On Drought and Desperation

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Corn languishing in one of Brian’s fields.
Corn languishing in one of Brian’s fields.[/caption]

I’ve gone back to the farm market every day to get that amazing sweet corn for the magical ten days the farmer will have it.  I go in the late afternoon when I need a break from writing.  Normally I’d be out hiking with Hannah, but the relentless heat has stopped us.

The drought here seemed bad when we were just dealing with trying to keep our own yard, vegetables, flowers and trees alive.  For all of June and July, we had almost no rain at all.  Two tenths of an inch in the last three weeks, for example.  The leaves in the woods are limp and withering, the underbrush dried and brown.  Harker’s Run and even the much larger Four Mile Creek are barren.  Yards, landscaping, anything that’s not being watered is dying or already gone.

But then yesterday I talked with Brian, the farmer up the road, and got much deeper feeling about what the drought means beyond having a ridiculously high water bill, or knowing that prices will go up at the grocery store and the gas station.

As we stood just under the roof of his market, Brian–perhaps in his early forties, tall, with cornflower blue eyes in a weather-dark face–pointed to our north at empty fields the color of desert sand.

“Those are my pastures.  My cattle should be on them now, but there’s nothing for them to eat.  I’m having to cut and chop the failed corn to feed them, and I’m already buying hay.  I shouldn’t have to buy hay until almost December.  I’ve got 24 cows and 21 kid.  They’re eating 3 bales a day now.  Last year a bale cost me $25.00 to $30.00; right now I’m paying $85.00 to $90.00.   I’m hauling water every day.  I can’t sustain it.  If we don’t get rain, I’m going to have to sell the herd to slaughter.”  Sweating, he shook his head as he ran his hand over his mustache.  He pointed acoss the highway, then leveled his hand above the shoulder of his plaid shirt.  “Corn should be this high.  It’s hardly to my thigh.”  His hand brushed his jeans showing me the stunted height.  “Can’t do anything but cut it down now.  Even my tomatoes.  Those I can water, but it’s the heat.  They’re way small.  If I get a couple of inches of rain this week and next, I can save something.  Then I’m looking at about a $45,000 loss.  If we don’t get rain, it’s headed to over $100,000.  I don’t see how we can sustain that.  I don’t see how.”

“Do you have crop insurance?”

“Can’t afford it.  Only the really big guys can get it.  Too expensive.  At this point, I’d take a tornado, just for the water.”

I reacted to that, expecting him to walk it back.  Rain, rain, yes, but a tornado could destroy everything.  After all, he has barns, a home, all the machinery, the market, the cattle.

But he stuck with it.  “No, I’d take a tornado.  I might lose a couple of buildings or even more but it would bring water.  And I’d do anything for water now.  People don’t understand.  Corn is everything.”  He was adamant, looking me straight in the eye, wanting me to get it.

It was Brian’s father’s, this proud, beautiful farm, acres of pasture and crops surrounded by clean white-painted board fencing.  It doesn’t seem imaginable that this hard-working man, on the job seven days a week, could possibly wish for a tornado, but that’s exactly what he said.  Anything for water.  Anything, he said.  Sometimes you get a look at desperation, and you see that it puts human beings in a whole different mindset.  It’s important for writers working to portray human character and motivation to remember that.  But everyone should remember that.

6 Responses to On Drought and Desperation

  1. My spouse thinks this blog should be sent to the Hamilton Jr or Press…as it is so well written and puts so much emotion behind all of the concerns over the drought. Well done Lynne, but so damned sad!

    • Thank you for the kind words. I haven’t seen how the Hamilton Journal has been covering the drought, but it’s something to look into! And it’s a good idea about the Oxford Press. The situation is terribly sad; as I drove up Route 27 recently, I saw corn fields that are so sunburned they are entirely brown now. No trace of green remaining.

  2. It’s heart-wrenching when you consider the choices farmers are being pressed to make because of the drought. Here in Weld County, CO, one of the largest corn producing counties in the nation, there are farmers who put their limited funds towards maintenance of agritourism, rather than crop production, because the huge influx of tourists in the fall for Harvest Festivals and the immensely popular corn mazes (equipped with electronically animated life-sized figures to scare them) pay the bills. Fritzler’s, our favorite sweet corn in these parts, decided to halve corn production this year. He says there’s plenty of corn, and there won’t be a crop shortage, only increased prices at the grocery store. These will play forward onto the myriad products, from cosmetics to fuel, which are manufactured from corn. It seems to me we’ve got a case of fiddling while Rome is burning.

    • Thanks so much for contributing! Brian, too, usually has a big, popular corn maze in mid-October; he took the chance and planted it about three weeks ago, but mentioned that he now thinks that, too, may fail as it’s not growing due to lack of rain.

  3. “Important for writers…but everyone.” Can’t add anything to the comments, and I DEFINITELY can’t add anything to your piece. Can only humbly second the motion that you seek other venues and other readers.

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