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Praying for Rain

August 20, 2012

As I write these words, a gentle rain is falling in my backyard. A drought, however, continues to intensify over much of the Midwest and Plains sections of the United States.  More than half of the entire country is in a moderate drought. Nearly forty percent of the United States is in a severe drought. Climatologists estimate that this pattern will continue over much of the country through October.

Miss Maude and Creech, whom I have mentioned before, enjoyed a simple life in Barnwell County, South Carolina.  Their home, an unpainted clapboard house perched atop heart pine logs, was lighted with kerosene lamps.  Meals were cooked on a wood stove, which also served as their only source of heat during the winter months.

In the summertime, Miss Maude and Creech would sit together in matching rocking chairs on a shaded porch that wrapped around the house.  It was common for Creech to wear a straw hat, a long-sleeved cotton shirt, and overalls. Miss Maude, who often wore a sunbonnet and faded calico dress, cooled herself with a fan woven from a Palmetto palm.

The pair drew water in a wooden bucket from a deep well because the house had no running water. Miss Maude washed dishes in a blue enamel pan.  They took turns bathing in a galvanized tin tub in the kitchen once a week, usually on Saturday, whether they needed it or not. The leftover water, taken to their lush flower and fruitful vegetable gardens, was poured from a white porcelain pitcher around individual plants.  That water provided the moisture needed in the heat of the Low Country. Their conservation of water is to be admired and emulated.

At the end of July 2012, Barnwell County, their home place, was designated as suffering from severe drought. The South Carolina Drought Response Committee reports continuing severe drought conditions for Abbeville, McCormick, Edgefield, and Aiken counties in the Savannah River Basin. Oconee, Pickens, Anderson, Saluda, Greenwood, Greenville, Newberry, Laurens, and Lexington counties are experiencing moderate drought conditions.

Lack of precipitation during the past fall and winter contributed to the low moisture conditions. Limited rainfall and above normal temperatures during spring and early summer have produced the severe drought. These conditions from mid-June through mid-July have destroyed crops and pastures and caused lake levels to drop below normal. Lake Jocassee is twenty-two feet below normal while Hartwell and Thurmond are both ten feet lower than normal. The rainfall patterns have increased slightly but overcoming the deficiency during the summer months is difficult due to increased evaporation.

Wildfires in the western states have dominated the news this year. Drought conditions have also put South Carolina at increased risk for summer wildfires. Each year, the Palmetto State averages about 4,000 fires that burn approximately 24,000 acres, according to the South Carolina Forestry Commission.

Though the situation is not nearly so critical for most of us, the drought that has persisted in United States through the summer has been difficult for many who love to garden. We have tried to stay ahead of the drought by watering regularly and by mulching deeply, but many gardeners have lost prized trees and shrubs.  Vegetable and flower gardens have also suffered.

I have paid special attention to the plants in my garden that have survived.  While I have lost a number of plants, I have learned that next year I should plant more succulents like the always reliable sedums; more heat-tolerant annuals such as vinca, cosmos, cleome, and portulaca; and more drought-tolerant perennials like verbena, black-eyed Susan, yarrow, and coneflowers. Knockout roses have survived well.

Clare and I have also learned some important lessons about conserving water.

  • It is not wise or practical to leave a sprinkler running for several hours because too much water is lost due to evaporation.
  • We use plastic dishpans in our kitchen sink to conserve dishwater.  Hanging baskets, flowerpots, and flower boxes all get a daily drink of this recycled water.
  • Shorter showers are in order.  We use a three-gallon bucket placed under the faucet to collect water while it reaches to the right temperature.  Trees and shrubs that must be watered deeply love this recycled water.

We’ve learned from necessity the lessons that Miss Maude and Creech demonstrated so beautifully on their farm long ago.

While public officials guide us in measures to conserve water that are in the best interest of us all, we as individuals and families have responsibilities, too. Coping with the drought requires that we all protect this resource.

We need to pray for the folks so severely affected by drought.  Let’s also pray for rain!


Kirk H. Neely
© August 2012

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