— By Elizabeth Speth
This is not a weather blog. It is not even a blog about the drought we are experiencing in California. I won’t be going on and on about it after this. But I am an outside-dwelling creature, a grower of gardens, a hiker of hills, a wildflower-admirer, a river-canyon-skirting rider of horses. It’s just what’s in front of me right now.
I promise we will move on from here, beyond my parched skin, the landscaping that can’t be resuscitated. This summer may not be blessed with lettuces, radishes and cucumbers from my garden. August may not see a single heirloom tomato from our soil. Basil-less, I may actually run out of my frozen stores of pesto. Maybe this is the year we will actually be evacuated in a wildfire inferno.
But I am only half paying attention to all that.
I am feverish, dizzy, transfixed by this new landscape, this moonscape of withholding created by Mother Nature. Even at her most austere, even as she fixes me with her ‘no, you may not have it’ glare of pale cloudless sky — that empty blue stare — I am utterly confounded by her beauty.
Let me show you what I mean. I live nearly on the shore of a very large California water storage reservoir. Folsom Lake is usually lazily spreading itself this time of year, nourishing wildflowers on its banks, and heavy green growth on its trails. It’s usually twinkling back at the sun, teasing the high horse trails at the top of the surrounding hills, pretend-threatening to flood. Getting ready for a glut of boats and other watercraft that will invade it in the summer.
This year it looks like a beloved but terminally ill relative you haven’t seen since the diagnosis. It is shockingly shrunken, tragically doomed and nearly unrecognizable. It has crept back, exhaustedly ceded territory jealously guarded underwater for years. Telling secrets kept for decades. Hundred-year-old towns, abandoned to flooding, are poking their ruins up through the mud.
A couple of weeks ago, while hiking with friends in the nearly dry lake bed, my son took this picture.
That same day, I was riding my horse through a hauntingly beautiful place I’d never seen, though I’ve traversed this lake trail hundreds of times.
As I rode away from the ‘water’, such as it was, I beheld a gray and barren meadow that was uniquely stunning.
After the ride, with no rain to hold down the billowing dust, all was visual chaos in the pasture as my horse rolled and shook off the vestiges of his work day. The setting sun set the floating, dry, unanchored dirt on fire, and produced these indelible images:
On an average winter day, this would have been just a horse rolling in the mud.
This morning, when I trundled my wheelbarrow of horse poop past the weed-strewn vegetable garden to the compost pile, I averted my eyes. It pains me to think we may not be able to plant this year. The normally verdant area looks neglected, desperate, as if we’d given up on it. But then a glorious flash of purple caught my eye. Rising through the cracked dirt, a sturdy volunteer completely out of place, offspring of some long-forgotten ancestral seed, a clump of drought-tolerant and incredibly fragrant rosemary.
‘Shall I bloom?’ it seemed to ask.
Yes, I thought.
Bloom because we don’t always get what we want in this life. Or even what we expect.
We understand that. But we can do more than just accept it.
We can stop wringing our hands, for a moment, and open our eyes.
Perhaps there will be gifts.