All Dried Up

August 31, 2007

A drought is a strange event. Wildfires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and even tsunamis are all horrible, often tragic events that come in suddenly, sometimes with no warning, or not enough warning, but then they disappear, often as quickly as they came. Flood and tsunamis recede, wildfires burn out all their fuel or, hopefully, are stopped, and tornadoes just spin themselves out. A drought is less predictable. A week goes by without rain, then another week. You notice that the grass is getting brittle and dry and the ground is rock hard. Then the grass turns the color of sand and even the air seems brittle with the dryness of it. The weather reports become numbingly uniform: sunny every day, and even reports of record-breaking temperatures become repetitive. Something in the back of your mind says that this is wrong, but the heat saps any energy you might have for thinking about it. Instead you congratulate yourself on not at least not living in a place like Arizona, where the four seasons are tolerable, hot, really hot, and ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

On your way home from work each night you start counting the number of neighbors who are watering their yards, the ones who stand out because their grass is a patch of emerald in a sea of buff and sepia. You get wicked ideas about sneaking into their yards and cutting their hoses with a pair of garden shears in the middle of the night. One morning you notice a spider hanging in her web next to your house. She’s brown and white speckled with big yellow dots on her abdomen. You saw her early in the spring, just like you watched her mother, her grandmother, and a whole line of her great-grandmothers going back several years. You’ve wondered about her because you know the drought affects everything up and down the food chain, and you haven’t seen as many rabbits, snakes, or even squirrels as usual. This spider, like you, is not native to North America; her ancestors probably came with yours, around three centuries ago. She’s nocturnal so it’s strange that she’s still out on a sunny morning when the temperature is already higher than it would be at noon in a normal year. You notice that she’s getting fat, and that’s good. In a month, maybe less, she’ll wrap her eggs in a tight, round purse. Producing the next generation will be one of the last things she does. You look closely and see that she’s got something large, a bumblebee maybe, swathed in white silk. She holds it with her front legs while she sucks greedily at it. You feel good that even in a drought death and life go on as usual.

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