Dear Mr. El Niño:
May I call you El?
I’m hoping you’ll come visit us this winter and stay for a while. I miss the wave after wave of storms from northern cold fronts or the soothing Pineapple Express warm tropical storms that stretch from Hawaii to California. You have an open invitation to come anytime.
I know we were not always the best hosts. We took you for granted and blamed you for downpours. I remember the winter of 1997 and 1998; you came with energy – perhaps too much? “Another winter of El Niño?” I sighed back then. We had been spoiled by your numerous visits in the early ’90s. I griped, “When will this guest leave and give us some peace and quiet?”
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But you have to admit, that year you outdid yourself. February 1998 – we had flooding and massive rainfalls, record levels for a single month – 15 inches in San Francisco and 14 inches in Los Angeles. Even in the Central Valley, Fresno had 8 inches of rain in that month while Sacramento had 13. Almost all our counties were declared disaster areas. I wasn’t a happy camper, but my ski friends fell in love with you with a snowpack double the average. You knew how to make an impression.
Since then, you’ve dropped in only once in a while and were a tepid visitor. You came for a short stay in 2002 and 2004. I don’t even remember the quick stopover in 2009.
What happened to your spirit? Did I say something wrong? Did I offend you? If so, I’m so sorry and apologize. Should I make a pot of coffee so we can talk? I promise not to complain and make snarky remarks about the day after day of rain and gloomy weather.
Truth is, with our current Great Drought and the resulting clear days of winter for the past three years, you’ve almost killed me by your absence. During our weeks and weeks of sunny, cloudless days, I felt compelled to work outside. I labored hard under clear skies and moderate weather. I longed for a rainy-day excuse to stay inside.
I once had a relative come visit from Wisconsin who didn’t like it here during the winter: “You work too hard. Too good of weather. No days off. I need a break, so I’m going back home to bad weather, snow and ice fishing.”
Yes, I did not truly appreciate you. I occasionally thought of you like the family relative you hoped would not come for the holidays. I secretly wanted you to go away. Having a houseguest for months made me grumpy. I couldn’t get anything done and always had to set a place for you at the table. I wanted to have my normal home back.
But without you, maybe normal isn’t that great. We’re thirsty for the warmth you bring. Not to mention the gifts of water. Who would have thought I would want those seemingly simple presents of rain? Or how I long for your stormy personality and overcast days?
And even something that could depress me: the long, foggy days of winter, sometimes for more than a week I’d never see the sun … well, fog was a byproduct of your visits and the moisture you brought in. I have forgotten the feel of damp, foggy days. Not to mention the fact that fog blocks out the sun and keeps temperatures low, a perfect formula to create chilling hours our peaches and nectarines need for proper dormancy. My fruits woke up in the spring grouchy because they couldn’t sleep well in winter; they liked the fog you brought during your stays.
Excuse me for not putting out the welcome mat for your sister, La Niña; I find her rather icy, a cool personality like a cold shower – actually not a shower. Such a dry temperament. I want to avoid such blind dates.
And speaking of family, I’m not sure I like it when you bring your cousin, GW – or should I call him by his formal name, “Global Warming”? When he comes, the conversation immediately becomes political. Some of my neighbors don’t believe he exists or ignore his presence. I think he’s moved in as a permanent neighbor that I have to learn to live next to. But he moves slowly, so I have time to make changes – and I don’t believe his presence means I have to start growing tropical plants instead of peaches … or should I?
But I stray from the topic of this letter. You are planning to come this winter, aren’t you? I’ve heard rumors you’re weak – anything I can do to help boost your energy? We’ve prepared the spare bedroom, and you are, of course, welcome to stay the entire winter.
Am I making myself clear? I promise to stay up at night and listen for your arrival, the soft pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof. And I’ll stand out on our farmhouse porch when your emotional fury appears with each big storm. All are welcomed to these parched lands. The whole family is thirsty for your visit. Please come. OK?
David Mas Masumoto is an organic farmer near Fresno and award-winning author of books, including “Epitaph for a Peach” and “Wisdom of the Last Farmer.”