Yesterday, after a few days where there were peaceful and much-appreciated afternoon showers (and a month of light rains), we had the real beginning of rainy season with rain for almost all of the past two days. Having remembered last year’s rainy season well, I have reflected deeply on rain and its meanings, particularly to a farming people, in ways that may not be obvious to most people who take the sky for granted, and for whom the rains mean little aside from a more dangerous road.
When I was in college, I spent one summer in Western Pennsylvania. It happened that the one summer I spent significant time there happened to be a summer where there was rain for more than a month straight. This was difficult for a variety of reasons. One of the main reasons was that the unseasonably cold and damp weather made it impossible to harvest any hay. Since my father’s family was a farming family, it was important to harvest enough hay to keep the cattle fed during the cold winters. But it took two or three days straight of sunshine to harvest the hay, even round-baled (which is much less appealing or preferred to square-baling for farmers who wish to store hay in a barn). With no sunshine there could be no farm work at all, only an anxious concern toward the skies and a reflection on how much time would be necessary to make anything out of a year’s crop.
Here in Thailand there is similar concern. One of the main aspects of work that students do here (even when school is not in session, like now) is farm work, harvesting soybeans or corn or eggplant or cabbage or mountain rice or chili peppers or any number of crops that are in two gardens and an additional plot of several acres past Mae Rim. All of that work is very labor intensive, and all of it requires good weather. When the rain is constantly falling there is really no work in the fields that can be done, and the heavy rains of summer are very damaging to young crops, some of which must be protected from the rain for several weeks before becoming large enough to handle it.
A farming people has to be deeply aware of and in touch with many aspects of the weather that others take for granted. There must be rain in due season–not too much, not too little. There is a balance and a timing that is needed for the best results. In recent years, as I have seen with my own eyes and read what I have not seen in many parts of the world, that balance is lacking. Droughts and floods seem to be present in different places, or at different times, and even if the rain and sun over the whole year is the same, the balance is different and extreme. I find these extremes troubling, even if I am not quick to blame them simply on carbon dioxide, as many are wont to do.
And because I remember last year’s rainy season as well, which ended up causing flooding downstream that received international attention, I am concerned about the start of the rainy season this year. Only time will tell if this year is as rainy as last year, but I will be paying close attention at any rate. Given the pattern of water flow, we should know in two or three months based on the flooding (or, hopefully, lack thereof) here how bad the water will collect in Central Thailand. Soon, where I was raised, people will look to see what kind of rainy season and river levels will look like in Central Florida. Where one of my fellow teachers was raised in East Texas farmers will look for an end of a long drought where the ground has been like iron. All of us will be looking for enough rain, but not too much, so that crops will grow, so that there will be enough to drink, and so that life can go on in a pleasant manner. Only heaven knows if those hopes will be realized, until we see for sure.