by Kate Heyhoe
"Spring," my gray-haired mother chirps, "is my favorite season!"
And why shouldn't it be? What's not to like about spring? Even the worst pollen-allergy sufferers sport Flonase like battle-armor, then charge outdoors to mingle with chartreuse blades of grass. Stare long enough and you can literally see leaves growing, while flowers fan open their petals like slow-motion fireworks.
But this has got to be the most crazy-mixed up spring I've ever seen—thanks to one of the worst droughts in Texas' history. We suffered a winter so mild and dry, I actually finished writing a barbecue book in the hot days of December—grilling recipes in t-shirt temperatures, completely out of synch with the limited daylight hours normal for that time of year.
Peach trees, the gold prize of the local hill country, bloomed in January. Our apple tree burst its blossoms then, too. The cats were chasing chameleons way back in November, when the little critters (the lizards and the cats) are normally inactive and hibernating. Turtles have migrated far down the creek, abandoning dried up beds in search of shallow ponds. Roadside bluebonnets, the state flower and spring tourist attraction, remain scarce, lacking the fall and spring rains needed to shed their seed coat. (As they say in these parts, even the trees are bribing the dogs.)
Hay is as costly a fuel for farmers as gasoline is for truckers. A nearby horse shelter gets hit with a double whammy: they can't afford hay for the horses they've rescued, and they can't place the horses with average-income homes because of the high cost of hay. Of course, being an industrialized nation, our humans will fare far better than wildlife, or the people of Kenya, Malawi, or Tanzania. If things get really bad, we'll simply truck in water and food from other states or nations. Just like that, no U.N. aid required.
The most frustrating thing about a drought is there's nothing we can do to reverse the trend. When it comes to solutions, we're powerless. And unlike a hurricane which blows through quickly, a drought crawls through time. Droughts may lack the drama of storms and floods, but when it comes to crops and lives, they're far more damaging.
Does global warming play a hand in the drought? I suspect so, and even if it doesn't, doing our share to reverse global warming makes sense, no matter what. Experts say La Niña is more directly to blame, and they advise us to brace ourselves: this drought could last for months, and maybe years.
If you live in Northern California or Indiana, droughts weren't a concern this season (rain and flooding were more likely). Yet whenever a major agricultural state suffers extreme drought, the effects eventually catch up with everyone's shopping cart. Cattle, corn, dairy. Grapefruit, avocados, and asparagus. Watermelons, potatoes, and pumpkins. Summer to spring, winter to fall. Even cotton, Texas' number one cash crop, could add a few cents to the cost of sleeping in new sheets (or buying potato chips, which are typically fried in cottonseed oil).
This season I'm enjoying the local produce with exuberance, and making an extra effort to "buy Texas." Sure, we live in a global economy where plums come from Chile and asparagus from Mexico. But there's no replacement for visiting a u-pick peach orchard and making off with enough fruit for a killer peach pie. Or chatting with folks at market and roadside stands while sampling fresh-picked baby lettuce, tender sugar peas, or lusty purple eggplant. Or just buying produce specifically from farmers who need our help just to stay in business.
Texas is the nation's third largest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables. So this year, when I see produce prices leap off the charts, I'll better understand the reasons why—it's not just those artificially-inflated, record-profit-making fuel costs, it's a genuine bona-fide disaster, immune to even the most powerful monopoly or government decree.
Yet even as the drought continues, I'm pleased to observe that spring, the season, still comes around. It's like an enormous disconnect in nature: Yes, a disastrous weather event is happening, but even in this part of the planet, we're going to keep doing all those things we always do in spring. Daffodils are pushing up despite the rock-hard soil, birds are finding bugs, and the cats are still chasing chameleons (the ones left over from November). Spring, whether it likes it or not, is up and running. She may not be the prettiest girl at the dance this year, but she's still the sweetest gal in town.
So from spinach salads to Easter dinners, here are a few of my favorite ways to celebrate the sweetness of spring. (And if you believe that a collective consciousness can change the world, think rain—by the Texas-sized barrel full!)
Copyright © 2006, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created April 2006
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