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Where's a drought when you need one?

June 21, 1999

Until this year, droughts have never caught my eye one way or the other. It always rains in the grocery store produce section, I reasoned.

But this year is different. For reasons I have yet to resolve within myself, I've been playing the role of gentleman farmer, hilling potatoes, cutting poles for beans, plowing under cover crops, fertilizing asparagus, propagating blueberries and mowing meadows.

I have learned to appreciate the lonely, rudimentary chink of a metal hoe blade against small stones, a primeval, tool-on-soil sound known since the beginning of the Hoe Age.

Suddenly I have an awakened interest in plant life and all its attending lords, including the most important element, rainfall.

I have toiled so purposefully, strained so tirelessly, invested so much of myself in the process that now I cannot get the specter of a prolonged moisture shortage out of my mind. It's all I think about; I hang on the Weather Channel's every update, passionately praying, praying, that we will have a major drought.

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You heard me. I want everything to stop its infernal growth. And a drought is the best way I can think of to stunt the grass so it doesn't need mowing, retard the beans so they won't need picking, shrivel the weeds so they won't need pulling.

If it doesn't dry up, and fast, I will be faced with bushels of grapes, truckloads of tomatoes and enough shell beans to inflict serious fluctuations in the Chicago commodities market.

I've discovered that gardening is work. Who knew? And work, well you know, it just kills me. I need relief. I want to sit on the porch with a glass of lemonade gazing at a world where plants are locked permanently in their death throes of crispy brown parchedness.

The weeds shouldn't just die, they should die painfully. Weeds are a mental disease with leaves, coming back larger and more deformed every time you try to beat them back. That's assuming I can tell them apart from the vegetables, which I almost universally can't.

I may have to start enlisting the assistance of small animals, which up till now I've been incorrectly perceiving as the enemy.

I didn't want to be cruel about it despite the evils they had visited on my cabbage patch, so I'd meticulously bait one of those Hav-A-Heart traps that humanely catches the animals alive.

Then I'd gently place the trap in the truck, give the animal a little water and drive it to a remote section of the county where I would carefully open the trap door, remove the offending rodent from the cage - and proceed to beat it to death with a club.

Obviously I'm still struggling with the whole groundhog forgiveness paradigm. I've also petitioned the Hav-A-Heart company to build a deer-sized trap, with something of a negative in the way of results.

But perhaps I was too hasty. The more peas the rabbits eat, the fewer I will have to pick and worse, shell - the horticultural equivalent of tearing open tip-jar packets.

Now the bunnies are my friends. If he eats the lettuce, I will calmly nominate him for a Peter award.

But rabbits, like people, are not entirely dependable. They tend to bite off corn plants here and there - perhaps because they lack the benefit of Edwards Deming ergonomics courses - instead of efficiently beginning at one end of a row and working their way linearly to the other.

So a drought's my best shot. I have here my 1987 Rolodex, and am trying to contact some cloud seeders. If the fruit begins to size up, I'm cooked.

Face it, I am hideously out of place; I yearn for the safe, climate control of the supermarket produce aisle. If nothing else, I've learned that vegetables are a lot more at home on the range than I am.

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