Concerning Thunder and Lightning, Crops and Corn

Photo Credit: Scott Robinson via Flickr

“In places where no man resides
Nor does the product share,
The father of the rain provides
For’s other creatures there.

Like healing balm distilling rains
Yield juice to plants and trees,
With drink restore the parched plains
And thirsty mouths appease.”

~ Rev. Mr. Ralph Erskine, Job’s Hymns

“I can stand a little rain
I can stand a little pain
But when the rain comes through the floorboards
I can stand a little rest
I can stand a little sorrow
I can stand it till tomorrow
I can stand a little strife
Just another taste of life”

~ Joe Cocker, “I Can Stand A Little Rain”

The rain is beautiful today. It crept in quietly, drip-dropping off the leaves outside my window this morning so gently that I barely noticed it was there. And now it’s pouring from the sky in great sheets, flooding the patio and overflowing all the gutters at two inches per hour. I saw that I’d left the cover off the grill and had to run outside to put it back on. I stood just inside the doorway for a while afterwards, dripping, watching the sky turn inside out, before I changed my clothes.

A cleansing rain can right so many wrongs. Right now the rain is soaking the compost pile, waking up the bacteria that are sleeping deep inside; it will wash away the dust and pollen left after weeks of drought; and in a few days the lawn will spring back to life for a few more weeks of late summer growth. Maybe I’ll get some grass seed down before the first frost comes. The cucumber vines in the garden are shriveled and dead now, but the tomatoes and beans may find a bit more life before they’re done for the year, now that they’ve got their feet wet again.

Everyone else is out of the house this morning, so I’ll sit here with this sleeping old dog at my feet and wrap up the fresh apples. Cortlands and Crimsoncrisps we picked at Homestead Farms on Monday are all laid out on the dining room table, and I’m carefully examining each surface, setting aside anything with a blemish. Those will go into jams or jellies, or be cut up and frozen for pies. The perfect ones – no bruises, no cuts, no spots – are wrapped in newspaper now, placed in shallow boxes to go into the basement. Those are eating apples, and we’ll pull them out one-by-one to put in lunch sacks. If I’ve chosen the good ones, we’ll still be eating fresh apples at Christmas.

I learned to love the rain growing up. In Missouri we’d watch the late summer storms roll in; you could smell them coming for miles. The temperature would drop all of a sudden, and the wind would whip the thin branches of the mimosa tree outside my window. And then the rain would come. Hard, like an anvil, slamming the ground. The creeks all ran deep, and we’d watch the sky for that yellow-green color that prophesies a tornado. Sometimes the alarms would sound in town, and we’d all run to the basement, crowding under the stairs until the danger passed us by.

The meteorologists here on the East Coast don’t understand the weather at all. They crow with joy that it’s a beautiful day in Central Maryland: another perfect sunny day in a long string of sunny days. Perfect for your commute this morning, but look out for those sunshine delays on the Beltway! In the Midwest they know that they’re broadcasting to farmers; everyone puts on the church face and intones with great solemnity that it’s been a full 30 days with no rain. It’s serious business. They report on the height of the corn, on the health of the soybeans. Farm people worry about the water table, about the price of hogs. They don’t have to consider a commute, unless they have to run into town for something.

The spring this year was wet, but this last month we’ve had almost no rain here. The earth in the backyard has sprouted great cracks and crevasses, and I’m pretty sure the laurel trees I transplanted a couple of years ago have died. It’s a shame – they’d lived a long time. The end of summer leaves me feeling dry and baked like a piece of clay, too.  The school year is starting, and I don’t feel renewed yet. Where will I find the energy? How will I be refreshed when the dry spells come? I worry when the ground shrivels up and the cracks run through the yard. I wonder how deep they go. Deeper than the roots of the trees? How much rain will it take to heal them again? They sit for weeks in the yard, hardening. Maybe this drought is a permanent condition.

I haven’t lived in the Midwest for more than two decades, and I still think about the weather like a farmer. I want to know the rainfall totals, the level of the water in the reservoir. And if we happen to drive by the occasional cornfield, I can’t help but glance over to check the growth. “Looks healthy,” I’ll say to Beth. “Should be a good year,” she’ll reply, and we drive on down the road. Maybe the drought is over, after all. I’m happy for the rain today. The basement might leak a little. The Orioles game is delayed. But I can sit here in the quiet and listen to it drum on the roof. Grateful for the day. Grateful for God’s provision to close up all those cracks in the ground.

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