Monday, July 30, 2012

Water for King Sun

Living in the woods means living with wildlife. Our garden plots are not landscaped works of art. They are usually dotted with tomato cages, covered with screens and surrounded by chicken wire to discourage deer, keep out rabbits and baffle raccoons.

Even so, the fennel was mowed down once and sprang up again — after which it was apparently inhaled, leaving taproot-shaped holes in the soil. Diggers uprooted the new lemon balm not once but four or five times. Deer may not actually eat coral bells, but this didn’t stop somebody from yanking a new plant up and tossing it across the garden — three times. Early one morning two fawns and their mother came within yards of my window and breakfasted on the last of the struggling pepper plants. They also munched up the begonias and oxalis and grazed on hackberry leaves. Times are tough.

This summer all of us are dealing with a drought. As water becomes scarce, wildlife becomes bold. I left three small water jugs by the driveway one evening, planning to pour them into birdbaths the next day. I found them opened and spilled in the morning. Raccoons have no problem manipulating twist-off caps. I’ve regretted buying a squat seven-gallon water container because it’s difficult to carry. Now though, I’ve discovered the beauty of its cubic design. It’s raccoon-proof. They had a go at it, punching it a few times and peeling its label from three sides in a single long strip. I found the label wrapped around a tree trunk, but the container and the awkward valve on its top were intact.

In Julius Lester’s wonderful retelling of the Uncle Remus stories, King Sun sends his servant Raccoon to the spring for drinking water. “Three times a day he’d climb down with a bucket in his hand and climb back up with the bucket on his head . . . He brought the bucket of water to King Sun, who grabbed his dipper and drank and drank until it looked like his fire might go out.” *

Perhaps I should provide a bucket of water three times a day for Raccoon to carry to King Sun as an offering to break the drought. I think the raccoons in my timber could handle the job.

*Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales as told by Julius Lester

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dry Spell

In spite of rare and scattered rain, this is the middle of a drought. Summer weather has become desert heat. Yesterday’s high temperature was only 97°F. It felt like a respite. Tomorrow is set to go for 105.

We’ve been watering every day, using rainwater harvested from the roof. It’s a sweaty chore in the mornings. The newer plants are struggling. Even the lemon balm is showing signs of distress, although ragweed is flourishing along the roadsides.

I don’t want to write about plants in this heat. Describing the wilted pitcher sage leaves and the drooping skullcap is too depressing. Rejoicing in the blossoms of blackberry lilies and black-eyed susans might backfire and work as a jinx. The relentless sun blows out half my attempts at photography.
I learned a new word today: Petrichor — the smell of the earth when rain begins. The term was coined in 1964 by Australian researchers. During dry spells, some plants exude an oil that slows plant growth and seed germination. Rocks and clay soils absorb the oil and release it under rain. Petrichor combines the meanings of stone and the ichor that flows in the veins of gods.

A simple rain spell consists of pouring water over stone. I did that this evening under the crescent moon, remembering a verse from Stanley Lombardo’s translation of the Iliad:
Think of lightning: Hera’s rich hair streams
In the sky when her husband builds storms.

I want clouds to stream in the sky, hard soil to open under showers and stones to flow with oil. I want the earth to release her birthing scent into the rain.