Wind howls across the high mountain desert of Gallup and rocks my RV with a steady wave-like rhythm. I’ve heard the joke several times already from locals: spring arrives, depositing Arizona in New Mexico. With the airborne sand, I do believe it’s from across the state-line to the west. It’s so gusty here, highways post windsocks to warn of cross-winds that can tumble a semi or RV. For now, we’re rocking while stationary.
It’s more than windy today at the ranch. I thought I scheduled a guest for the series Raw Literature, checked the calendar and see that I scheduled next week! In the midst of a move and a break-down, it’s just another hiccup. I’m fond of lemonade so today’s scheduling lemons gave me opportunity to participate in Irene Water’s fascinating memoir prompt, Weather: Times Past. What’s unique about her prompt is the collection of data based on memory, generation, region and urban or rural proximity. Participants and readers get to compare experiences. It’s open to anyone, and as is the case with most responses to prompts, this is a piece of raw writing.
Memory of a Gen X Buckaroo, Weather in Rural North California
The old Californios Ranchos sat inland from the coast where fog creeps in by night and burns off by mid-morning. This region is home to cattle ranching, centuries old. Before there was California, there were the Land Grant holdings of Mexico and the original Missions of Spain. Weather didn’t change ownership; gold did. When Sutter discovered a gold nugget at his lumber mill, the (18)49ers poured into the region, and the US claimed it as a state: California.
To the ranchos, a change of hands didn’t mean a change in work. The miners needed to eat, and the ranches provided beef.
Some men came to mine, others to set up businesses. My family came to ranch, raising cattle, apricots, turkeys, hay or managing ranches. One grandfather was the foreman for an original rancho and another bought it after making his wealth by turning his ranch into a golf course. For generations, both the men and women in my family rode in the San Benito Horse Show & Rodeo. I even won several trophies for horse showing and one for goat tying, all before I was of an age to go to school.
This is buckaroo country — a culture unique to the Californios influence of the Ranchos style of ranching and horsemanship. And like any agricultural community, it’s always focused on the weather. In rural California, dry spells could turn into years long droughts, and rain could flood the dry river beds. It was a deluge-fueled flood that first caught my attention in regards to weather, and it was so severe, it cut off ranches from communities. One of my earliest recollections is standing with my parents on one side of a raging torrent of water as my grandparents stood on the other side. That memory has transfixed a fascination and horror of floods.
Many more times I would stand over flooded rivers in other states, drawn to relive the earliest memory of how water could swell so vast and swift, muddy and full of churning debris. Such has been the weather cycle in California and I wonder how the earliest ranchos managed. And that is how I begin raw thoughts for historical fiction. The confluence of memory and history and curiosity.
So I will end with a trio of flash fiction (at this rancho, its always 99 words, no more, no less) based on where my thoughts led me.
The Bad Dream of a Californios Girl
Maria shouted across the arroyo swelled with frothing mud. “Papa! Vaya con Dios! Papa! Mama!”
“Maria! Maria! Wake up. You’re dreaming the bad dream.”
Maria gasped in the dark, feeling her Aunt Tessa’s hands. “I’m awake, Tia.” Outside, she heard rain splatter against the hacienda’s shutters. She shivered.
“Maria, I’ve fixed of a cup of cocoa.” Her aunt lit the hurricane lamp and Maria saw the steaming cup sitting on the small table by the window. Her aunt had fixed her cocoa five years ago when she escaped across the flooded arroyo. The flood that swept away her parents.
The Only Path Left
Father Sean Kincaid, nudged the mare to press forward in the rain and sopping ground. He’d experienced thunderstorms back in Missouri, but this was different. God Almighty had forged a sky river the first 12 days of 1851. Hadn’t scripture promised an end to God’s flooding wrath?
The bridge he’d crossed earlier was gone. Not a splinter remained. Sean’s chest tightened. On the other side was his parish church. Behind him was Rancho Santa Ana he had failed to reach because of a landslide. He looked up. Not to God, but to the steep incline he’d have to traverse.
Capitan reared and snorted. The stallion charged his herd, pushing mares back, away from the river overflowing its banks on both sides. A deadly lake, pooling in the moonlight, eroding pasture. Capitan whinnied, turning on any horse who tried to bolt in fear.
“Damn stud save them mares,” Joe said, over coffee. The old ranch-hands gathered after mass at Kincaid’s Cantina.
“Unlikely, Joe.” Corey Fairfield expressed the skepticism of a vineyard owner. Educated.
Patty poured toppers. “Unlikely? As unlikely as your sons serving in the Pacific?”
Corey flushed at the chuckles. Their sons were Marines. Good horse-sense meant survival.
” I’m fond of lemonade so today’s scheduling lemons gave me opportunity to participate…”
And what a tall, cool, satisfying draught of lemonade you’ve served up! Loved the whole thing.
Thanks, Liz! With my schedule at the ranch, I often miss getting to play. It was refreshing for me, too. 😀
Somebody looking out for you, to gif t you with what you needed! 😀
Charli, I enjoyed your jug of lemonade, quenched the raw thirst perfectly. 🙂
Thanks for taking a drink, Kate!
you made the pips squeak with those three cunning little tales…
Thanks, Geoff! There was a winery in Minnesota that had the audacity to grow French vintage. Each year the grapes suffered, but survived to make incredible wine. Perhaps our words suffer in tight constraints, squeezing out what we can to vint stories.
I hope to get back to Irene’s prompts – I’ve missed a few. I enjoyed your flash.
Interestingly our first day here had unexpected rain. At least according to the locals. Where I live rain is quite regular.
I did see though on some news program that recent rains have help California end years of drought. I still wonder though how long that water will last and that other alternatives need to be found. For not only Cali, but every where.
I’m enjoying my river view of the Ohio. Water, water everywhere and maybe some in bottles to drink 🙂
Jules, I love your take on S.T. Coleridge, water, water everywhere…! We have polycarbonate bottles for getting drinking water, yet we end up buying more plastic than I’d like. I also have an individual bottle. Zion was great for having filling stations. We filled up in Chaco Canyon and I really like the water! Enchanted, perhaps? I’ve not seen the Ohio before. Is it a wide river? California vacillates between droughts and floods, but with climate change they will only grow in severity. The floods did no favors to the parched lands as they destroyed much and could not refill dry wells. Thanks for reading! I hope you get to do Irene’s prompt.
I wrote about The Ohio here: The Ohio…
There are some links – in one of them you can see the blue Owensboro bridge. I don’t think there really is much of a smell, not like the salt ocean. But there always seems to be ‘logs’ not just branches of driftwood floating down. And most of the edge/ banks seems to have some bit of debris hanging on.
I’m on a mini vacation. I’ve been using the pool and hot tub. And walking just about everywhere. Yesterday I put on about 8 miles on my Fitbit.
“I’m fond of lemonade so today’s scheduling lemons gave me opportunity to participate…” – I also loved this, and your flash. I particularly love the first one – so sad, but with that beautiful image of comfort in there as well.
I often wonder what we lose as a society as we move further away from true agricultural-based community, etc. That connection with the land around us and the understanding that the land is what sustains us seems all too often buried and forgotten. I feel the urge to read some Steinbeck, now…
Thank you, Lisa! Being in that first generation of my family to no longer be in agriculture, I often feel the loss keenly. Maybe that’s why the land attracts me wherever I go. Ah, Steinbeck! A good beckon!
The weather of your area through history – clever take on the prompt! And an extremely impressive raw post at short notice.
Thank you, Anne! Once I wrote one flash, another bubbled and thinking about what you write recently on using holidays to mark passage of time, I wondered if I could do that with history.
Great post, Charli. I agree with the others in the enjoyment of lemonade. Your three flash pieces tell different responses to the effects of nature. I had to pause for a while after the first – so sad. I recently traveled 1600 klms from south to north along the coast of my state of Queensland which had been ravaged by a cyclone and its aftermath. The effects of flooding and strong winds were still clearly visible. I met with country cousins (my parents moved from the country to suburbia when I was six) who raise cattle. Although some live only three hours drive from each other, some have had good rain, and some are in continuing drought and wonder how much longer they will last. While we in the cities may be affected by weather, it doesn’t control our livelihoods in quite the same way as it does that of country folk.
I like the way you describe “historical fiction. (as) The confluence of memory and history and curiosity.”
Thank you for reading, Norah! I’m sure it must have been devastating to see the aftermath of your country’s cyclone. It was so large. California doors not get cyclones, but this year I heard the weather described as an atmospheric river that poured in from the Pacific. It was also large in size, days and damage. Drought is equally hard on ranchers, perhaps more so. I hope your country cousins get through it.
I heard that term “atmospheric river”. It was used here too. We need it to fall in the places where water is needed, and just in the right amount. I wonder if “we” will ever learn to control the weather to suit our bidding, and, if so, what will become of us then.
Had you heard the term before this year? I hadn’t, yet I looked up similar historic floods that seemed to show the same weather phenomenon. Yes, it would be terrific to orchestrate the weather so amounts of moisture and sunshine came as needed. But it’s natural forces that show how little control we have over the environment. If we could make it do our bidding, would we be responsible masters? I look at other areas where powerful people are in control of many others and I think not.
I hope the wind has abated – I have a vision of you being buffeted and your lemonade going everywhere. Thanks for joining in Charli and I love the historical / memoir / fiction mix you have delighted us with. California sounds very much like Australia in many aspects with drought and flooding rains. It is a hard life for the rancher (in Australia Station owner) and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood that the weather affected not only those on properties but also the entire town with some towns dying because of drought.
The bad dream’s unexpected twist was so poignant whilst the landslide brought a smile at your ending and those sons serving in the marines packed a punch. Survival I think is definitely learnt on the land with the weather.
[…] Raw Weather […]
[…] Raw from California Past: Charli Mills Imagines the Weather’s Impact. This is from my own pen, in response to the interesting memoir prompt hosted by Irene Waters in Times Past. Writing raw, I dug into memories of California weather to recreate the lives of historic figures in a trio of 99-word stories. […]
Very interesting post, Charli. Weather can be so harsh and unpredictable. This post reminds me of when we visited the Buried Village in New Zealand. A village that was at the foot of the pink and white terraces that were buried when the volcano erupted. Totally terrifying.