WITHERING WINDS

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Click above graphic to enlarge. It shows the drought occurring in my area, in southern New Hampshire on the Massachusetts border. I am in the pink area of “moderate drought.”  Boston is in the yellow area of “abnormally dry,” and a graph of its precipitation (shown below) shows even Boston is more than 5 inches (250 mm) below normal for the year. You can click the graph below to enlarge it as well.

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WITHERING WINDS

            I’m busy planting, but feel the urge to post an entry about how dry it is.

It’s so dry that I have to spend time watering my planted rows, twice or three times a day, which is extra work, and a bit unusual. Usually our Yankee springs are wet, if not muddy, and the worry is that seeds may rot in cold muck, before they even sprout, however this year I worry they will sprout, and then the tender roots will shrivel in dust-dry soil near the surface, before they can grow downwards to the moister depths.

Seedlings are tender things, even when they are tough plants who, once established, are the last holdouts when frosts end the summer’s lushness.  Even plants as tough as kale, Brussels sprouts and parsnips begin as delicate and tender little tendrils.

Despite my care, I’ve managed to kill some by crunching them with too much mulch, or allowing them to be bit by frost by not mulching enough, or not being careful enough when I remove the mulch, or not watering them enough, or pounding them with too much water when I spray the garden. I’ve inadvertently killed so many that I won’t have to thin as much as I would have had to thin, had the weather been perfect.

Also I won’t have to weed as much. Because I only mulched the thin line I seeded, and attempted to only water that thin area and not the dirt between the rows, the poor weed seedlings have had a rough time, and have been bitten by frost and shriveled by drought.  I am shedding copious crocodile tears over the seedling weed’s sad fate.

When I am not busy worrying and fretting about the late spring and drought, I am fairly good at seeing the silver lining. “I will not have to thin as much or weed as much,” I say to myself, as I spend time I can ill afford to spend, mulching and watering.

Sometimes I annoy my wife, by refusing to worry and fret, and seeing the silver lining too much.  She thinks there are better ways I could spend my time.

She tends to suggest I have too many interests and spread myself too thin, and urges me to concentrate on a single thing.  This is quite helpful, on occasions when I have forgotten to pay the electricity bill because I am off writing a sonnet.  It is also helpful, on occasions when I am too busy paying bills to remember her birthday.  However, on a whole, I think I do concentrate on a single thing, which is: To spread myself too thin.

I like to think of myself as being a bit like Ben Franklin, who had a wide area of interests.  However I confess this is a two-edged-sword.  At my worst I avoid depth, like a stone merrily skipping out over the surface of a pond, until I am way over my head, whereupon, against my will, things become deep indeed, as I, like a stone, sink.

A practical person would either focus on farming, or on writing.  However I see a common ground in the two occupations. Both involve being dirt poor.  Therefore I attempt an overlap.

When we were first married my patient wife urged me to do less of the scribbling and more of the working.  Back then my only involvement with childcare was my own children, and my way of earning my living was to be a handyman, who learned many trades but was “master of none.”

Now, because my scribbling has been called “interesting” and appeared on the Watts Up With That website, she has changed her tune. Now she urges me to scribble more, and garden less (though the garden is an important part of our Childcare business.)

Where I used to tax her patience by scribbling when I should have headed off to garden, now I tax her patience by gardening when I should be scribbling.

It goes to show you how bull-headed males are.  I actually am the steady one, doing what I always do, which is to spread myself too thin.  It shows you how fickle females are.  First she says I should scribble less, and now she says I should scribble more.

However I see the silver lining, which is the same whether it is the love of a woman, or the weather of New England.  It does not stay the same.  One year it is flood, and the next year it is drought.

Because I am male, I tend to support the mostly-male attribute of digging in my heels, and lowering my shoulder, and refusing to be swayed by the buffeting winds of life.  Sails are wonderful, but without a keel the sails billow and capsize the boat, and you go nowhere.  I’m a keel, a stubborn resistance to tilting, a holding of the ground gained, and, in my personal case, it involves a seemingly irrational insistence that I spread myself too thin.

There is a method behind my madness, and it is this:  If I chose to only write, or to only farm, it would only make sense in the short term.  I see farther, and see a vision of a better life if I do both. Admittedly it divides me, and at times I feel I am being split like a man with one foot on the rowboat and one foot on the dock, however I intend to draw the rowboat back to the dock and to not fall into the water, because the alternative is not to be too wet, but to be too dry.

The alternative is sunshine to excess, and eventually that withers life.  That is hard to conceive, here in New England, where we are too often cold and wet.  However when I was young, in the mid 1960’s, we had quite a drought in New England, much worse than our current drought.  Reservoirs shrank to half their size, and the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts re-exposed the town that was sacrificed when it was created.

In my boyhood haunts, the Stony Brook Reservoir on the border between Waltham and Weston, in Massachusetts, shrank downwards until it exposed a big delta of mud, where Stony Brook entered into that reservoir. Because it was legal to fish in the brook but not the reservoir, I, at age eleven, thought it was great that the brook extended out onto the reservoir, and ventured out on the baked surface of the delta, though it dented under each step. My best friend thought I was nuts, and his fears were realized when I broke through the crust and began sinking in the mud.  My buddy tended to be a bit melodramatic at times, and I was slightly annoyed when he screeched “Quicksand!”  However his bellow awoke me to possible danger.  There was an unpleasant sort of bottomless feeling to the mud, and when it reached the bottom of my thighs I cast all dignity to the wind, and did what I was taught to do, if I ever found myself in quicksand:  Lie flat, and proceed with a breast-stroke motion.

It made a mess of my school clothes, but I extracted myself.  However I had left my fishing rod behind.  Therefore, to the huge annoyance of my best buddy, I again lay flay and went over the cracking surface to retrieved my rod.  My buddy didn’t think a rod was worth it. When my mother saw my school clothes, she didn’t think fishing was worth it. (I didn’t bother explain, because by the time you are eleven you know better than to add to a Mom’s worry.)

In retrospect, my buddy was smart to scream.  The mud, (judging from topography maps of how the brook plunged there, before the reservoir was built and the delta was created,) was nine feet deep.

What is the moral?

The moral is threefold.

First, the guy who made the law against boys fishing in the reservoir could have killed me, because he lacked the foresight to envision a drought, which could extend a harmless brook outwards into a deathtrap banked by a crusted quagmire.  His focus was too narrow, and like many who make laws, he failed to see all consequences.

Second, it is impossible to outlaw all troubles a boy can find for himself, and therefore it is smarter to equip a boy with knowledge of what to do when he gets in trouble.  It may seem odd to modern types, but back in 1964 most boys knew enough to “lie flat and do the breast-stroke,” when they found themselves sinking in quicksand.  For the life of me, I can’t remember who gave me this knowledge, but I’m very glad I possessed it.

Third, drought can happen here in New England, even if it has never happened in your lifetime, because you were not alive in 1964.

And what is drought?  Drought is sunny day after sunny day after sunny day, until even the people of New England, who crave sunny days more often than not, have an insane urge to legislate and abolish sunny days.

Why is it insane?  It is insane because the problem isn’t the golden sunshine and warmth.  The problem is the excess of one side of weather, and the lack of the other.  We need the rainy days.  Even when you are on the side of a thing as lovely as golden sunshine, you need to remember the value of the other side, even if it is as unpleasant as a cold, dark day of chilling rain.

Day before yesterday was a very warm day with a strong breeze, with gusts of gale force, and, because the temperatures were touching 80 (F) it made me remember lore I have heard of the “withering wind.”

Once, when the oaks were golden, and all the plants were tender, a hot spell came from the southwest, bringing air from the deserts of Arizona to New England’s springtime.  The weather pattern squeezed this hot air mass to a degree where the winds reached gale force, even as temperatures passed ninety. So hot were these winds that all the tender sprouts on budding trees were burned and shriveled, and within hours all the trees were blasted and shriveled.  The weather passed in a matter of hours, but the landscape looked more ruined than any frost could have ruined it.

In conclusion, to be one-sided is to be on the wrong side.  Even lovely things like sunshine and warm weather can wind up shriveling life, and be withering winds.

It is far better to be broad minded and embrace both sides, though people will call you two-faced, and your wife may accuse you of spreading yourself too thin.  Even though you may feel as ripped in two as a man with one foot on the rowboat and one on the dock, it is better to support a two-party system than a one party dictatorship, and  better to support a two sex marriage than a one sex myopia…

…And, in my case, it is best to spread yourself too thin, and attempt to be both an otherworldly writer and a very-worldly planter of a vegetable garden, even in a drought, than it is to be anything less.

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One thought on “WITHERING WINDS

  1. Pingback: HERE COMES ANDREA | Sunrise's Swansong

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