If you’re looking for me this summer, I’m in the garden. This place belongs to another family, but age and illness have diminished their capacity to care for it, and I’m so glad to have my hands in their dirt. I’ve never lived with an orchard before, never grew fruit. Had to watch some YouTube videos to learn how to prune roses. It’s invigorating. The only real problem is water. We are running out of water. Our garden water is not potable, drawn from a pond through an irrigation system, a pond that in years past was more than adequate, but this year is evaporating in the heat and not being replenished by rain. A few times a week I run a sprinkler system to give the plants a sense of abundance, a half hour of wet luxury in the austere expanse of brown all around them. It’s a moment of luxury for me, too. Water is a pleasure.
When the white-hot sky greys with cloud cover and the temperature drops, we feel it and rush outdoors to look up and see if those clouds carry good news. So far, not so much. I live in the southern Willamette Valley in Oregon, in a town known as the Emerald City that is the grass seed capital of the world. Vast stretches of flat land stretch to the mountains covered with the many different kinds of grass you can buy in your local garden supply store. From a distance the shades of green vary slightly, but when you look closely at the plants, you see the differentiating shape of the slender blades, the robust stalks and artsy seed heads. Living here you begin to appreciate the diversity of grass. But grass needs water to be green, and around here right now, green grass is a luxury.
Most of the grass on the landscape around our house is crispy. You can hear the crunch when you walk. We are withholding water from the lawn and the shrubbery to give it to the roses, the dahlias, the hydrangeas, and my struggling vegetable garden of herbs, a few scrawny tomato plants and some green beans. On days when I’m feeling bleak, I water each individual plant with a hose, counting the seconds in my head to measure their allotment. It feels stingy, but I’m afraid of running out of water. We have to make the pond water last until the rainy season. That could be October or November.
That’s why I crave the smell of rain. It’s a flip in my consciousness to dread sunlight, but that’s just how it is these days. I’m waiting for rain the way a little kid waits for Santa. Fearless free flowing clean water is a gift. Not far from here a very small town drew down the level of water in their water tower to fight a wildfire that consumed a 30-acre timber mill after a pile of logs spontaneously combusted in the intense light. Now the town has a water shortage. Conservation choices are a puzzle. Save the jobs or save the water? Sometimes we don’t even realize the choices we’re making. So watering the garden is a special time of day for me when my psyche is calmed by the scent of wet earth, and I imagine myself a mermaid among roses soaking up a wildly delightful moment of luxury. Water.