Just a Drop

A raindrop is a small enough thing.

Millions of raindrops together, they can do something.

While other parts of the country and the world are thirsting desperately for even a few good rains, we in north Texas have been surprised with a gift of enough rain in the last few weeks to break the spine of a few years of our own drought.

We human sorts aren’t the only grateful living things in the event.

Wildflowers have been blooming in special profusion this year, even in my own backyard.

And other very small things seem grateful, too.Photo: A Primrose and a Prim Little Snail

If You don’t Like the Weather, Wait a Minute

photoHave you ever seen a pigeon flying backward? I did today. This phenomenal occurrence was not because I spotted a mutant genius helicopter pigeon; that really might be a matter for tales of magic and fantasy, given the modern pigeon’s brain.

It was that windy. The pigeon was making a valiant effort to take off from the edge of a roof and, blown instead straight backward, finally saw the same edge directly under him and came right back in for a landing. What’re you gonna do?

The wind is giving us a good whack here in north Texas today. Two days ago, it was over 80°F/27°C, brilliantly sunny, and calm as a sleeping cat. Tonight, we’re told, we can expect freezing temperatures and should cover all of our tender plants in the garden. A couple of days before our balmy pseudo-summer day, we had a storm pass through. Parts of our town had a little thunder and lightning and a fair amount of rain with a little bit of hail mixed in it, but nothing extravagant by local standards. Our house was in that lucky sector, and so was our car while we drove home in The Weather. Just across town, others were not so fortunate: some had hail the size of golf balls or larger, and tornado-like gusts, and among the downed trees and limbs there were homes where the roofs were destroyed or caved in, cars were damaged or totaled by metal-dimpling all over and glass smashed through, and interiors soaked with the rain and debris thrown in through the broken windows.

We’re torn, in more ways than strictly the physical, around here.

We crave every drop of H2O that we can squeeze out of the sky; even after a relatively mild number of months, our lake levels continue to be well below their norms, some still fully in drought status. It’s not considered a plus if you can drive directly to where your boat is moored, in case anyone wondered. All the same, if the moisture is dumped all at once as though shot through giant firehoses, it doesn’t always stay where it’s needed but instead causes flash floods, undermines foundations, uproots vegetation and breaks down buildings and roads left and right.

Doesn’t matter what you call it—climate change, global warming, a thirty-year cycle, or evil pixies run amok—the weather all around this wonderful, messy planet is more extreme than it had been for much of recent history. The extremes are more extreme, the heat and cold, the wind and dead stillness, the flooding and droughts. Only the inconsistency of the weather seems to be more, well, consistent.

All somewhat amusing, if the worst one experiences is the occasional sighting of a pigeon flying backward. But of course, that’s the least of it. Ask our neighbors who sustained major damage to house, car and property all at once last week. Ask the people—the peoples—displaced by tornado and typhoon, those who have lost home and family to the floods and famines that massacre everyone in their paths throughout whole regions.

I don’t much care about whether we’re partly to blame for the seeming extra intensity of nature’s capriciousness and fury at this point. It’s not all that different, in my mind, from all of the displacements, distortions and destruction in history that we can absolutely attribute to human invasion, conquest, greed, prejudice, ignorance and evil. As horrible as that stuff all, genuinely, is, it is: it exists, already. What matters is what we do now in order not to perpetuate the ills, and better yet, to mitigate them as best we can. We can’t undo history, and we can’t control nature. But we can and should change our attitudes, practices and beliefs (and the governing processes needed to support those societal improvements appropriately) in whatever ways will support a far better world, one where wars, rape, murder, slavery, thievery, violence and all sorts of other horrible human actions are not only universally condemned but undesirable to enact.

And, since we expect that we, and those generations who succeed us, will continue to need to live on this specific planet and its resources, hadn’t we better think up some less selfish and more practical ways of easing the effects of nature just as much as our effects on it? We won’t likely figure out how to stop the wind from blowing with great intensity, floods from filling valleys, hail from pelting like rocks out of the sky, or lightning from searing and exploding whatever it can lay its fiery fingertip on, but if we put our minds to it, maybe we can think up some reasonable ways to protect more people, and care for those who are affected, better.

I didn’t really start out with the intent of rambling on about this stuff, but it’s on my mind. Probably not so different from the pigeon’s reaction when he discovered his original flight plan wasn’t viable. Can I fly backward? I don’t know. But I’ll bet it’s worth trying, if I find myself needing to make an emergency landing. No matter how the wind is blowing.photo

The Garden Rejoices

photo montageRespite is the thing we all crave at times. Too much of a good thing is still, when all’s said and done, too much. Having spent the majority of my life in climes of plentiful cloud and rain, I was quite pleased to experience the practically perpetual sunshine of north Texas, but learned that with it can come garden-blighting and spirit-dampening heat and even drought, so when it rains, as much as it might make a few things more inconvenient or messy, it can also make my heart glad.

And the way that the leaves plump up, flowers loosen and uncurl their fists and stalks and stems stretch instantly taller toward the sky, it’s also easy to see that the garden rejoices. It’s as though all of nature around me is sighing and relaxing every tensed-up, coiled tight thing with grateful relief.

A moment of quiet in the heart of a rushed day or a busy week is rain for my spirits as well. Whatever the cause of the busyness, however pleasurable the things that do clamor for my attentions, I find that a brief pause to lower the speed of thought, to quiet the relentless insistence of life’s siren calls and cool the heat of its demands–this one small thing–has wonderful power to relieve and renew me, too.

This is how I remember the kindness of the rain in the midst of unyielding heat, the shelter of low clouds that break the relentless glaring sun. And I look for my tiny bits of solace in a meditative mode, feeding my roots and encouraging me to let go, expand, release the tensions I am in and carry on, better able again to bloom and grow.

Thinking on a Thirsty Thursday

digital painting from a photoAs another Summer slips toward her torrid latter days, I thirst mostly for a sense of serenity amid the ache and struggle that transforms everyday deeds into Herculean tasks by mere virtue of the sizzling sun. And as I do, and sip the simplest glass of cold clear water, I recall that Summer has a range of beauties all her own. Contemplating them can bring a water-clarity to my heated thoughts and gradually, I find that slipping sense of refuge in the burning day has righted itself again, if only for a moment or two, and that is quite enough.

Here, then, I salute the summer. I salute water, and the wealth that lets me have it in cold clarity almost whenever I should want. And I salute, with deepest peace, the calm that comes in recollecting all that’s good and fair and simple in that harshest place, the burning midst of the high season of the sun itself, knowing it is its own sort of beautiful and will be missed again some other day.photo

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Just be Glad You aren’t Starring in a 1950s Sci-Fi Movie

We are, I am told, going to have a big, I mean BEEEEEEG, year for bugs here in last year’s drought country. And by bugs, I mean insects of the pesky and biting and stinging and flitting and I-won’t-even-post-pictures-of-them (you may thank me now, John, Teri, et al.) varieties, the ones that descend on the garden and leave it as a small quivering heap of dusty tendrils that give a last shudder and fall to the ground, dead. The ones that swarm around my head and ankles in grim, itch-inducing clouds of biblical proportions and leave me wanting to explode into equally lifeless dust.

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Hello, Hell . . .

First we had a dry, hot year that sent a whole lot of bug-dom into hibernatory hiding. (Along with a whole lot of humanity ’round here.) Then there was this thing that purported to be winter but, in its temperate reality, was a very mild-mannered and brief cooling-off period during which the parched local world relaxed and the bugs began to feel quite welcome to reappear mighty early: mosquitoes bit me when I should have been wearing long underwear–though thankfully, not in my long-underwear regions, which would have been just too cruel for words. The return of rain here, which now to our astonishment puts much of Texas back on the plus side of normal precipitation levels and well out of drought status, was a regular engraved invitation to come and goof off at the spa, as far as the local insect population was concerned. Suddenly, flies are humming around in a leisurely landing approach to put their nasty feet and probosces on every morsel of goodness that appears, whether it’s a deliciously pretty bit of food on the table where I do not desire their company or the addition of their delicious crunch and protein to the dish, or it’s insecti-goodness of the garbage and compost varieties. Grubs and mandible-gnashers rolled out their equivalent of the heavy equipment and got down to serious work devouring tender green things left and right. And my quick walk across a grassy area acted like a strafing run in a bomber, sending up masses of craneflies like so much blasted, spiky shrapnel.

I have a special hatred for craneflies, I’ll admit, and for bugs that eat my plants or nip at my personage. I may be truly enamored of all sorts of crawly things as intriguing subjects at least when I’m safely insulated from actual contact with them, say with them in a nice tidy case in an insectarium at the zoo, or pinned on walls as magnificently weird and wonderful specimens in their pretty shadowbox frames. But when it comes to having them looping through the air in apparently aimless cartwheels that I happen to know are really going to have them fly directly down my windpipe or into my defenseless eye-bulbs or up there to nest in my hair or to burrow into my carotid and have a suck-fest on my life’s-blood (have I read too many outlandish horror stories? You be the judge)–well, I’m just not that live-and-let-live and forgiving a character, am I.

So I am arming myself with all sorts of anti-insect remedies, or things that purport to be so, and while I’m attempting with a certain modicum of ecological sensitivity to limit them to entirely natural and inoffensive and not widely toxic treatments, I can’t make any promises when I happen to see the first wave of evil bugs zeroing in on me and mine. It’s a matter of the hunter and the hunted, kill or be bugged. My general pursuit of happiness may have to take a backseat to pursuit of feisty insect vermin. There may be a few small detonations of either disturbed craneflies rocketing out of the lawn as I stroll, or of me spraying them with some wicked-sounding oil-soap-hot-pepper-nuclear-weapon spray intended to mortify and murder them in turn. There will certainly be skirmishes of all sorts. We are at war, sirs and mesdames, and I am not going to sit back and be antennae-whipped into submission without a fierce fight. My fight instinct is slightly higher than the flight one at this moment, so be prepared for bloody messages from the front. Here’s hoping that the message of victory isn’t delivered from Bug-topia. That would just be too tragic. Run for your lives!

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Yikes! Head for the hills!

Getting in Touch with (My) Nature

I’m sorry to say I’m not cut out to be the savior of the planet. I’m not even very good at saving coupons or saving your reverence. There are lots of saints and superheroes better suited than I am to rescuing goodness, health and happiness. I’m just pleased with myself if I can get the recycling out on time for pickup, fix the wiggly leg on a chair so I don’t have to get a whole new chair to replace it, pull up about six weeds about twice a week. My part in world betterment will always be a smallish one.

But I do have a part in it. I’m ready and willing to play it. One little thing that is on my list of preferred universe-improvement techniques is to work on gradually including a bit less in my daily eating habits and freeing up those calories for people who actually need them more. Ideally, I’d like to find a few ways to see that those people who actually need them get them as well, whether it’s because I feed them myself with my cooking or my modest attempts at micro-mini-farming (I expect to successfully grow up to eighteen vegetables in this season alone), or because I support causes that are better equipped to feed them through charitable or communal means.

Another dainty little improvement I am willing and possibly even able to make in the condition of the quality of life as it exists on this planet is to find more ways to make less waste. I am researching how to capture both the rainwater falling on and the grey-water produced in my house for reuse and distribution in the garden. In Texas, that’s not just a potential money-saver but if drought conditions like last summer’s return or persist, a potential life-saver. But it shouldn’t be too terribly hard. The water’s there. It just needs to be corralled and redirected to where it can be most useful. It’s a natural adjunct to the aforementioned dinky farm-let of a garden with pint-sized patches of vegetables, plus a greater devotion to native, drought-resistant and wildlife friendly plantings that should, over time, reduce the whole yard’s dependence on additional water, provide a bit more natural cover and food for the local bugs and beasts and birds, and ultimately, require less maintenance and far less artificial or chemical intervention to preserve it all in vigorous health and beauty.

My self-improvement plot is mighty simple by comparison even to these extremely modest proposals. I’m just going to try to give in to my less-than-ideal motives and personality quirks less frequently than is my native inclination. I’m going to push myself to consciously and conscientiously do more of the nicer and better and more productive things I am capable of doing, more of the time. Beyond this I’m not certain I can go–but my plans being undersized as they are, I hope that I have just that much more chance of making my individual pin-prick of a difference for the better in my portion of creation, however puny, circumscribed or insignificant it may be. Better by far than not making the attempt. Reality is overwhelming and bemusing enough. Why not work on tweaking it one sweet, precious atom, if I can?

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This is where I landed. Where can I fly from here?

Leading Me down the Primrose Path

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Amid the fragile glories of a garden . . .

I am as gullible and easily ensnared as they come. When the weather is just perfect (however that may be defined by me on the day) and the blooms begin to go off like temperate fireworks and all of the insects are humming benignly in delight, I am easily convinced that the garden is the only place on earth to be.

It’s not that I’m quite in the league of those master gardeners and other addicts that find true solace in being elbow-deep in dirt, for everyone who’s not been nodding off like Rip Van Winkle knows I rarely get the urge to work that hard, and gardening can be truly heavy labor. But the smell of deep loam mixed with mouldering pine or fir needles and crisp fallen leaves, blended expertly by Ma Nature with top notes of any sort of sweet flora, and perhaps just a splash of wet pavement to finish–this is the perfume of a kind of happiness found nowhere but in a garden and in the heart of a garden-lover.

The lovely rustle of leaves, the metallic buzz of a sonorous cicada, perhaps the musical flow of water over stone, this is the soundtrack of contentment. Birds can sing to it with ease, and their choruses may interweave with a depth and beauty seldom heard in the most sophisticated counterpoint and polyphony devised by human composers. Even the neighborhood dogs and cats seem inclined to dance when passing by in these marvelous moments of song. A far distant lawnmower’s roar is softened by the miles to a point where it almost has the same romance as the sound of the passing train.

Every one of the gorgeous growing things is lovely in its own peculiar way as well. Grasses stretched to bristling brushy heights in wild bursts of growth may be just brown to those not tutored in a garden’s joys, but on a close inspection can reveal a magical array of brown and yellow, ruddy, rusty, tan and bronze, and silver and gold tones in every shade. Leaves and blooms in colors ignored by all but the most discerning eyes in a rainbow’s arc are suddenly broadcast with prodigality in all the craziness and grace a garden’s bed can possibly begin to hold. Somehow even the spots that might look bare at first hide secret gifts if one has patience just to take a closer look and see what moves among the bits of soil, the scattered rocks, to lean in far enough to find that velvet dust left by a butterfly, the drifted petals of a rose. I am enchanted, too, by the silky feel of a the bold tissue-paper blooms of a tree peony or the rough warmth of a sun-baked cedar trunk, by the taste of the honeyed air when I breathe in the sweet perfections of a summer afternoon.

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There is beauty enough for all the senses . . .

Here in Texas it has been a fairly brutal summer for such things to thrive. Only the profligate expenditure of water where there has been none could possibly allow for garden prettiness of such a delicate sort to live and grow. Other than trying to help our venerable oaks and full-sized Bradford pears survive with dignity intact, I’ve not been generous with water, knowing that there are more urgent uses for it at the moment than for personal pleasure’s sake. I have been working all the while to devise an appropriate native-planting-x-xeriscape new landscape plan with which to revise our yard for the long term–when we can afford to do it. I’m building a rather nice new scheme for it, I think!

Meanwhile, there came a little rain. In the last few days there’s been a little respite from the drought. It hasn’t ended the drought, of course, nor anywhere near undone the damage that’s been wrought. The dire dryness will likely continue for some time, and we know that droughts, historically, have shown the power to last for decades in a place, but for this little point in time it’s heavenly to get a sip.

So even though I know this hint of watering is likely only to lead me down some primrose path if I believe it means it’s garden time for real, I still give in. I’ll acquiesce to the false sense of springlike play this water brings and go, I’m sure, to the garden once again, only to be chased back by another wave of heat. But for this little time I cannot lie: the roses tentatively opening after a splash of rain make me want to believe in them, make me want to head out to the yard. There’s life in the old lady yet.

Sometimes Tears of Joy, Sometimes Tears of Relief

It rained.

We’ve been waiting for it a rather long time. No shocking records set here: there have indeed been worse droughts in history, not just in the fabled devastation of those parts of the world we in the United States tend to think of ever after as expanses of desert and the lost worlds of the permanently starved and impoverished, but even in the annals of the region here, where there have been longer and more immediately cruel periods of dry-roasting. Endless iterations of “hot enough for ya?” aside, there are certainly serious consequences already being seen and felt from the current drought: the desiccated crops, the herds being thinned or entirely liquidated, and yes, farms and ranches closing. So many aspects of the damage will only be seen and felt over a very long stretch to follow.

Now, it has rained.

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Desert. Dessert.

It hasn’t rained a whole lot. There’s nothing “cured” in a true drought by a couple of sparkling, sprinkly moments of respite. Much remains to be salved and salvaged and, hopefully, soaked–but not too much, I beg you. An excess of water is so clearly as dangerous and terrible as being horrifically parched, and following the remaking of the region into a vast basin of concrete, there’s plenty of danger that whatever rain does come will be unable to find a safe way into its intended locales.

But still, there’s that welcome urge to join the sky in a little cathartic crying when the unwilling skies finally relent and shower a little love on us. I am ever so glad and grateful that our Gaia, our lovely Mother Nature, has seen fit to grant us this kindness and am ever hopeful of still more. Call me a cry-eyed optimist.

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Rain, love, hope . . .

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Be ever with us!