One of the most thought-provoking things I have read in a long time comes from young Sam Gribley of My Side of the Mountain. Surviving in the Catskill Mountains by hunting and gathering, he muses about how you don’t really notice the weather until you live in it. Even then, long before this move, before our chickens, before my first real garden, I began thinking how irrelevant the weather has become in modern life.
Some of it is because of technology. The light bulb has decreased our dependence on the sun, heat and air conditioning has allowed us to regulate our immediate environment despite what nature has in store for us, and the local news has relieved us of the need for learning to read the wind and the clouds.
Some of it is because of our changing economy. My grandfather was a farmer and to the day he died he stayed up to watch the weather and then went to bed. An agricultural society depends on the sun and the rain for its daily survival. We notice droughts when the city imposes water restrictions and we are no longer allowed to water the lawn or wash our cars. We notice floods when neighborhoods are evacuated. But for the most part, awareness of the year’s rainfall remains on the periphery of our knowledge, something stored away for small talk in the checkout aisle but rarely personal or meaningful.
The sun itself has lost its significance, for we now schedule our days by the ticking of a clock rather than the rising and setting of the sun. Surrounded by technology telling us the time, we no longer need to look at the sky to see that it is getting late.
When we moved out here, I knew we were in for many changes. That the very rhythm of our lives would be altered. Our work would no longer fall neatly into a planned schedule, looking much the same from day to day, week to week, month to month. Instead, spring would bring planting and (hopefully) kidding. Summer would bring weeding and fertilizing and fresh pasture for the animals. Fall would bring the harvest. And winter would bring some rest and time for all that we just couldn’t get to earlier in the year.
Now, however, I am aware of the approaching dusk. I watch the sky as the sun sinks lower on the horizon. The afternoon turns to early evening, the shadows lengthen and it does not matter what I am doing, it is time to prepare for the coming of night. Dishes will be left, dinner held, games paused because we are now in a race with the sun. Before the light changes, before the color of the sky deepens and before the sky is painted with fire, I must catch the cat, bring in the dogs and lock up the chickens. The coming of night brings not only the close of day, but danger as well.
Coyotes are foremost on my mind, for ours seem bold. They are a threat to the chickens, the dogs, the cat and even the children. But we also have bobcats, cougars, foxes and a seemingly endless list of animals that would love to prey on our chickens. And almost all of them are called out of their sleep by the setting of the sun.
Driving home from Lincoln, I realize I misjudged how long the various errands would take. I pull into the drive with an odd sense of urgency as I give instructions to get the children and shopping in as quickly as possible. The last rays of the sun disappear behind the trees as I scoop up the cat on the way back from the chicken coop. Hunter turns and strains against the leash, looking back across the cornfield toward the treeline that marks the river. A low growl catches in his throat and I turn to look. The trees look ominous. Like a dark hole cut out of a blackening sky.
I quicken my step toward the house. Hunter comes along, but his ears are erect, his tail held high. He is on full alert, staring into the enveloping darkness. I don’t know what he perceives, but I trust his senses and appreciate his presence.
Inside, I turn the lock, release the dog and smile at the children. We’re home. We’re safe. We’re in for the night.