Our spirits, like our crops, are nourished by rainfall

August 23, 2002|By SUSAN REIMER

A DROUGHT of historic proportions has taken its shriveling toll on Maryland's crops, reservoirs and waterways. And, I think, on the spirit of its people.

We need rain.

Not only for the sake of the corn and the pumpkins. Not only for the good of the flowers, the trees and the grass. Growing things have been casualties of this hot summer, this dry year in Maryland. So has the mood of its people.

We need rain for the sake of our sanity.

The human temperament of Marylanders has become as brittle as the grass, as prone to spontaneous combustion as the brush. We are as irritable and ready to sting as the thirsty yellow jackets, as frantic as the birds.

It is not just that we are weary and worn out by the heat. That is as much a part of a Marylander's heritage as the blue crab. The dog days of August are practically a state-sponsored excuse to close up shop and go to the ocean.

The crisis comes from the fact that there have been no storms to clear the air. No crackle of lightning, no boom of thunder, no sudden shower to cleanse our hearts and minds of the emotional grit that is grinding in the gears of human affection.

We are beyond cranky. The relentless heat is beyond wearisome. We feel defeated.

A sudden summer storm would change all that.

The sky turns a sinister purple and the wind picks up fast. So does our pulse as we gather the kids and the wash inside and race around closing windows and doors.

Then the rain arrives, like a bucket of water over the head. It slaps against the windows and slops down the driveway and runs into the streets creating sudden streams.

A summer rainstorm departs as quickly as it arrives, leaving the air heavy and moist, but clean; leaving the lawns littered with leaves and small branches; coating the street with the silty runoff from gardens too shocked to absorb it all.

After a summer rainstorm, the sky is a strange shade of blue-gray, the trees a kind of luminescent green. And if you could see the human spirit, I think it would be the color of a freshly washed peach.

A summer rainstorm refreshes more than the air, and it washes away more than the pollution. It is can cause the human disposition to sigh with relief.

Natalie Angier, the Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer for The New York Times described in a recent essay this human connection to nature and its life forces as biophilia.

It is not, she wrote, an appreciation for nature so much as it is a need for nature, a primordial appetite for the out of doors. Not as strong as the appetite for food or sex, but close. She called it "nature-lust."

I think she might agree that Marylanders not only enjoy a good old-fashioned summer storm, they require it. And pretty regularly. If they didn't, they would be Texans.

So, this relentless march of days without rain has taken an invisible toll. Our jaws are clenched, our teeth grind and our eyes are set in a permanent squint against the naked sun. We are surviving, we are enduring, we are putting one foot in front of the other. But we feel no pleasure.

Likewise, our hearts are as hard as the baked earth, our souls are parched and cracking. It is hard to be kind or generous or patient when your spirit feels like it will crumble in your hand if you squeeze it, just a prematurely fallen leaf.

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