I had to drive over to Nashville Friday and, in order to get back so I’d have enough time to do something more, I left home just before what country folks call “first light.” After about 75 miles, or five miles past the Manchester exit where once the men who built I-24 had to carve through some rolling hills of rock, I noticed the trees all looked unnatural. They were too brown and shriveled looking – enough to cause my curious alarm – and as I drove up towards Bell Buckle and Shelbyville, I realized why I was seeing such a strange phenomenon.
All the grass in the highway median and the farmland on either side of the Interstate is dying of thirst. Right now Chattanooga is the only area of the entire state where there isn’t what the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration calls a “severe drought.
” We’re on the brink – still “moderate” – but up around Humboldt and Paris and Union City, it's “exceptional,” or the worst there is.
Mr. Mark Twain, one of my beloved teachers, used to observe that “everybody talks about the weather and nobody can do anything about it.” So as we Christians gather in our churches and pray the prediction of cooler temperatures and rains comes true, we ought to face up to the fact that in the northwest corner of our state there is already widespread devastation -- crops have been lost, there is hardly enough water for livestock and the plight worsens by the day. At least we can pray.
A lot of farmers across the state, blessed by an early spring, are “chopping” their corn crops this week. Instead of watching it just ruin, they are hoping to salvage what they can and grind the whole thing for livestock feed. The trouble with that tearful remedy is that a typical farmer gets only a 20-percent yield and – come this winter – he won’t be able to feed his animals and will be forced to sell them.
Magnify 20 percent across the entire state of Tennessee and we are looking right down the barrel of an agricultural tragedy. The other crops won’t come in, either. During a typical year Tennessee farmers are lucky to get two-to-three cuts off a hay field before the growing season ends. When we got our first bales earlier than I can remember this spring, it looked rosy but then the skies dried up.
Normal rainfall for Tennessee in June – statewide – averages right at 4.14 inches. This June we got only 0.26 inches, the worst since 1936, and a quarter-inch of rain this early in the summer ought to be worrying all of us to death. August is always the driest month of the year – last year we didn’t get nary a drop.
So with all respect to Mr. Twain, it behooves all of us to pray for water and look around for ways we can conserve it, share it, donate it and give it to those in need. The Electric Power Board and Ace Hardware have a super program right now to get fans to those without air conditioning. We need to keep pet bowls full and, in my personal opinion, open up talks with Georgia how we can share our water with our Atlanta neighbors.
I remember when I was the littlest boy and we’d drive down to Mississippi to spent two weeks at the plantation where my dad was raised. Most cars back then didn’t have air conditioning like they do today, plus it gets a lot hotter between Yazoo City and Jackson than it does here. Old people claim we were more accustomed to the heat back then but I’ve heard heat preached in every sermon about hell I’ve ever heard and some of those Mississippi afternoons taught me all I need to know. Anybody who leaves a child or a dog unattended in a car for over 60 seconds should go to jail and, if I ever see a dog left in a parking lot on a hot day I’ve already promised my police friends I’ll hurl a brick through the side window.
Believe it or not, researchers tell us that both humans and animals alike begin to acclimate after a week or two of intense weather but when Tennessee just suffered its second-driest June ever, the record-breaking temperatures didn’t help at all. James LaRosa, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, told the Nashville Tennessean, “The hotter it is, the more moisture it evaporates from the ground, which makes the next day even hotter.”
Nashville has had record high temperatures for seven of the last nine days. Yesterday afternoon, a heat advisory was issued for Middle Tennessee with temperature readings of 104-105. As I was writing, I spied a young teenaged girl walking down the sleepy street carrying a heavy bucket. As I watched she’d stop for breath, switching it from one shoulder to the next, and then – appearing somewhat weary -- press on.
So I ran to the door, my car keys in hand, and hollered, asking her where she was going with that bucket with the heat such a threat. She shyly answered, “It’s got water balloons in it.” Ah, that’s my America – we ought to always share water with one another in just about any way we can.