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On Chaos Theory and Why We Dance Behind the Bus

Every April, I sit down with four blank pieces of paper. I draw a five-by-seven grid, and number the cells. Then, in the square that represents the first Saturday in June, I write: CURE. I feel good about this one. Our first dinner of the season is usually a mild and sunny affair. It may have snowed only a week ago, but by June, we are well into our first solid stretch of warm summer evenings, and the monsoons of July are still on the distant horizon.

As soon as I am on to the next weekend, I begin to feel more uncertain. The second weekend in June—this is when the winds of May make one more burst. Terrible things might happen on this Thursday or Saturday, I’m convinced. With an unsteady hand, I pencil in MUNSON and RED WAGON.

Of course, there’s no telling what weather will blow in during the months ahead. There is no way to predict when that butterfly in Brazil will flap her wing, seeding a molecular event in the Amazon that builds into a breeze that feeds a wind that grows into a hurricane that gains force above the Pacific and works its way up the Gulf of California to push rain-laden clouds through Arizona and New Mexico, right into Colorado and Munson Farm—on that very Thursday. There’s simply no telling.

My four blank grids are entirely uninformative about future conditions, but with every farm name I enter, a flood of memories fills each tiny square. I remember the 4th of July when Bob stood from the table and implored: “Everyone, grab your wine glass and head for the barn. In two minutes, we’ll have lightening strikes right here.” Bob is always right. I also remember the double rainbow against the storm-grey sky at Lykin’s Gulch, when our guests slipped out of their raincoats and folded up their umbrellas to settle in at our table; a giddy laughter filled the damp air—we’d just weathered this one together, and now the skies to the west were clear, the plates were warm, and our table was dry. This memory gives me hope as I commit our crew to an exposed and unsheltered hilltop for the summer solstice.

When planning our season, I am suspicious that my blank grid has an invisible overlay of another, fateful calendar. If only I had a pair of glasses that would reveal the stretches of sunny days with gentle breezes (perfect for that grassy hilltop at Red Wagon), the afternoon thunderstorms that bring the rain in sideways, but are followed by rainbows (we’ll start later on those evenings), the rain-sogged days that turn furrows in the fields into rivulets (best to set up in Bob Munson’s barn then).

Alas, I anxiously fill in the whole calendar—all 30-plus dinners—and forget about the weather till the end of May. But once that first Saturday in June appears in the 10-day extended forecast, I begin a very close and tormented rapport with my phone. I check my weather apps far too often. The predictions change daily, sometimes hourly. As such, the forecast is rather uninformative, but I nonetheless affix high hopes to a 20% chance of rain, and lose sleep over 60. I’m essentially in a long-distance relationship with the weather: my weather app is the last thing I check before I turn out the lights at night; when I awake, I glance at my phone in case an uplifting note arrived while I was tossing and turning—maybe the ominous lightening will have been replaced by a gleaming sun.

Superstitions ensue. We prepare a chilled carrot soup at Oxford Gardens—perfect for a hot summer night. With rain clouds approaching, we decide last-minute to heat it. This will surely cause the storm to barely graze us. Guests will be served steaming soup with the hot sun still high overhead—but at least it keeps the rains away. Chilled cucumber soup—no such luck. Our secret weapon are our tents. Setting all six of them over our table early in the day stifles even a 60% chance of rain. Our crew performs a rain dance behind our kitchen bus. This seems to help, too.

Then we find ourselves back at Pachamama. Up until our arrival, the forecast has held steady at an auspicious 10%. But we play it extra-safe: we set the tents; we heat the soup; we dance. And still, dark clouds gather. “They never come from that direction,” says Oliver in disbelief. “Except last year, when you were here.” Raincoats are donned. Umbrellas snap open. Raindrops fall into the soup. I recall, back in April, penning PACHAMAMA in the cell that is July 2, and wonder for more than a second whether I could have known better about that little square. While our crew runs through the rain and tends our fire, our guests remain in good spirits. My weather app tells me that the worst has passed—we might even get a rainbow before sunset. I resolve in that moment to set aside my anxieties and superstitions. I will look into the wind with equanimity. I will end my long-distance relationship with the weather—until I confront those four blank sheets of paper again next April.

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