Sunday, June 7, 2009

Doing the rain dance

In Canada (or is that just Winnipeg?), there is a saying that there are only two seasons – winter season and construction. In the Cayman Islands it’s not really that different, except that construction is replaced by tourists. Which makes it summer season and tourist season, or at least that’s what the radio announcer called it the other day. Implied of course is that tourists can be just a tad of a nuisance sometimes. Drive through Georgetown in the early morning? Could be a slow crawl - not because of construction but the thousands of tourists just getting off the cruise ships and trying to make their way around the harbour front.....

At the same time, complaining about the masses of tourists also isn't unlike complaining about all that construction you are stuck in - in the end, we'd all agree that they are a good thing. Tourists contribute to the local economy, while construction is a sign of an expanding city, or at least one that takes the upgrading of its infrastructure seriously.

And one reason why tourists seem to like to come here, other than the warm temperatures, is the almost complete lack of rain during the winter season.

Actually, I shouldn’t even say ‘almost' complete lack because until a few weeks ago, when we had the semblance of a small downpour, it had not rained AT ALL in our little corner of the island since just before Christmas.

I have also learnt that just because dark clouds are hanging right over your house and a few drops are falling, as if to tease you, that does not mean that it will actually rain. Rather, I am starting to get the feeling that our house is their favorite hang out spot before they move on to dump their load over at....the next street. Sigh.

By now, I am growing desperate for rain. Sure, we have a well, so I can water the grass if I have to (and I have had to do that a lot recently), but what says spring and rejuvenation better than rain? It does not matter whether you are coming out of deep winter or just a long period of no rain, the feeling is the same.

Rain always had a special significance when I grew up on a farm because rain determined whether we were going to have a good year, an average year or no year at all. I still remember when I was around 12, a period in which it slowly dawns on you that the world is a lot more complicated than you used to think, that I all of a sudden realised how dependent my father was on rain, and how important it was to our family. And as I became older and started working on the farm during the summer, I became used to following the weather reports and assessing whether this was going to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ rain.

"Good" rain was slow and steady and preferably at least 10-20 millimetres to get the seedlings or young plants going, and then there was "bad" rain – heavy showers that pulled down already mature wheat (making it prone to disease and sprouting), not to mention hail which could decimate entire fields and leave nothing but little stumps here and there - a truly depressing sight. I still remember how hail insurance was a big topic of discussion every year, because it was such a large expense and the risk was really relatively small (kind of like hurricane insurance down here, I suppose). My father, who I think was quite willing to play the odds, nevertheless bought hail insurance almost every year, and I often wondered whether he didn’t do it mainly so my mother could sleep better at night....

To this day, when someone says it rained, my first thought is to ask how much – as in, how many inches or millimetres? We had a rain gauge right outside of the front of the house, and every morning after a rainy night or following a heavy shower, one of us would go outside to check it. In a very dry year, we’d go outside hoping it was more than the rather useless 5 mm which literally didn't even scratch the surface, and in wet years we’d go outside dreading to read the meter sometimes. And even when I no longer lived at home, conversations on the phone often revolved around the rain, and of course the ubiquitous question: How many millimetres?

No wonder I am growing restless, I have no millimetres at all to report!

Update Monday, June 8: Wouldn't you know it, we had our first major rain last night. It really is as they say - June comes, and someone flicks a switch...

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