We are thankful these days that we no longer have cows. We got one round of hay out of the meadow before the drought, but at the moment, there isn't enough grass to feed a couple of calves.
City officials are muttering about restricting lawn watering. Down here, in the Shenandoah Valley, we worry about wells going dry -- an event that would make homes and farms that depend on them virtually uninhabitable.
Here at Gender Gap farm, we have a well that we know has been providing abundant, delicious water since about 1840 and has never gone dry. And yet we are worried about using water. The idea of watering the front lawn, which looks like concrete, is out of the question. We are resigned to the fact that we will have to reseed grass in the fall.
I am watering the cutting garden where we have tomatoes and Ambrosia cantaloupes. Both need a lot of water. We are also watering the new landscaping we did by the guest cottage, but it looks like we may have already lost a pink dogwood. Maybe it was lack of water or maybe it was the shock of the intense heat we've had that did it in. But it is about 12 feet away from me as I am writing this, and it looks very unhappy. Its leaves are curled and drooping. I had the hose on it at a slow trickle most of yesterday afternoon and had great hopes that by today it would have perked up like my dependable impatiens do when I stop neglecting them. So far, it hasn't. I don't think the deer that attacked the two dogwood trees after they were planted would find this one edible.
The drought has brought the deer out of the mountains in record numbers and in broad daylight. The other day, I saw four walking out of the woods and straight across the meadow, headed for the creek, at about 11 in the morning. We saw three of them one afternoon by the side of the road that leads over the mountain into our valley.
Passage Creek, which is the lifeblood of Fort Valley, looks like it needs life support. It is lower than we've ever seen it. People are pumping water out of it. We have converted the porch on the guest cottage into an office, and the creek runs right along side. I had classic country living fantasies of listening to the creek as I was working. And that is exactly what it is these days, a fantasy. The creek is moving, but the water is so low that the lily pads are sticking out of it.
Converting the porch into an office was my husband's idea, for by then, he had run out of projects. Again. And like most of his projects, it has turned out to be a success. Three walls are full of windows so there is plenty of cross circulation. We had a brief discussion about air conditioning, but in previous summers we turned on the air conditioning in the main house maybe four or five times. As with most of our remodeling projects, our vision quickly ran ahead of our budget. Thirteen windows cost a bundle. I am the frugal half of our marriage so I argued that with all those windows, I didn't think I'd need air conditioning. So we didn't install it, and now, every so often, a slight breeze comes blowing through my dream office. It comes from a fan.
Even the crows are complaining more than usual. In the country, you blame just about everything on the weather, so the past mild winter is being held responsible for the unusual abundance of wildlife. We seem to have a lot more crows, and they have been setting up terrible rackets, starting at daylight. My husband is often up by 6 o'clock, so this does not wake him. Suffice it to say that I rarely see my husband get up. Waking to a bunch of squawking crows was not part of my country living fantasy.
Perhaps the worst part of the heat and drought is that it saps the energy out of people as well as plants. Those who make a living in more conventional ways might find this hard to believe, but writing actually takes a certain amount of energy. It takes creative energy, even in the newspaper business in which creating can be problematical. I'm usually fairly energetic, but there have been days lately when I've wanted to do absolutely nothing. Leaving the main (air-conditioned) house to walk to the guest house and my lovely office and its fan has been an act of rigid self-discipline. I have developed a vastly enhanced admiration for people who live in hot, dry climates and who have to walk miles to wells and to gather firewood for cooking.
I bought some creeping phlox at one of these clearance sales where the store is trying to get rid of its marginal plants. I watered them when I got them home, but never got the energy to plant them. They are deader than the dogwood. What does seem to be thriving are weeds, and weeding in 100-degree heat takes more discipline than I have. Of course, one can beat the heat by getting up at dawn, but getting up at dawn to weed has never been part of my country living fantasy. And by sundown, when the heat lets up a bit, I still don't have the energy to weed. I'll do it tomorrow.
We are more mindful than usual of snakes. As dry as it has been, our mountain-wise neighbors expect the timber rattlers to begin coming to the creek for water. So far, we haven't seen any traveling across our yard, but since we've had our share of copperheads and rattlesnakes in past summers, this is something we pay attention to. You watch where you walk, all of the time.
My husband keeps saying that he'd like to see a week of rain. Every so often, we get a brief shower. More often, we get the threat of a thunderstorm that turns into nothing. In the past, a sure-fire way of summoning rain has been to go out and water the garden for a couple of hours. That's not a smart plan these days. So I've come up with this alternative. I figure if I write a column about the drought, by the time it appears in print, we'll have had a regular hog-drowner.