The world is on fire and there is no quenching the thirst. I see my fellow suburbanites acting out all the rituals of weather-weary farmers: incessant checking of the radar on their smart phones, casual excuses to wander outside and watch the sky, excitement over a possibly laden cloud formation, a mad rush to the windows when the long-forgotten sound of precipitation hits their ears.
I smile to myself as I remain at my work desk. There is no breaking this historic drought except by a sea of soaking. And there is nothing for it but to continue on, tending a tiny flicker of hope that I protect from the all-powerful orb in the sky. The lushness of summer has already passed into the premature decay of autumn.
You see, I’ve been through it all before. In the 1970s, I and the rest of my farm family sat in dwindling shade and watched all my dad’s income for the year wither in the fields and crumble to dust in the federal offices of disaster relief, his compliance to government red tape callously rewarded with humiliation and docking of paychecks at the grain elevators.
For months, we had prostrated ourselves in the unraveling string hammock of our desiccated summer lawn, lamenting storm after storm that skirted the 200 heavily mortgaged acres of our grain farm. The rains only came to freshen the sky-high stands of emerald corn flaunted by wealthier estates to the west. A kind of drought dome formed above our domain that drove away any lingering gain for a self-made man establishing a foothold as a farmer without the birthright.
It was as good as gambling. And it didn’t pay off. Within a couple of years, even after installing irrigation as insurance against another disastrous season, my father moved on to other kinds of agricultural livelihood. The farm was sold, along with the crummy weather pattern that plagued its land.
But I never forgot that sense of doom nagging around our daily chores like horseflies, or my father’s barely controlled anger at the weather gods under a merciless azure sky day after day. At night, without the luxury of air conditioning, I would dream of the cool ocean only an hour away, its salty moisture useless for our needs. In the stifling afternoons, I turned the brittle pages of variety magazines from the Great Depression that I’d found in the attic rafters of our old farmhouse, ingesting serial installments of dust bowl tales that mirrored our own meteorological soap opera.
One winter there was a mini dust bowl in my own county. Insistent silt found every crevice and gathered like fine brown sugar on all the window sills, but the grit tasted bitter between my teeth. Windstorms full of loosened dirt funneled over miles of open field to form disconsolate curtains across our paths, allowing no sight of the roads ahead.
Today as I wipe off my dusty windshield a month into a mandatory water ban, I wonder whether I can see far enough to move on, or even recognize the potholes still to come, while the dust bowls of change swirl around me.
*The heading for this post courtesy of The Why Store’s song by the same title. (I’ve been playing it a lot lately.)