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©August 2002

Carol Jane Remsburg




A Drowning Drought







Nature often plays havoc in our region whether it's a Nor'easter in February or March with winds and driving rains almost to hurricane scale, or strong spring storms that threaten and even deliver the bad news, to just the extremes in temperatures from the blistering heat and humidity to an icy bone chilling cold.  Our latest event has been a siege on a scale I've never seen before.  It's a drought, a true and deep one.


Over the past years of my life, I've dealt with floods, winds, hurricanes, 'almost' twisters, blizzards, deep freezes, and white-out conditions, but never this, this drought.


The rains stopped back in June, and even before, but at least the small showers we got were enough to keep the grass green and the trees happy.  Ours is an agricultural area and the rain in the right amounts is necessary. 


By the first week in July, I didn't need to cut the grass, it had died.  Actually it hadn't just died; the sun had cooked it first.  It turned a yellow/brown and withered to such a degree that the dirt beneath it shown through and appeared parched.  In trying to find humor in this I discovered that it kept the mosquito population down.  And with the West Nile Virus running rampant in the US, maybe this wasn't such a bad thing for a while.


The month of July devolved into an endurance run, nay, a gauntlet for any living creature without food, water, and cool air.  Most folks can figure out a way to get all that, animals often aren't as fortunate.  The birds I normally only fed in the barrens of winter were back and wailing to me not just to be fed but also to be watered.  Then it became a morning and evening ritual to heavily water and feed the birds~~all comers were welcome, even the voles came.  Neighboring free-range cats and dogs came to the water and even ignored the birds.  In dire times, water is what counts and they never bothered to even ruffle a bird's feather as they came with thanks.


The grass I know will come again next year as so will the regular rains.  The weekly mowing, trimming and whatever, I didn't really miss.  I'd be dishonest if I said otherwise, still, a fresh mown lawn and its sweetness flavoring the air is a gift you cannot buy for any price. 


The heat, meanwhile, allowed that all flowers should die quickly, even my tiger lilies, the only flowers I dare to care for couldn't stand the onslaught.  Their greens yellowed and dried into straw—all under the shade of our great maple tree.  There is a watering ban that has been in effect for weeks.  I watch others disobey for their little flowers and roses and their lawns.  If they had wells they would have dried up.  When their tap runs dry they'll scream. 


I've gotten past the point of conserving a bit of water to trying to put whatever extra water I have into my two maples.  Somehow those gummy cedars will manage but I have only two maples and they are old and they are large.  A small sip here and there can mean much, just like to Melly's rosemary she sent to me—the leavings from the bird bowls.


Tell me, by mid-August, have you ever seen the deciduous trees redding, yellowing, or browning as if it were late September or October?  Never in my life have I seen this.  Yet within our immediate area we had a hard rain for about 10 minutes twice last week, but 10 miles away hasn't had a taste of anything in months.  Thus I can only get a quick shot of one tree that has given up the ghost when so many others have already opted to cash in their chips this year and begin the process of shutting down until spring.  It's a self preservation move and I know if they don't take it then they just might not green up next spring.  They may turn pale, grey, and die until they rot and fall over becoming the next generation's fodder.


The dogs that bay and bark at night, have become quiet.  The heat has taken all their energy.  The flies, horseflies, green-headed flies, wasps, hornets, mosquitoes, Japanese beetles, and even lightning bugs have opted out of the area almost completely.  About the only ones hanging around are the fleas and ONLY if they can get inside your house.  Yes, they are that desperate—and crickets too, but their numbers are way down.


Each morning the temperature begins in the high 70's and marks the climb beyond the 80's before 8 AM.  The humidity manages to turn breathing into a labor intensive effort, sort of like opening a door and walking into an asthma attack, when you've never had that before.  Your lungs labor to breathe.


Each afternoon and evening, silent eyes look skyward to find if there are clouds and if they have that heavy look of coming rain or storm.  Either would be welcome at this point.  Homeward and into our air conditioned or fan-filled homes we shower with cool water and rest.  The drought is affecting not just our lawns, our trees, the resident wildlife, and even bug population, it's slowly dehydrating us as well.


No matter your chilly rooms or iced bottled water, that ever-present drought makes us feel dusty dry.  Our skin shrivels from it.  The very air we go to and fro from seems to be sucking away our life's blood and energy.


They say it's the worst drought in the last 50 years.  Well, I'm not hear to tell you that it was any worse before then, but I can tell you it's the worst in 40 years or more, so I do believe they are right.  About the only thing we haven't had this year are the wildfires that so many others have suffered, the ones that burn you out of your home and destroy all you held dear.


This doesn't happen around here.  Does it?  If it doesn't, why do I now worry so?  Anything is possible.


If you get rain and complain about cutting the grass for it has grown so much, don't.  I'm just grateful my home isn't in the way of a wildfire.  When the rains come, I'll feel blessed.


I hope you will too.


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