RICHMOND — A relatively simple rain gauge once hung on the fence in our yard. A small red ball rose as it filled, but you could wonder whether the same number of rain drops fell above that 2-inch tube as on the next fence post down. Now a wider container lives on a table on the patio with a wireless connection to a screen indoors – no need to get wet to find out how much it's raining.
Outdoor temperature here is measured with a little screen attached to a wire that hangs out a second-floor bedroom window. In March, it's been known to read 70 degrees at 8 in the morning, and it took us awhile to realize that a foot or so of snow on the roof and heat loss from below was keeping that sensor toasty.
Indoor and outdoor temperatures are measured in the dining room with a sensor that's way off when the sun is in the west. But it's perfect in the morning. We also have a pretty, but pretty inaccurate, pottery thermometer on the back wall of the house. All this might lead to the idea that it's a household obsessed with the weather.
But these are just the more convenient elements. Years ago, we had a little whirligig on the roof, installed there by our brave friend, the late Warren Fowler, to measure wind speed. It was wired to a wood-framed thing in the bedroom. For some reason, right at bedtime, it was grand to know the velocity of the howling wind that would keep us awake. Later we installed a whirling dervish on a post up the hill behind the garden.
That worked beautifully if, again, you wanted exact wind speed — the trees give a pretty good picture. The problem with the new installation was that when it failed, the battery had to be changed. It only failed in the wintertime, and removing the cover involved taking out four, maybe six, minuscule screws, holding a bowl under the battery case to avoid dropping one in the snow.
A little obsessed, indeed. I had married a weatherman, someone who was more interested in wind, rain, temperature and sun than anyone in my farming grandparents' households. The farthest one of my grandparents ever went in figuring out weather was to wet his finger and hold it up. Then he'd nod and either cut the hay or not cut it.
But we learned not to let weather change our lives, especially after a trip to Florida when we promised the kids we'd go to Busch Gardens "the next day." When dawn came, it was pouring, not just falling water but sideways rain, sweeping horizontally across the parking lot outside. All the faces at the window fell.
We decided to run for the car and make the trip to Tampa anyway, and it turned out to be a life-changing adventure. It was wet at Busch Gardens, really wet, but the rain seemed to be letting up. We decided to have lunch and sat by a window where we could see the giraffes. Two nice things happened: The sun came out, and we learned how giraffes get their mouths to ground level to drink. They kneel. It was fun to watch.
Ever since, we've not changed plans because of rain. In the Berkshires this summer, our tourists didn't have to make any decisions like that. With few exceptions, it just didn't rain. Crops withered, and the umbrella business slumped. Still meteorologists until the past week or so went right on describing a sunny day as a nice day and the prospect of rain a problem. With the Boston area drying up and the Berkshires not much better, some of them now say a rainy day would be nice. Yes.
Ruth Bass never likes watering the garden. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com.