Uncertainty

Seeing the distant thunder cloud caused my body to tense up. Muscles fusing like ice forming across a water’s surface. Rigid, tight, and terrified.

As I mentioned in my earlier post about the Megadrought, mainstream discussions of the drought doesn’t address that heat causes water to evaporate and stay in the air. Water has a higher heat capacity than air, so when it vaporizes the atmosphere can hold even more heat than if it were mostly air. This positive feedback of increasing heat capacity that correlates with increasing atmospheric moisture makes for humid days. And grain does not like humidity.

In late July of this year, I harvested 6,000 lbs of rye one day and woke up to rain clouds the next day that brought me scrambling to the field in order to tarp the combine holding that bounteous harvest. That batch was spared the drizzle, but I still had grain in the field. That meant I had to wait several days before I could harvest again, during which I had no control over whether the grain would absorb moisture and mildew. A few warm days passed such that I could harvest again, but I could tell the grain was more moist than usual.

A neighbor asked what the big deal was about a little drizzle. The maximum wheat moisture level for safe storage and clean milling is 13%, but 11% or less is preferable. One percent makes the difference between whether a farmer can sell their crop or not. I tested the Chiddam Blanc de Mars that was harvested after the drizzle, and it was at 21%! To bring the Chiddam to a salable moisture level, I needed to take it to a dryer, ironically, which was a 6 hr round-trip drive.

When last week rolled around, I had a few acres left to be harvested and about ten acres of wind rowed grain–a means of letting grain dry in the field. (Those ten acres yielded nearly 20,000 lbs of Wit Wolkoring, which is worth $65,000.) My colleagues in the raisin business laid their grapes on the ground to sun dry, just as they’ve done for decades, but this time rains splashed dirt into those shriveled nooks. There was no historical reason to be concerned about moisture. And that was the flaw in our reasoning.

Climate change brings what we thought was unlikely. It’s perpetual uncertainty that makes farming more than just risky. Risk is like a die toss with equal chances. But, climate change is more than risk because it holds unknown unknowns. Who would have imagined Sonoma having a rainstorm in early September? Not only rain, but thunder clouds. Thunder means lightning, and summer lightning now means wildfires. Seeing that thunder cloud brought up feelings from seven seasons of fire, from evacuating, from passing out due to smoke inhalation. Trauma and uncertainty is exhausting.

I’m a millennial, and we’ve grown up with uncertainty. We’re the generation that grew up under Boomer banners welcoming multiculturalism and watched Rodney King brutalized by a police mob. Crippling violence can befall you anytime and the police and a watching world will not bring justice. TVs were rolled into our classrooms to see the OJ Simpson trial verdict and how being a celebrity who appeals to ‘race blind’ white supremacy may give you a pass. We started high school when Columbine became the first mass school shooting, so any of us who displayed difference as we came of age were scrutinized by peers and principals. Our Junior year was when the California curriculum impressed US history and government upon us, highlighting our civic duty to vote. That’s when we saw a candidate win the presidency and not become president. In our Senior year, as we began applying for colleges, the World Trade Centers and Pentagon were attacked and shook the security of mainland USA. We saw the President who wasn’t really elected kick off what would become decades of war based on lies, and witnessed our Muslim and South Asian fellow citizens become demonized and subject to deportation.

Some of us still went to college and were still told that if we worked hard enough we could be whoever we wanted. The lie was exposed when we graduated into the greatest global recession in history and saw that safety nets only existed for the wealthy. For those who decided to have kids, it was around the time a global pandemic set in and epic wildfires raged across the world.

We’ve known uncertainty.

So, I laughed when I heard NPR Marketplace’s show today called “Uncertainty is the Economic Legacy of 9/11.” Part of the program discusses the mental-emotional toll of 9/11 that is hard to trace but is definitely present in the economy, and has been lasting. “The not-knowing for businesses and governments and us. And 20 years of that, and who knows how many more years, just takes a toll.” It started before 9/11, so the toll is more than they think.