IĎll be the first to admit, Iím surprised at how
my perspective on country living has changed over the
past few months. Having grown up in the suburbs, water
was never an issue. Depressing pictures of shriveled up
crops, emaciated cattle, and dust storms were always
over-shadowed by concerns over whether it was better to
wash my car in or out of the shade.
However, when the first thing you see in the morning
is your neighbor walking through shriveled up corn
fields and the gardens you toiled over earlier in the
spring is now only barren patches of clay, your
perspective on what really matters in life changes.
Suddenly that report youíve been working on for months
doesnít really matter anymore. You come up with
excuses not to attend meetings or take trips, dedicating
the time instead to watering parched shrubs and wilted
When I first toyed with writing an article about the
drought, I had planned to open it with ĎOK, who in
Emmitsburg pissed God off?í While that may sound
sacrilegious to some, it nevertheless did appear that
God had it in for us. I canít begin to count the
number of rain storms that I watched pass south, north,
and west of our farm.
While the gutters of the streets of Thurmont were
overflowing, we baked in bright sunshine. As tourists
rushed for cover from sudden downpours in Gettysburg, we
hauled water. It was as if some invisibly hand was
trying to send us a message. Clouds would roll in and
over us, dumping their precious cargo just over the
horizon, far enough away to be of no use, but close
enough to be seen, as if to add insult to injury.
In spite of it all, we survived. Not only did we
survive, but we survived something historic, a once in a
hundred-years drought. In years to come, with wells once
again flush, who among us will be able to resist the
temptation to spin tall yarns about this drought?
The warning signs came early. Many of the old-timers
expressed concern over the mild winter, rightly
predicting a long dry summer. Those of us used to
turning to the Weather Channel for forecasts paid these
students of Mother Nature little heed until it was too
late. The April showers that were supposed to bring May
flowers, didnít. By June, the ground had turned so
hard that even weeds were struggling to survive and many
a weary eye was cast toward the sky. By the 4th
of July, most ponds were bone dry, as were the small
streams that crisscross the countryside.
While the loss of the surface water indeed impacted
recreational activities, such as fishing and swimming,
it was devastating to the wildlife -- some more than
others. The great predator birds that hunt on the plains
at the foot of the Catoctins simply had to beat their
wings a few times more times. For the songbirds, the
finches, the wrens and the blue birds however, locating
water soon became a struggle for survival. The drought
took its heaviest toll though on Godís creatures that
rely on scales or legs to move. Timid snakes, who
usually raced away at the sight of humans, ignored
everything and everyone on their long, slow crawl to
hopeful sources of water. By the time August rolled in,
I would not have been surprised to see mice and other
small pray, walk side by side with their nemeses in
search of the one commodity they both needed.
The hardness of the ground prevented many a ground
dwelling insect from reaching the surface. The cicadas
didnít come to sing their song this year, nor did the
frogs or just about any other creature that comprise the
nightly orchestra. Nights were quiet, very quiet, too
quiet, as if the land itself didnít know what to say.
Throughout it all however, people pulled together and
not only helped one another, but also helped those that
couldnít help themselves. Everywhere one looked,
birdbaths appeared. And when it became apparent that one
would not do, a second soon appeared.
Animals, which would usually have elicited fear and
loathing, such as possums and groundhogs, were ignored
and allowed to go on their way. Sometimes we even helped
them in their search for water by the judicious
placement of a bucket or old bowl filled with the
Our understanding for the plight of animals was never
so well demonstrated as on the day traffic came to a
stop while a driver patiently wait for a mother possum
to shepherd her young across a busy street. Obviously
headed to a nearby pond, she frantically moved back and
forth amongst her wayward charges, much as any mother
would do. When she had successfully managed to get the
last into the brush, she returned to the road and looked
both ways, as if to thank us for our patience.
With a weary eye on low wells, many an individual
followed an age-old tradition of hauling water from
local creeks to nourish gardens and shrubs. It wasnít
hard to imagine our forefathers one-hundred years ago
leading horse drawn teams to the same spots where we now
parked fancy new trucks. Where they would spend hours
hand filling containers of every shape and size, we
paced away the minutes as motorized pumps effortlessly
filled huge plastic tanks.
In spite of our mechanical marvels, we still took the
time to stop and talk to each other. Neighbors who
barely new each other, soon where on a first name basis.
Everywhere you went, the drought was the one universal
link that bound us all together. We even laughed at the
very thought of one day having to think of something
else to talk about.
What, I wonder, could have been the conversations in
those days gone by. While we fret over wells that are
measured in the hundreds of feet, they fretted over hand
dug ones measured in the tens of feet. While we fretted
over the loss of shrubs and flowers, and some, over loss
of entire crops, they fretted over the loss of long held
family farms. In fact, the records do show that during
the last great drought, many of the old names that had
been fixtures in the area since the founding of
Emmitsburg, disappeared. Like the growth of a tree after
a drought, part of us died back then, replaced by new
growth, new names, which eventually overgrew and hid the
devastation brought by the last 100-year drought.
On our farm, as severe as the drought was, we only
had one casualty -- an old silver maple. But it wasnít
just any old silver maple; it was silver maple planted
in 1925 by Jim Schealy. I often wondered, if he
wondered, if anyone would remember who planted it. Yes
Mr. Schealy, we do remember you, and we thank you for
the trees that have shaded our home through these many
Next year, when the last of Mr. Schealyís mapleís
goes to seed, Iím going to plant one near his grave.
Thanking him for shading us through this long hot
summer. Let it rain.