Most of y’all know that I grew up on a small tobacco farm in Southern Kentucky. You’ve read my stories about following my dad around from the time I could walk, jumping from one to another of his footsteps through the snow, trying to fill his much bigger shoes. I lived and worked on that farm for the first twenty years of my life.
I worked with my dad on the farm from the time I was a wee little thing, because I wanted to. I wanted to learn. I wanted to help. And one of the things I now appreciate most about my dad is that the jobs he gave me then were not just distractions to keep the little kid busy and out of the way. He always found some way that I could be of real service. I handed him tools, and had the next tool he needed ready before he asked. This is why, when people say, “he’s too young to learn that,” I often say, hogwash.
I held the ends of things to keep them steady while he hammered or cut. I stood on other things to hold them down. I put my finger in the knot so he could tie it tighter. I ran to fetch things he needed from the truck or the barn or the shed. I picked up the stray tobacco leaves that would otherwise be trampled in the field, and spread them across the barn loft to cure, adding a few pounds of weight when market time came.
That tobacco money is what fed our family. I knew little kids were usually in the way. I wanted to help more than I hindered. That was my goal, even then.
We quit milking when I was tiny, and had only a few beef cows at any one time after that. A big beef farm is a lot of work. But just a few beef cows like we had…well, as long as they’ve got pasture and you’ve got a bull that’s not too ornery, they aren’t particularly demanding. We’d work in the barn in bad weather, but I don’t remember working with my dad outside in the rain very often.
I do remember following my father through the woods hunting Ginseng and Goldenseal–or what we called “yellow root”–or going with him to run his trap lines. We went, no matter the weather.
I think maybe that’s what started my love of rain.
My dad was a skilled woodsman. I don’t know what the woods are like where you are, but in the hills where I grew up, there was no time during the year that the forest floor was not covered in a rustl-ey blanket of hardwood leaves. Oak and Maple mostly. Those are big leaves, and from October to May, there were even more on the ground. When those leaves are dry, walking through them is noisy.
My dad could walk through those woods on a dry day, and if he didn’t want you to hear him, you wouldn’t. I, on the other hand…well, I’m guessing I tried his patience. Compared to a normal six-year-old without my father’s instruction, I was probably quiet, but as hard as I tried, doing my very best to follow his example, I made noise.
Except when it was raining.
Rain softened those leaves. No more rustle.
Rain made me quiet, like my dad.
I grew up in a time when there was less danger, I suppose. Maybe less fear of what could happen to your child if you didn’t lash her to your side until she was eighteen. Maybe it’s because we were in a rural area. I dunno. But my mom was not afraid to let me out of the house without a tracking device. By the time I was eight, I was running all over that farm by myself.
And when it was raining one of those slow, easy showers, I was outside in the woods. I practiced being completely silent and sneaking up on squirrels as they played in the trees or gathered nuts. I’d park myself underneath a tree and sit as still as I could in the slow rainfall, and watch while rabbits and foxes came within touching distance, never knowing I was there.
Sometimes I splashed through the creek at the bottom of the hill, already wet and not caring that I was getting wetter. I watched the rain on rocks and the delicate fronds of a fern. I watched it splatter on mud banks and get lost in swollen streams.
I got drenched of course. But I never got sick or died from it. And my mom, bless her, never complained much about my wet clothes or muddy shoes.
I grew up and went away to college, but I still looked forward to rainy mornings. Not if it was wet and freezing cold, or if the wind was howling. That’s just miserable. But even then it was the slow, easy rain that I loved. Everybody else on my floor was griping about the weather, but I’d leave the dorm with my jacket and umbrella, and as I’d walk up the mile-long hill to class (They didn’t name their team the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers for nothing), I felt almost as though I were wrapped in a blanket. Protected. Isolated and made invisible by the veil of gentle drops falling around me.
Everyone else was walking to class too, but their heads were down, their steps a little more hurried than usual. Their focus was on getting out of the rain.
I felt alone. It was me and God and the wet world around me.
This summer we had a severe drought from May until mid-July. Summer drought is not unusual here, but we haven’t had a drought like this for several years. I realized this summer that it’s not just the land and the crops and the gardens and trees that need rain.
I sat on the deck a few weeks ago, watching the thunderheads build up around me. Watching the glorious light show to the north and the west. Hearing the thunder roll easy across the heavens, like a drumroll before the main act walks on stage. I watched the sky grow heavy and drop lower and lower, darker and darker as it moved in toward me. I and the Earth prayed, as one, for relief.
I sat there in the dry evening, and finally, I heard a drop hit the charcoal grill to my left. Plink. Then another drop on the glass table in front of me. Plonk. Then another on the deck itself. Spluck. Then one on my arm.
I turned my face up to it and waited for a drop to land on my cheek as the cloud moved lower and the drops came faster.
I heard the soft tapping on the leaves in the trees around my house, and I was transported instantly to the woods on my dad’s farm. I was a little girl again. There was gentle rain, noisy at first as it hit the dry leaves on the ground, then softer as everything began to get wet. There was the forest of wet bark around me and the occasional plop of a larger drop from a soaked tree branch. Plip. Plop. Plap.
Then I heard the harder drumming of a few drops on the metal garage roof. Ah. That was then. This is now. The splosh as it hit the water in the birdbath and the water bucket I keep by the back door for the dogs.
Thunder rolled in the distance again..long and low and easy.
Finally, a drop hit my face.
A lot of years have passed since I followed my dad through the woods. Plop. He’s gone now. And though I miss him, I’m no longer that girl. At least, not on the outside. A lot has changed. I’ve got things to do. Plink. Places to go and people to see. Plop, plap.
Weather..it gets in the way. Patterpatterpatterpatterpatter…
Those sounds are still the same.
My face has more wrinkles now. My body is more careworn. Plop plop. But the drops that hit it. They feel the same.
When we writers are learning how to craft good commercial fiction, we’re taught that we are not supposed to start the book with a weather report.
Because nobody cares, really.
A couple of weeks ago I was reading back through my old manuscripts. It’s funny what you notice when you read your old writing. Only one book starts with weather, but at some point in every book I’ve written, it rains. I’m going through those books now, deciding which ones might be worth turning into real books and putting out there for y’all to read.
So what do you think?
Do you have a favorite book where weather played a big part?
Have you read a romance where the couple was stranded in a blizzard? Any tornadoes or ice storms in books you love?
Do you know of a writer who uses weather as a part of setting in a way that makes the book more real?
On the other hand, we all know that if we write what moves us, it’s likely to affect other readers in the same way. As writers, we can never get far from who we really are, or it just won’t work.
What do you think? Should I edit the weather in my stories? Or does the weather affect the mood of the book for you?
And what about your love or hate of certain weather?
As most of you probably know, this past weekend (all four days of it! Wooohooo!) was a huge celebration in Britain. Our beloved Queen has been on the throne for 60 years – a feat no other monarch, except Queen Victoria, has managed.
In true British style we went all out with our festivities. Not just the official pageants, concert, regatta, service and beacon lighting, but all across the land – indeed, across the world – we got out our bunting and had a party!
Sadly, also in true British style, the weather was terrible! You can always forecast the weather for a Bank Holiday (public holiday) over here … rain!
Did that stop us from having a good time?
Dunkirk spirit kicked in and we all pulled together and made the best of a bad situation. Despite howling wind and driving rain, street parties were held up and down the land. Here in our street, the hardy neighbours gathered together to string bunting, erect gazebos to protect those outside and help set up an alternative venue at a bold volunteer’s house for those who wanted to stay warm and dry, especially the older folk. Our barbecuers braved the elements to cook food, while others braved the rambunctious children to keep them entertained!
A wonderful time was had by all! In fact, we had such a good time at both this year’s and last year’s to celebrate the Royal Wedding, we plan to make it an annual summer event. We might even try to schedule it away from a Bank Holiday to try and get better weather
The formula for the success was simple – everyone contributed – kind of like here in the Lair, but without the gladiators, cabana boys and hockey hunks. We all brought food and drink, utensils, plates, cool boxes, garden furniture and, of course, countless brollies!
So, still in the party spirit, I thought it would be fun to do a Street Party Quick 5.
1. Do you have street parties where you are? Are they for special celebrations or regular events?
2. Have you ever had to deal with bad weather and how did it go?
3. Favourite street party food? Are you one to stay by the salads or hover near the desserts?
4. Favourite street party drink?
5. What special dish(es) do you provide for your street parties?
I’ve always had a thing for wooly worms. You have to admit that even if you dislike bugs in general, it’s hard to hate a wooly worm. They don’t fly around and make a racket when they sproing-oing-oing into your screens at night. They don’t bite you or suck your blood, and they don’t get tangled in your hair and cause screaming hissy fits. They’re fuzzy, unassuming, and non-threatening. The Zen of caterpillars. If you mess with them, they curl up and play dead. I don’t like being crawled on by anything with more than two legs, but I will let a wooly worm meander across my hand and up my arm.
Wooly worms are famous around here for foretelling the length and severity of the winter season. If they’re light-colored, the old folks say, it’s supposed to be an easy winter. The darker they are (or the broader the dark section of wooly fuzz) the harsher the winter will be.
Here in Kentucky, in early November, there are usually a few last warm, wonderful days that reach into the lower 70s, and as you’re driving down the road on those days, you’ll see the fuzzy little guys crawling across the pavement in front of you. Sometimes there will be several in view at once. This time of year wooly worms are always in a big hurry, searching for a warm place to hibernate for the winter. They race across the asphalt at breakneck wooly-worm speed. I sometimes swerve across the road to avoid them. I mean, who wants to smoosh the teddy bear of caterpillars? But no matter how fast they go, they’re never fast enough. I always end up running over some.
The poor, peaceful little creatures, no matter how they try, are no match for the slick speed of my modern machine. They can’t outrun it, can’t get out of the way of it, and inevitably end up smooshed. Flattened by progress.
I can relate.
Two weeks ago I bought a new cell phone. One with a touch pad. I did my research, went into a store and poked at the one I liked, emailed my buddy who tests phones for a living and she gave her stamp of approval to my phone choice. Got it activated and left the store. That’s the one I bought, there on the left.
I could not make a phone call. I couldn’t get the dang thing to let me into my contact list to find the number. I had to go to a parking lot, stop, get out the quick start guide, and look at the instructions to make a call.
Later I realized my pictures had not transferred from my old phone when they fixed up my new SIM card. Hey, I was just proud that I actually took pictures with a freakin’ phone. But now I was going to lose them. So I took it back to the store. Cutie pie behind the phone counter, who was about 20, poked around in the phone’s menu.
“You can bluetooth them,” Cutie Pie said.
“You can bluetooth them to your new phone.”
Now I will admit that when bluetooth technology arrived in the world, I pumped my fist in the air and said, “yessssssss!” Because I have spent so much of my life driving long-distance, and having to do other stuff WHILE driving, I immediately saw the beauty of a tiny earpiece through which I could operate my cell phone. I was instantly hooked.
But I can send pictures from my old, dead phone, to my new, cool phone using bluetooth? I stared for a minute. Six months ago I couldn’t change phones and keep my same phone number (this is an exaggeration, I realize, but it’s that speed thing again..time has collapsed and I’m behind.) Cutie Pie obviously sensed my distress, even though she never stopped punching buttons and looking at the phones. She held my old one in one hand, and the new one in the other hand, and punched buttons on both at the same time.
“Let me see what you’re doing,” I said. “So I can watch what menus you’re navigating through to do this.”
“Really it would be easier,” Cutie Pie said, “if you got somebody you know to do it for you…..” She paused as she punched more buttons. “You know, like….a kid.”
And that’s when I knew.
I am a wooly worm.
A hapless,fuzzy weather prognosticator, tottering through a doppler radar world. Overwhelmed by the slick, fast, digital machine of progress. And although I race at breakneck wooly-worm speed across the pavement, I am destined to be flattened. A middle-aged chick who needs to ask a little kid to help her understand her stinkin’ phone.
This has not always been the case. I was once technologically on the ball. I could operate any kind of recording or sound reproduction equipment, do light and sound production for stage and broadcast, and set up satellite links for television remotes. I could make any number of international long-distance calls or have directory assistance billed to my home phone number without ever once speaking to a live person. I could do it just by punching numbers into the…uhm………well….the pay phone.
But between then and now, digital technology happened, ones and zeroes took over the world, and somewhere along the way I…well, I grew fuzz.
I resisted technology, I suppose, because I hate, on principle, to embrace something that is old before I open the box, and also because I think it’s a little silly to believe that I NEED to be able to take videos and then email them to friends ALL WITH MY PHONE. Perhaps it’s my resistance to the instant-gratification society we’ve become. NOOOOOO, I can’t wait to get home to do this. I must email it NOW. They must see it noooooooowwwwwwwwww or we will all die.
Never mind the piles of cell phones, like this pile on the right, which are going into landfills due to this ravenous hunger for disposable technology. The speed of it…well, that’s another thing. There’s no time to smell the roses. Heck, we’ll just generate them digitally right here in front of us. Yes, they’re flat, and they smell a bit like rose-scented plastic, but what the hey, they sure are FAST!
Alas, the tide of technology has overtaken me. I had a pivotal birthday a month ago. Not one of the BIG pivotal ones, but pivotal enough. And for this birthday, which made me feel not just old, but olde, I got……drum roll please….. an iPod. A pretty purple one, specially engraved with a poem Steve wrote for me. My friend, Adam, who is MUCH younger than I am, came over and helped me figure it out. I have 58 songs loaded so far.
Then a few days later I got a cool cable that lets me play my iPod over my car stereo, which is awesome. Then a couple of weeks later I got the touchpad phone. (NO, I do NOT have internet on my phone. Yet.) Today I got two gigs of new RAM for my desktop, to speed up my digital world and……another drum roll please…..a wireless router.
I’m typing this blog and posting it to the internet while I sit on a stool at my kitchen counter. I’m feeling distinctly less fuzzy. I am being assimilated. Clearly, resistance is futile.
The guy who sold me the wireless router was NOT the same Cutie Pie who told me, in so many words, that I was a wooly worm, but he was much younger than I. Still, he was nice enough to say, “I’ve worked with computers all my life, but I took two years off from the business a while back, and I had to study to catch up. It happens to everybody.”
I do not like that it has happened to me. Wooly worms are cool, but I do not enjoy being one.
And yet I have one last holdout. I refuse to text. That’s a whole nuther sore subject, and this blog is already too long. Hmmm….perhaps I am clinging to a bit of wooly-ness after all.
So tell me, Banditas and friends, Are there any other Techno-wooly worms out there? Do you jump on new technology the minute it arrives?
Or do you cling to your old stuff until it no longer functions, the way I hung onto my cool pink Razr phone until its circuitry was so fried it no longer remembered who it was? Do you surf the web from your screened porch? Or are you stuck to a wire like the neanderthal I was? Does technology make you faster, or slow you down?
Do you love it or hate it? And do you have wooly worms where you live?
If so, what color are they this year?
Will it be a hard winter, or an easy one?
In the interest of holding on to some of what I was, I noticed the sky was red this evening. Should be a nice day tomorrow.
A few days ago I left balmy Southern California, where it was a sunny 72 degrees, to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family in Buffalo, New York, where it’s currently, OMG, 29 degrees.
Does the thermometer really go down that far? Apparently so.
There’s snow on the ground here. It’s cold, my friends! I packed warm clothing but I must confess, there is absolutely nothing in my wardrobe that could possibly withstand the level of chill I feel when I walk outside my father-in-law’s house. It is down-to-the-bone frigid and it makes me wonder why anyone would live here when they could live in a warmer place. Like, say, Southern California, for instance.
On the other hand, my mom lives in the Southern California desert near Palm Springs. I spent a week with her last summer and it reached 118 degreesevery day. You read that right! I seriously wondered who in their right mind would live here when they could live in a cooler place? Like, say, at the beach where I live.
Why do any of us live where we live? Did we choose it? Were we born there and never felt the need to leave? Did we move there with our spouse? Maybe our company transferred us there or we went to college in the area and decided to stay. There’s something that keeps us tied to our area of the country and it’s probably not weather. Well, not completely.
The woods behind my father-in-law’s house are beautiful, especially when the sky is blue and the trees and ground are lightly coated with snow as they are now. People are friendly and greet him with a smile. I can see why he loves it here and why he’s stayed here his entire life. I can also see why his son, my husband, moved away after college as fast as his legs could carry him. He loves warm weather and loves the beach even more than I do.
My mother loves the sun and wouldn’t move away from the desert for any amount of money.
I have friends in Southern California who, despite having lived here all their lives, can’t wait to move to a cooler climate. They’re exploring towns in Utah or Colorado and I can see their point. Let’s face it, SoCal weather conditions cause fires and mudslides. We have earthquakes. It’s hardly paradise. I’ve had friends who’ve moved away after one too many earthquakes and are so much happier now. One friend moved to Florida and has lived through four hurricanes and she’s still happier than she ever was in California.
So why do we stay wherever we are? It’s not about the weather, is it? No, it’s much more simple than that. It’s just … home.
Where do you live? What do you love about it? How’s the weather? Snowy and cold? Rainy and wet? Sunny and balmy? I’ve got a $15 Amazon gift certificate to give away for the most interesting weather report!!
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