I was getting anxious. My hose couplers had disappeared and I was feeling incomplete. I eventually discovered my eight-year-old son using them to water the sheoaks – or Casuarina – on the north side of our house, but by that time I was shrill. My husband Johann looked on, mildly amused and perhaps a bit worried. “Who ever thought you’d have your own personal couplers?” He was teasing me about the garden hose connectors I carry around in my pocket.
Carrying hose couplers wherever I go is unusual. But then again, I’m living in unusual circumstances. My community, region, state, and country are being destroyed by drought. This usually happens in faraway places in the “developing world,” but now I’m in the middle of it with my kids.
When we first returned to our home in Australia a few months ago after some years in Pennsylvania, I stepped outside onto what used to be lush backyard and found – three years into the drought – no grass, no topsoil, and a few stressed trees. I looked up at the even browner hills and panicked. Where to consolidate my emotions and efforts?
Tree-watering seemed to be a way of life at Danthonia, a Bruderhof in New South Wales, Australia. A local, Chris, advised, “Keep the trees alive. They are the most valuable things we have. When our trees are gone, we are gone.” The trees that have been kept alive with regular watering are giving us the color green, beauty, shade, and cool. Get enough of them together and you might even have a microclimate that moderates the day-to-night temperature swing enough to bring about some precious dew in the morning. Maybe even rain. I was very motivated when I learned that trees exude bacteria that water vapor condenses on to make rain. In short, trees are the most important things for me right now.
My next-door neighbor, Allen, says that we’re going to get some rain at the end of this month, so until then, besides worrying about global warming, I’m keeping as many trees alive as possible. There are many ways to do this. One is to connect lots of hoses together, turn on the tap, and give our most valuable resource to our most valuable resource.
I’ve taken to bringing a book with me when I go tree-watering on Sunday mornings. I connect about sixty feet of hose, turn on the tap, and move the hose to a new tree after finishing a spread. This Sunday ritual started because my kids don’t sleep in. You can’t blame them. Early morning is a good time to be out and about: the migrating Pacific Koel’s call becomes more strident with each repetition, the magpies’ delightful glissandi carries across the fields, and the rising sun still provides a friendly light. (Friendship with the sun wanes shortly before noon.) I head out with my kids, their pet kid (a three-month old Saanen goat), and the neighbor boy to a small park called Nature Paddock to graze the goat and water trees.
This park contains more than one hundred varieties of native trees and bushes, figs, grapes, and lemons that were planted more than a decade ago by elementary school students. But now this Garden of Eden is dying in the high temperatures. Our aim is to keep these trees mulched and watered until the drought breaks.
I might be in a panic about the dead state of our landscape, but oddly enough, it motivates my kids. Along with the neighbor children they have formed a club whose stated purpose is to conserve water and build topsoil. The girls built a worm farm to improve the fertility of their club vegetable garden. The boys catch and haul gray water to water trees. There are buckets by every handwashing sink, mop sink, shower, and bath, half full of relatively clean water waiting to be dumped on a palm tree. Gray water reclamation doesn’t leave much room for woven toiletry baskets or floral arrangements, but the trees sure appreciate it.
At the end of the day, when I’m doing triage to determine what tree most needs an extra gallon of shower water, I get more than a little resentful at my commitment to the environment. But it does force me outside to see a sunset I would have otherwise missed. Seriously.
During a drought, life gets whittled down to the essentials: rain, trees, and saving water. A cloud cover is an exciting event in our house, prompting song and dance. Enjoy this little folk tune that children have been singing in Danthonia for almost two decades. It’s become our family’s theme song.
During a drought you also get superstitious. Don’t carry any umbrella. Plan a picnic. Plan many picnics. Write about the drought…I tried the last option and as I finished the first draft, we got almost an inch of rain in ten minutes.
Over a foot of rain since the beginning of January 2020 has transformed our landscape from death to life in a matter of weeks. Now we’re planting trees instead of barely keeping them alive.
P.S. A few days ago I was talking with Sue who runs Merinos on a neighboring property. We were looking out over rolling paddocks thick with lush, waist-high grass and chatting. Even though our lawns are emerald, the vegetable garden abundant, and our spirits high, it will take years for farmers like her to recover financially. Keep the rain coming.