even now, mere minutes after beginning this piece, the wind has dropped enough that the breakers have disappeared. The sun temporarily flashes across the water. It looks deceptively calm, although I know it is not. The whistling in the power lines belies this. The wind will freshen again. The breakers will follow. The rain will return.
The weather comes into Padstow Bay from the north Atlantic, cold and relentless. It’s a familiar experience.
Ten years ago December I stood at my front door near the Oregon coast, watching the year’s eighth foot of rain fall on my little farm. A normal year for that state’s temperate rain forest.
It would have been a good time to turn back inside to the fire, to reflect on the year just past and the one to come. Actually, the way the weather had been lately, it would have been a good time to sit inside, period. Instead, I dutifully smucked through the mud and standing water doing chores. It was hard to believe that only 90 days earlier, a little rainfall had seemed like a good idea.
That was during the dusty portion of the Oregon Coastal Summer – late September – when the fine, fertile volcanic soil crept into everything and the house was constantly full of flies. The late summer air was often still and muggy and warm.
My sheep were languid as they sought shade to ruminate. The grass had long since turned brown. The fowl were the only ones who found any of this useful. They busied themselves carving shallow depressions for their dust baths and enjoyed the flies, when they could catch them.
But there’s September, and then there’s October, and then there’s December. Each month a full season. Each season a new world. There’s Oregon, and there’s Cornwall. Here’s the north Atlantic, to my small eye as boundless as the north Pacific.
Today in Cornwall, as a decade ago in Oregon, rainfall still seems like a good idea, but in an academic way, not as a practical matter.
The academic I appreciate each time I open the tap and drink clean, sweet groundwater, freshly distilled from the rainwater of years past. The practical is preparing to be patient through another 10-day forecast that calls for rain and wind for two days, showers for three, and then more rain and wind. We literally rinse and repeat.
The weather is the same because the nursery is the same. It is brewed far out to sea in a cold cauldron of low atmospheric pressure. It then overflows its banks, roaring in to massage the land with life-giving moisture.
In both places, a gaze out the window is a view into the future, watching the weather coming. I can see dimly into tomorrow. As I do this here now, as there then, the future looks gray, very gray. But only for a season.