This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. We here in the hills have been asked recently to do what most of the folks routinely have had to do in other parts of the world, that is, to adapt gracefully and with some ingenuity to enormous changes in our environment. We’ve gotten off easy so far, most of us. Grace and ingenuity can be easily seen demonstrated by south sea islanders who voted recently to just disband their country and move elsewhere when rising sea levels were literally washing the ground from beneath their feet. They simply declared their country to no longer exist, and left to cast their fates to whatever wind would take them to another, safer land. And they did it in the nick of time, because there was barely enough dry land on their land for them to stand while voting. In other places, lines of refugees more than a mile in length flee a combination of war and famine, not chanting let us in or give us jobs, but simply We are human. We are human.
Here in the Ozarks, it’s another story, with farmers struggling against ongoing, too ample rain that makes grass grow tall, but not enough dry days to cut and cure it. My farmer landlord has bided his time, glad he didn’t fertilize those bottom fields too heavily, and waited for August to, well, act like August. Finally this morning, with August having turned the corner into September, he drove up outside, unhooked the brush hog and attached the haybine behind his tractor.
“I guess I’ve gotta go cut hay,” he said. “I don’t need it, but it’d be a shame to see it go to waste.”
Seldom heard words in the Ozarks, about a seldom-seen act – a second cutting, in September, due to excess hay in the field. An uncommon occurrence here and due, apparently, to a too-active Pacific El Nino.
Trouble is, now the weather gurus have posted their finding of a significant risk that the one approaching our western coast and due to start demonstrating its power sometime this winter will be even bigger and reach even farther east. So about the time we finish dealing with overgrown pastures and too much hay, we can expect snow, heavy snow and then more snow. After reading about that I put a post on my Facebook page that said I would soon be moving more wood closer to the basement door and hence within easy reach of the furnace. Whatever generation we live in and however our climate is behaving, we have learned the hard lesson that change is inevitable and that whatever we expect is subject to change. The trick is, and always has been, to be flexible enough to adapt. I remember, for instance, the drouth in the early 90s that was only abated when hay from western states started arriving by the train-load and even the prisoners in County Jail volunteered to load the hay from railcar to pickup truck to save starving livestock. I’m so old I remember a similar, and worse, time in the mid-1950s when such largesse was not available, and some farmers couldn’t even afford gas to drive their suffering livestock to market, nor get a decent enough price to drive home, and so shot some cattle to end their suffering, in hopes the rest would have enough to stay alive.
Those times are awful enough that we hope never to repeat them. One would hope such experiences would teach us to be frugal instead of profligate with our resources. To care for what we have. And to be generous with our neighbors who have it worse than we do. For that is the way of the Ozarks in which I grew up.
But the world changes. And so, too, do we. Would that we could build another kind of pipeline, to send our excess water to desperate farmers in California who have provided us with a vast bounty of fresh food these many decades but are having to resort to watering crops with waste water from the oil fields just to keep crops alive. Even if they succeed, will we want to eat them?
And here in the country’s middle, where the breadbasket still thrives, albeit with its own problems of overgrowth and too much rain, we do not think of how to help others, and respond to the news of hunger at home and abroad with a whining stinginess that suggests such others outside our own enclaves should just fend for themselves. One would think Katrina had cured us of the “sink or swim” doctrine of social progress. Time will tell. For a new El Nino, when it strikes California, will bring heavy rains to a country virtually devoid of vegetation. The water will have nothing to stop it, and it has the potential to bring a level of devastation more vast than we can imagine. I lived in California, in the mountains of the central coast in a normal rainy season and saw how a single mudslide could bring whole communities to a halt for days, sometimes weeks. How much worse will it be this time? And what do you suppose a head of lettuce will cost come February.
So the world has changed, and it is my hope, as one who has lived here almost three quarters of a century, that we will elect, in trying times now and to come, to remember that we are part of a larger community, a larger family, and will turn our thoughts and our doors toward a more open way with our neighbors near and far. Hard times do not exist apart from us, even if we do not experience them directly. They are happening to our family, whose most urgent cry is likely to be we are human. We are human. This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills.