Drought—the Old English word remains close to its origin as utterance. We pronounce it today by skipping the knot of consonants near the end and landing only on a hard T sound. Instead, try the word as spoken long ago (my OED cites the year 1100) and it sounds like this: drowth, a single-syllable expression for the persistent, parched condition of a land lacking rain. So it ends with the tongue thick between the teeth, pulled backward, the breath aspirated as if the gasp of a thirsty person. In fact, the initial sound in "thirst" is identical.
Only the long dead were around when this word was first uttered, but I can see them nodding in agreement. Yup, that's a good one. That word perfectly suits its purpose.
Considers words as merely the means to an end and you miss so much. The first layer of words—the ones I love best and which are closest to the experience of things—originate in the the phenomena they represent. Such words carry the physicality of experience and to speak with such language bridges the material world and the body of the listener. Whatever else you might go on to say about drought, you momentarily run a dry brush across the skin of the listener.
I'm getting a bit worked up about words. Well, I do that. Daily. Speaking of which, consider the daisy, which comes from a conflation of "day's eye."
Technically, that's not a daisy, it's a Rudbeckia, a tribe of flowers called Heliantheae , itself a word evocative of the Greek "helios," hence sun-flower. As a kid, I used to run through fields of these flowers taller than I was and called them by their common name, Black-Eyed Susans. Like their larger cousins, the flowers subtly turn to face the sun as it tracks across the sky.
I digress, which is easy to do in a garden in late July since everywhere the eye falls, it is transported to new colors, variation, aliveness. This is never more true than when an afternoon shower in a season of drought invigorates the mature garden, shocks it awake and infuses every stem with a deeper green.
Clockwise, from top left: Japanese Cucumber leaf, Black Krim tomato, Purple Podded Pole Bean blossom & fruit (respectively), Petit Gris Melon, and Alberta Peach—the only fruit on the whole tree this year, but damn it will taste fine when it's ripe.
The rain in question blew into the Denver area from the northwest yesterday, in the late afternoon. Refreshing does not quite describe the effect; blessed seems too ethereal a word, though it comes close. I left the garden as the first drops fell and walked back into it as the last of the rain petered out, perhaps a span of 20 minutes. The transformation was remarkable—the garden seemed to breathe out its oxygen-rich air for the first time in weeks. It's all body language with plants, but the message was clear enough: we held on for just such a rain, and it has been worth all the waiting.
Last night was a glorious sleeping time, the air cool and still scented with moisture. That very coolness—a slight chill by predawn when I woke up—is another signal. Summer has not only crested, it's gathering its heat and planning to slip away. Don't look to the sky for that, look to the plants. The Garden Huckleberry, above, is huge with berries and I'm waiting for just the right moment to pull them—waiting for the last of the gloss to dull. It shouldn't be long.
So begin the heavy harvests. It's been a tough year in the garden, from the wild swings of the early season through the high heat of June and the burn of drought. But in recent weeks the entire patch has recovered, courtesy of occasional monsoon rain and a moderating of temperature. Tomatoes that refused to fruit early are now putting on a heavy display. Melons are ripening and the Guatemalan Blue Banana Squash—10-lb fruits measuring 2' long—hang like grey-blue torpedoes all along the fence. The flesh of these squash is ridiculously sweet and nutritious, packed with vitamins B, A, and C, among others.
The drought of 2013 may be the new normal around here. The lesson I've learned this summer is not to give up on the garden during a drought but to continue irrigating, tending, and waiting alongside the green things. The reward is worth the hoping and the waiting.