Sunday, July 29, 2012


IN BIRDLAND, WE MADE IT THROUGH ONE HEAT WAVE, ONLY TO RIDE ANOTHER. 90 degrees seems cool! It rained enough to dampen the dust, but not enough to soak in. The chicory is blooming, finally, with the Queen Anne's Lace, which has a fat taproot. This drought makes me take seriously our responsibilities to the land. My grandmother used to say she wasn't worried about our well drying up, since the Mahomet Aquifer feeds it, and, she said, “This land will be a desert before that ever dries up.” She was optimistic in the long run, believing in the bounty that runs beneath us, but she took a drought seriously. The drought of '85 inspired the original Farm Aid concerts. When some Hollywood Starlet came out to sing in the concert she said, “It's worse than I thought. The corn is dying in the fields!” Since that first concert came to Champaign, Illinois in September, the corn was drying in the fields, like it does every year before harvest. My grandmother laughed and laughed about that. We did have a crop that year, though it may not have been as bountiful as usual. This year, it looks worse.

The tassels on the corn came, bringing the warm pollen smell, amplified in the heat, but that smell didn't call up any rain. The golden silk emerged from the ears, and then dried and turned a deep brown. The plants themselves are doing that pineapple thing, where the leaves curl up and stick up straight. The other day Ursa got excited and chased a chicken into the brush near the back field. My dog is pretty well trained, but occasionally she forgets that she is. The little chicken hunkered down in the brush and I had a word with the dog. Then I had a closer look at the corn. The ears look like toy ears, and now with the husks beginning to dry, I don't think they'll have many kernels on them. I'm not really a farmer, and I don't know what Jim and Sean will say, but I sure hope the rest of the field doesn't look like this. We got a little rain when the pollen was rising, but not enough. I was here, too, for the drought of 88-89, the worst in U.S. history, maybe until now. I wasn't as tuned in to what was growing around me as I am now, but I do remember the fretful waiting, all summer, for rain that didn't come. 

I walk around the yard with the hose every night and spot water the flowers. It just barely keeps them alive. Even native plants, like Jerusalem Artichoke and Black Eyed Susans are not just wilting, but dying. I don't water the lawn, only the flowers along my little path, and the vegetables. I think about the water cycle: How we depend on that aquifer; how we pull water out of it with no thought to how water gets there in the first place. Many years ago, maybe 15, a couple of scientists knocked on my door and asked permission to measure the water level in our well. Apparently it was an ongoing study. Being curious, I went out and watched them at their work. I asked if the water levels were going down. They had apparently measured our well before, and they told me that yes, the well was lower than it had been previously. At the time they told me not to worry too much, but that we should not think of our aquifer as limitless. According to The Mahomet AquiferConsortium, overpumpumping is the greatest threat to our water supply. I haven't seen those scientists lately, and not sure when they last measured the well in my back yard, but I look around and see how much more water we are using now. In fifteen years, how many new houses have been built just around here, with expansive lawns? How many new swimming pools? I try to conserve water in little ways—turning off the shower while I soap up, running the dishwasher (which I've heard uses less water than washing by hand) only when it's full. But how can that compete with industrial usage, which by some estimates is responsible for about 40% of consumption? How many more industries are sucking water out of our aquifer at unsustainable rates? The only way I see to protect our aquifer is to claim it as our aquifer. Let's call it “Grandmother” and honor it. Let's get educated, active and involved in our future here in this region. The waters of life may depend on it.


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