Either Build an Oasis, or Become One

Sep 6, 2012

This is Marideth Sisco, for These Ozarks Hills:

Last week, before the rain, I started thinking about the effects, large and small, of two months or more of no appreciable rain in my neighborhood. Some are obvious. The browned to a crisp pastures, the premature deaths of trees young and old, and the almost daily trek of cattle trailers and grim-faced farmers headed for the stockyard to sell off cattle. Some of them are selling breeding stock that they can't be sure they can feed through the hay-poor winter to come.

The most personal realization for me has been that my small garden, surrounded by thousands of acres of woods and pastureland here in the central Ozarks, has become an unlikely oasis. Not just for me, but for all the creatures living in and on the parched landscape near my home.

As I was sitting there in the shade on the west side of the house, in the midst of another early, bird-filled morning, I began to see how one little garden could become such a thing, a true oasis, a lifeline, an essential wellspring for creatures trying to make it through a difficult time. I had until that time not been able to apply such words as desolate, arid, or desert-like, in describing my neighborhood. But now I saw all those things almost everywhere I looked.


Two days earlier, I had seen a still-spotted fawn delicately making its way down my road, sampling grass heads and briars and whatever tender growth might be found. Out in the middle of the day, it was obviously hungry to the point of desperation.

On this particular morning, as I was having coffee, I was counting the birds -- goldfinches, cardinals, hummingbirds and more.


Then alI of a sudden, at the edge of my sight, a large covey of quail appeared, quietly meandering through an area adjacent to the garden that had been watered by a random hose break and actually had to be mowed. They were eating the seed heads of the freshly cut grass. Before I could get the binoculars for a closer look, something startled them and they were gone. It was a sight both beautiful and ominous. If the quail are coming in, then that explains the coyotes.


I've heard them some nights clamoring at the very edge of the lawn. They are hungry. Everything is that lives here, outside the garden. Inside, of course, there is constant activity, human and otherwise. As I browse for tomatoes, graze the okra and peppers and admire yet another flush of winter squash, the insects have breakfast on the beans and eggplant and then become brunch for the constantly perching, diving, zooming, sipping gnatcatchers, flycatchers, Cardinals and titmice, while the armadillo and occasional rabbit or deer slip in after dark to mine for grubs or snack on the sweet potatoes. It is a heavily populated, quite diverse little community here at the little farm aptly named Coot's Edge.


My little oasis appears to have become a microcosm of the struggle in the much larger landscape, one challenged and compromised by a climate shift both terrifying and difficult to ignore. We have reached a point, it seems to this old hillbilly, where the argument as to the cause of the shift has become immaterial.


The changes may have their source in human activity; they may not. With the onset and severity of this very widespread drought, the debate is as obsolete as it is pointless. Whatever the cause, it is the effect that will stretch to the limit our ability to respond and to endure it. We are all entitled to our philosophies.


But rain is the only language that has meaning in this context. Philosophies will have to wait until the balance shifts again and the land resumes its identity as the nation's bread basket , or continues its slide into arid wasteland. At this point, we have no say in the matter. It is beyond us.


I am grateful for the rain and even, I'm embarrassed to say, for the wayward hurricane winds that brought it. And with more coming, perhaps we will soon be able to say that the drouth has been broken, and the worst is over. But it's way too soon to tell. The farm ponds have been bolstered, but the small creeks are still silent, the pastures growing but not enough yet for a second cutting of hay. We are sustained for the moment, but not yet out of the proverbial woods. Our power in this circumstance seems miniscule.

So we do the small things, the human-size things. We make an oasis. Whether a dish of water on the doorstep for a small passer-by, a drip or two from your water bottle as an offering to the earth, like the Indians do, a back yard garden to feed you and your neighbors, or any kindness applied where needed.


This is the Ozarks. We've done this before. When it's an oasis that's needed in these Ozarks hills, we either make one or become one. Thanks for listening.