Madison Monday: No rain

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I find myself singing that old Blind Melon tune a lot these days, and thinking of that video of the plump little girl in the bumble bee costume.  But mostly, I just find myself wishing it would rain.

It’s nothing unusual for it to get a little dry around here in late July and August.  Last fall was a particularly dry one around here, prompting me to get somewhat nostalgic about rain in a blog post.  The current drought is being labeled by some a “worst-in-generation” drought.  As of July 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared 1,000 counties in 26 states natural-disaster areas due to the lack of rain.  This largest declaration of natural-disaster areas ever makes about a third of the farmers in the country eligible for low-cost loans to offset some of the brutal effects of drought.  Of course in Indiana, this means bad news for the corn crop, and therefore bad news for food prices next year.

I like living in a place where people generally continue to get excited about rain.  In the opening of her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver talks about what motivated her family to move from Tucson, Arizona, to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  She could summarize it all in how people respond to rain.  Leaving Arizona, the girl behind the counter of the gas station was annoyed by the prospect of rain.  I think it had to do with the appearance of her car.  By the time they arrived in the Eastern mountains, folks were once again happy about the rain.

This is, of course, an anecdotal story, but you figure that in Tucson, no one much depends on rain for anything.  It is, after all, a desert.  Their water is coming from somewhere very far away, and as Kingsolver points out, the massive agriculture that happens there is draining all the rivers dry.  But in places like Indiana, we need rain.  In a good year (and we really haven’t had one for a while), you can plant your garden and get through at least June and July without having to water.  This is a blessed thing, but I’m beginning to wonder if those days are over and done.

In turns this spring and summer, I have been angry about the lack of rain, depressed about the lack of rain, anxious about the lack of rain, and eventually numb to the lack of rain.  And I’m not a farmer; my livelihood is largely unaffected by precipitation.  But I do come from a family of farmers, and a lineage of what you might call congenital weather obsession disorder (CWOD).

Some folks (like my father) might shrug their shoulders and assume that this drought is just a long-term weather anomaly.  It happens sometimes, you know.  It stops raining.  What a lovely surprise if he were correct.  But I’ve heard predictions that global climate change will lead to a drying out in the interior of the continent, and the interior of the continent is where I sit.  Safe from rising sea levels, but short on drinkable water.

Dry section of the Morse Reservoir, which supplies
water to Indianapolis.  Courtesy Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

In the moments when I am especially anxious about the lack of rain, I count myself lucky to be in a relatively high-density town within just 2 blocks of a water source that will (fingers crossed) take a very long time to dry up–the Ohio River.  Of course, the river water isn’t drinkable, which is when I start to think about filling our basement with water purification tablets.  When I mention this plan to my husband, I am mostly kidding.  Mostly.

Some scientists have already skipped ahead from what we can do to stop global climate change to how we should best adapt to live and survive with the changes that are now pretty much inevitable.  As someone who teaches about environmental issues, I’m not sure what to do with that.  Is it time to give up hope already?  Should we turn to fear to motivate people to change their behavior?  Or does it even matter anymore whether people are motivated or not?

In the meantime, I water my little pots of vegetables out back and our larger community garden plot on the hilltop, cursing under my breath all the while.  The effort of keeping things alive in this drought seems like a lot sometimes, but better than the alternative of watching my eggplant wither away and die.

Later this week, look for my post on a vegetarian’s experience of helping to kill, pluck and then eat my very own chicken.

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