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Thursday, June 10, 2004 12:55 pm

Weather report

One afternoon a sudden squall line sneaked up on us while we were working in the field. You know that feeling -- goosebumps on the back of your neck, and you look up cautiously, expecting to see the dark stalker two strides behind. Within seconds, lightning crackled over the timber a half-mile distant and we were running for the house. The first gust caught me in the yard, ripping off my straw hat and sending an ice-cold blast over where the hair used to be. Amy ran into the house to unplug the computer and close a few windows. Then we both watched from the safety of the porch as the storm rolled through. Naturally, the first thing to go was the just-placed straw mulch from around the newly planted tomatoes and peppers.

We made fresh coffee and watched the rain sweep back and forth across the land for half an hour before the sun came out again and the afternoon resumed as though nothing at all had happened.

In 1988, the storms built up and went away without rain, again and again, throughout the spring and the entire summer. The crops died of thirst in the fields, and the midsummer heat made the soil too hot to touch. Gradually we became aware that there would be no harvest that year, no reward for the long hours of work, no recovering the expense of the crop, nothing to live on for a year.

It wasn't much fun to endure that experience, but it would be a shame to go through life without the perspective something like that gives you about your place in the natural order of things. And it makes you realize that some of our most treasured ideals, such as fairness, simply don't exist in nature. Life is a gift -- nothing less, nothing more.

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