It’s raining this morning for the first time in weeks. It’s been a weirdly warm and dry spring here in Southeast Montana — the driest March on record at the airport over in Bozeman, and last week I had to break out the hoses and start watering. While the sunshine was a blessed relief after a long dark winter, such a relief that I wound up in my backyard, basking in a strappy tee-shirt despite my long-proven tendency toward sunburn. I felt like one of those TB victims from an old photo — sent outside to soak up fresh air and sunshine for curative purposes.
But this morning it’s raining. A perfect, soft, steady rain. The temperature’s hovering just above freezing, so I think my little sproutlets out in the garden will be okay. The Precovelle peas sprouted last week, but no sight yet of the Montana Marvels. The greens are all up: arugula, raddichhio mix, endive mix, agretti, and kale. I planted two kinds of broccoli raab, an early and a late variety, and they’re both up as well. I adore broccolli raab — that lovely dark green bitterness, so perfect with oriecchetti and sausage, or simply steamed like Chinese gai lan and dressed with soy and sesame oil. It is impossible to find around here, and I’m planning to grow as much as I can. I have some spinach that overwintered, but transplanting it to a new bed set it back a bit — it seems to be recovering, and the seeds I interplanted among the transplants are up as well. I’m slightly impatient about the spinach because that’s the bed in which I plan on planting beets later in the season. So this morning, my little rows of seedlings are out there, being bathed in a perfect soft rain of the sort we so seldom see out here.
Montana only gets 14 inches of rain, on average per year. We rarely have these lovely soft wet days — more typical is the sudden thunderstorm, or hailstorm, or late-season snow. I’ve been out west long enough that our sere landscape now seems normal to me, and when I go back to the Midwest, particularly in the summer. I feel nearly suffocated by the humidity and the greenness. I remember my bewilderment at my Great-Aunt Irma’s claims that after having lived on the plains most of her life, she found too many trees claustrophobic. I couldn’t imagine that when I was in high school, living in the leafy suburbs of the North Shore, a place where cutting a tree was a serious sin, but I think of Irma every time I fly back into Chicago, staring out the window of the plane, amazed by the sight of so many ponds and creeks and rivers, full of water even as late as August or September. It’s how I knew I’d finally become a westerner, when I found myself surprised not that the rivers here dry up late in the summer, but rather, when I found myself surprised that the watery midwest remained so all year round.