Sunday, September 26, 2010

When the sky puts on a show

The celestial extravaganza began simply enough.

I was already past Hutchinson on the last Saturday of the Kansas State Fair, heading west to the family farm, when I saw the first white, puffy clouds forming in the pristine azure skies. No two were alike, and I marveled at their distinctions.

Countless generations of children have looked up at such clouds and said "That looks like...." But how many adults take a moment from their busy days to do the same thing? Not enough, I dare say.

Off to the left, one cloud shot up higher than the rest, as if it were an eager student in a classroom raising its hand in an attempt to catch the teacher's attention. "Pick me! Pick me!"

Off in the distance, I saw a deep blue shaft stretching from a dark gray cloud to the ground. I recognized it was a rain shaft. Some portion of Stafford County was receiving a welcome, late-summer shower.

To the north, beams of sunlight pushed through breaks in the gathered clouds. I thought of all the stories and paintings that depicted God shining His love and favor on humanity as a ray of light from the heavens. And no wonder: There's something undeniably majestic and moving about it.

A short time later, I looked back south for the rain shaft. Not only had it stopped raining, the clouds had disappeared as well. It was a classic "popcorn thunderstorm" - fire up in the muggy afternoon heat, produce a brief, intense shower, and then collapse.

It had all happened within the span of 90 minutes.

Shakespeare wrote that all the world's a stage.

In Kansas, we're often reminded the sky can be, too.

One of my favorite songs, for 'Longer' than I can remember

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Summer's swan song

If the sharp angle of the afternoon shadows wasn't enough to tell me summer was near its end, the combines in the corn fields clinched it.

I was heading to the farm for the 50th anniversary of the church where Mom now attends Mass, and I was surprised to see so much harvesting going on already. Some fields had already been shorn, stalks sprouting from the ground like a few days' worth of beard stubble.

Fields of milo looked ready for the reaper weeks ahead of when they typically are, bright crimson heads leaning slightly under the weight of the imminent harvest.

As my drive continued past the checkerboard of row crops, I remembered an article I read recently about the 2009 grape harvest in the Bordeaux region of France. The piece was an early assessment of the wines produced from last year's harvest, and how the weather leading up to and throughout the growing season affected the quality and flavor of the grapes.

I've always been fascinated by how a vintage can be affected by something as seemingly innocuous as a week of hot weather and cloudless skies, or a shower on just the right - or wrong - day.

Farmers in the wheat belt know all about how significant a timely shower can be for a wheat crop; or how 10 days of hot, dry weather just as the wheat heads are filling out can cripple a yield.

But vinyards are a more vulnerable tapestry, and the wines they produce are time capsules - weather-engraved snapshots of years gone by....