It’s a hard question for gardeners when there is a severe drought: Do the trees get watered or the well be saved? Both seem essential to life.
The news report said that the drought in my area mimicked the intensity and duration of the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s. It was crippling. Driving the back roads of surrounding counties I saw the crops fail on the family farms of Hannewald, Sweet, and Katz. Their fields of soy and corn are stunted, curled and dull. I pass by dark black holes that use to be their irrigation ponds, now lined with a cracked layer of dried mud. This insidious disaster is stealing their livelihood, leaving nothing but the violation of loss and hopelessness.
I noticed the other day the rigidness of the corn stalks. Their hard and desiccated leaves are no longer a supple green, but dull silver and only a day or two away from turning dark tan. They looked pained as their leaves roll tightly in upon themselves, pointing toward the heavens, a congregation begging in prayer. The final act of violence by this vandal of summer was to lay low the stalks. A stiff breeze blew hot at 104 degrees, and the stalks unable to stand against the searing wind fell to the ground one against the other like dominoes.
The trees are no less devastated; their suffering is just less obvious. The tips of limbs are flaccid, and hanging from them are dull limp leaves curling in. Towards the interior of the canopy are shards of vivid red and yellow leaves clinging uselessly by dried-out stems.
Massive oak trees that were seedlings after the last 100 Year Drought are now in decline. Other beautiful mature trees that gave us shelter, shade and food are also on a slow march towards death. My bright yellow honeylocust, the aged apple tree, the crabapple and serviceberry—all in need of water. They are like dear friends, who all at once, are stricken by the same disaster. So many in need, can I not at least save one?
Returning home after morning Mass I notice the homes of other parishioners with yards and gardens as devastated as mine. Before I reach the turn onto my road I see the homes of two families whose shallow wells have run dry. Equipment trucks are parked on what use to be green lawns. With attached derricks rotated and posted thirty feet high, the rotary drill cuts through rocks and despair. My heart aches for these not-so-distant neighbors.
My heart also cries for my trees, for my neighbor’s woodlot behind the fence, for the stately evergreens at the retreat center that have sheltered four generations of souls into spiritual development. It is an obvious but disconcerting choice of who lives from what water remains underground. It is hard for a gardener to resign oneself to the loss of a mature tree whether from disease or drought.
The right choice may be to conserve water for families and to surrender one’s own wants for their well-being. It doesn’t make the decision any easier. Choosing what is right is not always so obvious, but it is easy to spot absolute truth, wanting what is best for another.
Like the corn stalks, I too will raise my arms in supplication for rain. I will pray not only for my neighbors’ wells, but also for our trees.