Happy rainy weekend! California is famous for fantastic weather, which some people think of as being only clear, blue skies and 75 degree weather. But hundreds of days straight without significant rainfall can take its toll on the state. California spends billions of dollars each year just to move water to places where rainfall isn’t sufficient to water our lawns, feed our thirsty bodies, wash our bodies and cars, jump in the pool, and more. The recent batch of showers is a welcome respite. Nevertheless, I did overhear a mom saying today “I hope it’s not raining outside.”
A few hikes were cancelled this week due to weather – it’s been pretty chilly, and moisture just makes us chillier. But don’t overlook opportunities for outdoor time between showers. Even a romp in the garden or down the block can be fun. Just like there are nocturnal critters that come out at night, water drives the appearance and increased activity of other creatures. Look for the following:
- If you live inland and see lots of sea birds like seagulls or pelicans, this may indicate that storms are worse at the beach. I just saw a couple of seagulls flying together, in Sunnyvale.
- Earthworms and other worms will come out of their burrows when it rains. It’s not only more inviting on the damp soil, but may be easier to breathe above ground than it is in the water (they breathe through their skins).
- Snail and slug activity increases in the damp. Still, they will hide on the undersides of leaves, but cool, wet conditions are far more attractive that hot, dry ones. Make a little terrarium and watch what you find for a day; but release it later – critters have families to look out for, too!
- Fungus loves the damp. Fungal life cycles are pretty quick, so especially for storms of several days, look for extra color and spots on surfaces that stay damp, like bricks or terra cotta pots, stucco walls, or even patio furniture. If you can find mushrooms, you can try to create mushroom prints, which will even work for mushrooms you pick up at the store. Mushrooms will release clouds of spores in the hopes of reproducing, and you can trap these on paper, in beautiful designs. Be sure to wash your hands and don’t taste, if you touch wild mushrooms.
- My favorite part of my garden when it’s been wet is our moss garden. It practically glows green. Like fungus, moss produce clouds of spores in order to reproduce, and they need water to complete reproduction. Take a close look at moss. Do you see tall towers that resemble water towers rising from the green mat? That bulb atop the tower will explode and release tons of spores, when the plant is ready and there is plenty of water about. The photo above shows hundreds of these towers arising from the mossy mat.
- Look out for favorite birds. Unlike our hair that we wash clean, bird feathers typically include oils so water wicks away and the bird can stay warmer. Birds also love the wet, because of all of those tasty slugs, snails, and worms that emerge.
- If you have a microscope at home, it would be fun to compare activity in soil samples from a dry part of the yard (like a flower pot not exposed to the rain) and a wet patch. Tardigrades, also known as wooly bears, are tiny, oval-shaped animals that come out of dormancy when there is a lot of moisture. They swell with water (osmosis!) and start looking for little worms and other things to eat, just like those other birds you may see more of.
- My very favorite thing to look for are newly sprouted plants. With more water, seeds imbibe, swell, then burst open. I teach my kids about monocots (one first leaf) and dicots (two first leaves), and we can explore for quite a while, classifying different flowering plants, guessing at the color of flower and size of the plant when we see it later in the season.
Have fun exploring!
– Debbie (President and Founder), Max (7), Holly(3), and Andrew