FARMGIRL ANGST: Parched

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The first thing I hear in the morning besides birdsong is the sound of the rye field. It’s drying, soon to be combined, five feet tall and thick. Fifteen acres of it softly rattle when a light wind moves across. It is a truly peaceful noise, a whispered disturbance you’d barely notice but primitive in its appeal—mature grain for the months and times when there is not so much fruit ripening on the vine.

It’s not so lush. I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve had a meaningful rain, but it’s too dry to work the ground as it will rise up and blow away if you stir it with an implement. I try to irrigate, till and plant some late beans, more lettuce, a seed bed for broccoli and cauliflower, but before I can finish these three steps the strips of earth are parched again; it flows up through the shoes like heavy talc, but is too hot to walk on barefoot. By our standards this is a drought.

And yet when I am done washing lettuce, I let the basin pour out onto the grass. A half-bucket gets tossed and nobody gasps. Perhaps the fact that it is transparent, that it has no odor, that it vanishes so naturally and beneficially back into the ground, makes the over-use of water easy. Here, when water spills, there is the sense that it’s just going back to where it came from.

When I turn on my irrigation, before the line has fully pressurized, a young grackle comes out from the pea stubble. He is drawn near by the sound of a leaking union. The bird is stealing; I say this because he acts that way. He pokes forward for the water, dipping his long beak into the steady bead. He has one eye on me, and his bronze body is flinching all the while, half driven to flee but kept by the severity of his thirst. Life flocks to the leaks, other birds, butterflies, bees. Thin-waisted wasps take mud for their adobe. Even ladybugs slide along the condensation on the hose. Water, unlike the other famously tight resource, is the real prerequisite for life.

There is water here and it always rains eventually. So, for now, it’s just a matter of getting to it and the energy it takes—mine and the Briggs & Stratton pump, begging the water back out of the earth and up the lot in 2-inch sprinkler pipe. We farm in a place where lack of regular rain can still be mitigated. It’s true nothing greens things up like real rain, but drip tape goes a long way and does a good job while we wait. You never want to curse a drought, no matter how many of your hours it consumes or seedlings it burns up. It could turn into a flood, a rainy season, when the fruit doesn’t ripen sweet and the rye resprouts before it’s harvested.

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Marilee Foster farms and writes in Sagaponack.