In Frank Herbert's science fiction novel "Dune," the heroes are a race of Bedouin-like desert dwellers who have learned to survive in a waterless, danger-filled wasteland on a far-off and subjugated planet.
The Fremen, as they're called, recycle every drop of their bodily fluids, and salvage those of their dead; they view as soft and contemptible the culture of water-rich worlds such as Earth, where water is abundant and may be wasted without a thought.
Now here we are in fecund June in our water-rich land, thinking dry thoughts and waiting apprehensively for rain. The countryside is parched in Marylanders' eyes, but to a visitor from Dune, or Nevada, it would look lush.
The cornfields, seen from a distance, are a deep green. Along the edges, shaded by woods and hedgerows, vegetation grows profusely: pokeweed, poison ivy, honeysuckle, lambsquarters, raspberries, Virginia creeper, a jungle of new life. Farther back into the trees, the forest floor is covered with May apple, and under every umbrella-like canopy a little green fruit.
Springs, at least the stronger ones, still run clear and cold. We have one at home that supplies three houses and a barn full of livestock, and still overflows. The overflow makes up a little stream that finds its way to another, which leads to Deer Creek, which leads to the Susquehanna.
This is a real river, even in drought. Here in Havre de Grace the Susquehanna slides smoothly by at the town's back, draining about 28,000 square miles of New York and Pennsylvania, and a small corner of Maryland, into the Chesapeake Bay. Where it ducks behind Garrett Island it's more than 60 feet deep.
The river's flow, 40,000 cubic feet per second on the average or nearly 18 million gallons a minute, provides half the bay's fresh water. This is water richness on the grand scale.
Havre de Grace is legally entitled to draw 12 million gallons a day from the river, more than it will ever use. That's about 40 seconds worth of the river's average flow.
The town hasn't ever had to ration water use, and provides some of its surplus to Harford County, which tends to worry, with some reason, that it may one day find itself water-poor. Some of the county's water comes from wells, and when there's a drought, wells can go dry.
Right now, we're having a serious drought, even if Fremen or Nevadans wouldn't call it that. But even the metropolitan television weatherpersons, usually the last to acknowledge that rain has its legitimate uses, have noticed.
The lack of rain has begun to hurt, in ways that are small or large depending on your perspective.
Some of that pretty green corn is only a foot high, and without rain won't make much of a crop. It costs more than $100 to plant an acre of corn. Losses of many thousands of dollars are in the making, if sufficient rain doesn't come soon. Pastures are dry too. Hay crops are way down.
Outside the office, the marigolds in the wooden planters cringe in the afternoon sun. I water them from the city's Susquehanna allotment, but I doubt they'll survive the summer. If I'd known it was going to be so dry, I wouldn't have set out marigolds.
If it never rains again, those of us with cattle will have to shift from bluegrass and fescue to prickly pear, or maybe mesquite, whatever that is. Those of us on public water lines, perhaps even in Havre de Grace, will have to think differently about washing the car, sprinkling the lawn or irrigating the tomatoes.
But one way or another we'll adapt. Most creatures do.
The other day, my father picked up a dead long-tailed weasel on the road. It's a lovely animal, long and lithe, equipped to pursue almost any little creature almost anywhere and kill it savagely. In the north, the weasel turns white in winter and is called ermine; kings trimmed their robes with its fur. But here, the books say, it doesn't change color.
We can't count on snow, and a white weasel on snowless ground would be easier to evade, and to catch. So Maryland weasels have adapted to a milder climate. It's a matter of survival.
I lived once in a place where water was in naturally short supply. You carried it in cans to your house from a drainage ditch, let the sediment settle out, and then boiled it to make it drinkable. Wastewater you saved to put on the garden, unless it was too dirty, in which case it could be used to flush the primitive toilet.
At first, all the hauling and water conservation was a pain. But after a while, a bath with a sponge and a bucket came to seem a lot better than no bath at all, and eventually what began as serious inconvenience turned into taken-for-granted daily routine.
Like Fremen or weasels, we adapt to the climate to survive. But even so, it would be nice to have a wet July.
Peter Jay is editor and publisher of The Record in Havre de Grace.