Can weather apps make it rain?

Of the many ways in which social media and the internet is stressing us out, weather apps take first prize for stressing out more people more often than anything else. I'm serious. Facebook and what have you are small fry compared to weather apps and weather websites. It seems innocuous, checking your phone or your computer on a Monday morning to see what the week holds weather wise, but don't be fooled, these apps will pile on the anxiety quicker than standing naked before a crowd of thousands to sing the national anthem.  

How many times a day do you check the weather on your phone. Once? Twice? More than a few times per day? How often do you look at the long range forecast? The 28 day rainfall forecast? The 12 month forecast? 

There's a sound case to be made that reliable weather forecasts are essential tools for industrial scale farmers. If you're planting a thousand acres of winter wheat and depend solely on rainfall to germinate your seed and get your crop off to a decent start, then fair enough, an accurate prediction of rainfall is critical to success. The same is true if you're harvesting hay or need to protect your crop from a black frost. Goodness knows it's handy to know that a cyclone is bearing down on your house.

But for the small scale professional farmer, the amateur smallholder and the enthusiastic backyard grower, weather apps are a bit like combustion engines, which generate a small amount of energy in relation to a huge amount of waste. They promise efficiency, but the truth is, weather forecasts offer a small amount of usefulness but uteloads of anxiety about what will or won't happen tomorrow, the next day, or 28 days hence.

I should caveat this by saying that I don't want to trivialise clinical mental illness. I studied psychology at uni. Mental illness is real and I know that it's potentially devastating for sufferers. The kind of anxiety I'm talking about is the sort of low level anxiousness that all of us experience: A general nagging feeling, a sense of worry, a concern about what might happen in the future rather than what is happening right now.

I've been there, incessantly checking the weather forecast for signs of rain during a drought. I've obsessed over a cool change during a heatwave and I've poured over the long range charts for signs that my kids and I might wake up to our first ever snowy morning. But does all this obsessing actually change the outcome? Can checking the weather on your phone every half hour serve as a 21st century raindance, causing the heavens to split open and wash away all of your concerns? 

Course not. No-one truly knows what will happen in the future and even the best weather forecasts are nothing more than educated guesses made by hydraulically cooled supercomputers. A forecast model is a prediction, not a tangible outcome. Weather, nature, is out of our control. If we truly acknowledge this fact, I can't help but think we'd save ourselves huge amounts of emotional energy and possibly even attain a level of contentment that actually makes food growing a joy rather than a cause for frown wrinkles. 

My conclusion is this: Why stress about what may or may not happen tomorrow. Have a single check of the forecast at the start of the working week, set a rough course for the next seven days, then just deal with whatever comes your way now, in the present. Our ancestors managed to feed themselves and their communities without checking Weatherzone every half hour. Why can't we?

A Turning Point

Hello, and welcome. This site has been a while coming. It's something like the 10th website that I've put together, and though it took me just a week or so to make, its launch represents a turning point in a much longer journey.

Four years ago I had a major car accident while travelling along the New England Highway with my son Fergus in the back seat. He was four at the time, still in a toddler seat. Before getting into the car he asked if he could take a pencil and notepad with him on the trip into town, and once we were off he started drawing pictures. 

It was the first pictures he had ever drawn. They were nothing more than squiggles, but I was so excited by the milestone that when Fergus said "Dad, look at my picture!", I instinctively turned my head, just for a moment to acknowledge my boy's work. 

I'd made a near fatal error. While my head was turned my car drifted across the centre line of the highway, and clipped the front corner of a large box trailer being towed behind a ute.

The moment of impact still gives me chills. The car's airbags were released, everything went dark, I remember yelling "what was that!" and the vehicle entered a violent 360 degree spin. My face jammed against the driver's window from the centrifugal force. 

Thankfully, the car didn't hit a tree or another vehicle, but slid beautifully onto the side of the road in the same direction that we were travelling. My first reaction, once the car had stopped sliding, was to again turn my head to check on Fergus. His car seat had tipped on it's side, my boy was howling, but he was otherwise safe. "We're okay," I said. "We're okay". 

My right leg was jammed between the crushed drivers side door and the steering wheel, so for a few minutes I sat helplessly in the car with the radio still going, unable to straighten Fergus's seat or calm the poor kid down. A kind bloke stopped to help. He released Fergus, lifted him out of the car and then helped me get out of the driver's seat. A grey nomad stopped and started directing traffic.

My car was a write off. The trailer that I had hit was ripped clean off the back of the ute. It was carrying building materials that were now strewn for 100 metres down the road. My leg felt like it had been whacked with a hammer and I'd grazed my head, but what really hurt was my pride. I felt like a complete and utter fool. 

The police were sympathetic (I even showed them the drawing), but had no option but to charge me with Not Paying Due Care and Attention, a step down from Dangerous Driving. Apparently I'd taken out the other vehicle's side mirror, so we were literally 30cm or less from a serious head on collision that had the potential to kill all four occupants of the vehicles. 

I'm not usually a mystical person but for months afterwards I wondered why the crash wasn't worse. Why had we survived? Was it because I had a child in the back? Other children die tragically in accidents. Was it sheer luck? Or was my time not yet up?

I chose to believe the latter. Big mistake.

The notion that I was here for some kind of purpose initially threw me for a loop. I got a bit lost. Looking back, I realise that I've spent four years trying to work out what that purpose is, and how I can use the second half of my life to make the world a more beautiful place. It's been a frustrating journey, full of false starts and missteps. At one stage last year I was ready to pack up my current life, move the family somewhere new and start again from scratch. But now, finally, I get it. 

I'm here to create things that help people live close to the land. That's my purpose.

And guess what? I think I've known this all along. At least since I was in year 12, and my English teacher read a story of mine to the class and praised it as an example of great writing. But it's not always easy to narrow your focus and for me, there is a complicating factor: I have this responsible streak. For most of my adult life it's had the better of me to the extent that I feel like I've spent 25 years doing more to please others than I have in being true to myself. Being responsible works. It's a good trait to have when you're a husband and a dad. But it's only one half of my personality and the time has come to get it, and the other side of my personality, the untamed, edgy, creative, risky half, back into a healthy state of balance.  

To cut to the chase, launching a website bearing the words "Justin Russell" is a big deal for me. It seems insignificant, but to brand myself in my own name feels like I'm finally taking proper ownership over myself, and this is at once terrifying and deeply fulfilling. I value authenticity to the extent that I've never willingly faked anything I've done in life. But honestly,  I'm not sure that I've ever totally embraced my true self.  

So here I am. I'm Justin. I create.

Thanks for reading. The beast is unleashed!