When I spent Christmas 2006 near Canberra, at the height of the drought, the land was bareness gathered into knobs by tufts of over-grazed grass, forming a rough, dirty carpet.
Thin, scraggly sheep. Rabbits, here and there, fast bolts of lightning across ruined ground.
That's El Niño in Australia. And here is La Niña.
Wherever nobody has mowed, the grass around Canberra is a meter high. The kangaroos and rabbits can't multiply fast enough to eat it. I wonder if farmers on gray days are having trouble counting their sheep.
I came to Canberra expecting a hot, quiet summer of writing. I imagined myself in the shade, writing at a picnic table, bottles of cold water in the esky at my side. Instead, it's been unstable weather, often overcast and even chilly. One midsummer day had everyone digging out their scarves and mittens.
Australia is like this, all gestures of excess. In inland North America, they're used to the blasting difference of summer and winter, but in Australia the difference between years is as great as that between seasons. Aussies speak hopefully of seasonal cycles, and indeed, winter is usually colder than summer, but there are no guarantees, and the less predictable cycles of the El Niño Oscillation can sweep everything to one side or the other.
Floods ravage Queensland and Victoria, and might come for us next. Until then, we watch grass grow.