In the grip of Maryland's worst drought in 30 years and Gov. Parris N. Glendening's call for voluntary water rationing, most lawns have gone a splotchy brown in the suburbs of Glen Echo, Bethesda and Chevy Chase. Any verdant stretch of grass there stands out now, the way a glittering jewel does around rags, gaudily so, drawing the attention of the envious and irritated.
"You absolutely know that anybody with nice grass these days is watering it," said Jeannie Evans, working on her mother's yard in Old Bethesda on another scorching Saturday afternoon that left her cheeks streaked with a light film of sweat and her disposition colored red.
"I mean there some lawns around here that have patches of dirt, and then you see one lawn with green, all green. It bothers me that anybody would use water on lawns or washing their cars now. Their priorities are out of whack. I mean, who really cares if your lawn dies? It grows back."
Maryland's water shortage is much worse in the Baltimore region than in the Washington suburbs that draw water from the Potomac River. But among the homeowners interviewed yesterday in this well-manicured corner of Montgomery County, there was no scorn or rebellion, no modern-day Boston Lawn Party, after Glendening's call for all state residents to stop watering their lawns and washing their cars.
It was instead a mix of weary resignation and muted acceptance.
Even those with near-perfect lawns did not complain. "It's not [Glendening's] fault," said 27-year-old lawyer Judi McDermott, whose house on Huntington Parkway includes an eye-catching green lawn that stands in stark contrast to the oatmeal shade of her neighbors' grass.
Until Glendening's announcement of voluntary water restrictions on Thursday, McDermott had watered her grass daily, after her morning run. Since then, not a drop, she said. "I mean I'm disappointed. Without water, the grass will die, and I don't want it to die. I've worked on keeping it nice. But what can you do?"
She turned to look at her lawn. It had been without water for only 48 hours but already, amid its lush greens, you could see the makings of a few sallow patches, the first stage toward the hues she didn't want, a lawn that would probably soon be indistinguishable from her neighbors' parched patches.
Sweat running down her face, she stood on the grass in her running togs, looking for a philosophical bent to the brown coming. She said she saw the relevant issues. "However you want to look at it, the reservoirs are down--it's just a question of how much. So we have to do something. It's the smart thing, I guess. As much as I like a good lawn, some things are obviously much more important."
McDermott said she won't water at all if mandatory restrictions are imposed, something that could happen as early as this week, according to state officials. And if the calls to conserve remain voluntary? "I will probably water occasionally," she said. "I don't want to lose my entire lawn."
A man in the neighborhood was a lone underground dissident. Distrustful of government edicts, he hadn't watered the lawn in recent days only because "you'd be made to feel like a leper around here if you did," he complained. "What if you have grass dying? I'm tempted [to water], but I probably won't. Especially if there's a law. You live with it."
Mother Nature wasn't providing a way out of the dilemma. It was yet another dry, stifling day as temperatures reached 100 degrees and higher in several spots around the Washington area. Reagan National Airport hit 100 degrees, just a bit under the record for the date of 103 degrees set in 1954, according to the National Weather Service. The highest temperatures in the region were in Fredericksburg and Fort Belvoir, which both hit 102.
A cold front is expected to move through the area today, however, creating a 30 percent chance of scattered showers and thunderstorms. And while peak temperatures will again reach the high 90s today, they may drop by as much as 10 degrees by tomorrow--and should remain below 90 through Thursday, according to the Weather Service.
On Honeywell Lane in Bethesda, 17-year-old Brian Gelfand was washing his father's black Saab in their driveway, bringing a nice shine to it, the sun glinting off the roof, a sparkle of affluence. At that moment, his father arrived home, walking up the driveway, smiling. "The restrictions haven't gone into place yet, have they?" Dr. Richard Gelfand asked.
Assured that there were no mandatory restrictions yet, he smiled and shrugged. "Then this is all right for now," he said. "We hadn't washed the car for a month. If there's a shortage problem, and it seems a problem, we will do our part."
He pointed to brown parts of his own lawn. "We've been reducing our watering as much as reasonably possible. Once a week for the lawn. We have shrubs that have had to be watered, or else they might [die]. . . . But we'll do what we're asked to do."
Audrey Walker, a neighbor of McDermott's, looked at her lawn and sighed. It had gone dormant on her in April, and she had made it lush again, only now to hear that she might need to stop watering it for good.
"Yes, I'll be irritated if it dies," she said. "But if it dies, it dies. You can bring a lawn back, you can make it again. I've done it before. Some things take precedence over a lawn."
She gestured toward another shimmering lawn across the street. "I think that's what most will say. Lawns come and go. People understand that."
Staff writer Mary Louise Schumacher contributed to this report.