Drought Worries

We’re in for a hot summer, and the water table is lower than it’s ever been at this time of year. I can judge this by the pond, which is lower that it’s ever been at this time of year. Even with the slow melting snow, which blanketed our region in almost 20″, there is not enough water. When it snowed in February, we then had a month of dry cold. This meant no rain, and that trend carried over into March, where on the last two days of winter, we had 79F temperatures for three days. A nice Spring welcome, but a detriment to the temperate rain-forest climate of The Pacific Northwest.

Seedlings are not springing up in lush green pastures. There are few blossoms out because they were trying to peek out in late January before the snow. Now many hang dead and brown from the tips of many trees and shrubs. There is rain falling now, but barely enough to soak the ground. It’s our rain time, and there is so little falling, we won’t rebuild our ground water before the hot summer hits. And it will be hot.

Fire marshals around the state are already in a frenzy. They can’t find enough firefighters to fill their crews. People are burnt out, literally and figuratively from the past five years of scorched earth all around. The heat will not stop, and even when we’ve had record breaking rains in Winter, the Summer fires keep on coming. This summer is going to be very brutal, and anyone not aware of water conservation in our area is going to feel the pain of a dry well, maybe for the first time.

At Leafhopper Farm, we’ve got an extra 20,000 gallons for watering, but that’s for the new orchard, not the gardens and other productive spots in our Zone 1 area of cultivation, not to mention the young oak and chestnut groves in the outer zones. This Summer will be a real test for us all. Besides the plants, I’m also worried about the people. We don’t have air conditioner, there is no filtration on the air from outside to inside, and with fire comes a lot of smoke. Western Washington may end up being a miserable place in summer.

Our stream has not flooded once this year, and that’s unusual, because Fall is a great rain time, and we didn’t get much, winter was too cold for rain, so we lost that, and now, Spring is holding back too. For people who don’t like rain, and there are many, this may seem like an ideal situation, with lots of good weather to go outside in. But for the ecosystem, it’s a death blow. We’ve been struggling with drought issues here for decades, and I think that stress is finally beginning to show in the red cedars.

The Western Hemlocks started crashing first. Many on my farm are half dead or fully dead. They are the first to decline in drought stricken landscapes, for they are major water lovers, and cannot stand too long with their roots dry. Red cedars are also water loving, but can hold up better to the dry months. It’s been too many months of dry, years, even decades. It’s finally showing in our “tree of life” as the native people reverently call the cedars. This life is drying up, turning brown. It’s subtle, like most change on a global scale. Yet many humans are still denying the painful truth; we are causing this change.

We caused it when we clear cut the old growth forests for mindless consumption. We caused it with chemical applications to the soil we eroded by clear-cutting and tilling. We caused it again with our burning of endless fossil fuels into the atmosphere, rendering our thin membrane of protection a greenhouse, cooking us in our own juices. Like a frog on slow boil, we enjoy the hot tub for just a little longer. Many have already drugged themselves out for the ride, while others skim what they can in short term prophet from the surface.

Watching young people marching for change is disheartening, because the only change they will see in their own lifetimes is one of suffering and decline. Slow decline, so we don’t feel it until it’s too late. Sorry to be such a downer, but this is the future of my generation, and those to come. So, while I can, I’ll try to steward a small piece of the world with intention. Leafhopper Farm is about taking what comes and turning it into more resiliency for food security. Nature is a great teacher, and with these lessons in climate change, I’ll also embrace the call of a lark, rustle of a squirrel in the hedge, or the braying of a lamb on the pasture, still clicking teeth on lush grasses as the lazes through a foggy morning. This is the calm before the storm.

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