Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Notes From the 2011 Texas Drought
Woke up this morning with a pounding headache and the feeling of a massive head cold. Eudoxus had opened all the windows to take advantage of the freak low temperatures over night (low of 60!), and the house was full of the odor of smoke. When I stepped onto the front porch, I was assaulted by the heavy pall over the city. The sky is gray tinged with blue, and it smells like everything is on fire. The morning news said that the Bastrop County fire is now 30% contained. Two dead, at least half of Bastrop State Park destroyed, nobody knows how many homes and buildings.
It's so petty to complain about burning sinuses and headaches when people's homes are being destroyed, or while they wait in hotels to find out if they will have a home to go back to. Not people far away, but people I know, people I saw at church Sunday, or friends of friends. Then you hear on the radio that the AFD just got to a fire in a field uncomfortably near to the Opinionated Dwelling, and start to think about putting together the things you'd need if you had to evacuate fast. Last week, the highway nearby was closed down because someone's compost pile had ignited. They weren't burning brush nearby or anything; it just went up in flames. As one of our neighbors remarked, that definitely sets a hard-to-beat standard for composting.
Helicopters overhead all day yesterday and this morning: the Starflight helicopters from the local hospitals, scooping water out of Lake Travis to go drop it on the Bastrop fire.

Travis is already over 30 feet down. Some enterprising soul has put together boat tours of "lost towns," previously submerged by the damming of the Colorado, building foundations now again visible. There was similar excitement in 2006, when the lake levels dropped so low someone saw a woman's skeleton. Police were called, but it turned out she had drowned 700 years ago. Pretty awesome.

Bringing us to this thought: the news stations keep showing lists of the Top 10 Worst Summers in the city, and one can't help noticing that half of them start with 20--. Just saying.
We walk across our yard, where our lawn used to be, and there's just brittle crunching. We're just trying to save our big elm tree, but it's looking bad. All through the neighborhood are dead and dying trees. Water restrictions mean there's two kinds of citizens; the ones who obey the restrictions, and the ones who keep their trees alive. There's not going to be much left of the urban canopy by winter. All the hotter and drier next summer, then.
There is something very odd about clicking to the BBC News website and seeing the name "Bastrop" on the front page. For a moment I remembered the weirdness of living in California in the 90's and having Waco (and later, Jarrell) suddenly be places everyone knew about.
Everyone feels terrible about the loss of life (fortunately still low) and homes; but the wildfires are the death blow for Texas ranchers. A spokesman was explaining that the "bright side" of all this is that the loss of cattle and horses from the fires has been very low; because there aren't any left.
Cats have been found mutilated in nice suburbs in the north of the city. One cut in half; others torn apart. A few years ago, there was a young man doing this to cats, and everyone was afraid it was another disturbed soul. But it turns out to be coyotes, desperate for food and venturing into residential areas, even during the day. Besides coyotes, deer, raccoons, foxes, and opossums are being seen in broad daylight as they hunt for anything at all. The Parks and Wildlife Service says people are bringing in abandoned litters and fawns, as the mothers give up on trying to feed their young and just try to survive on their own.
Nearer the beginning of summer, it seemed like everyone was battling pest infestations. I've never seen the spiders and cockroaches (I mean, "palmetto bugs") so bad in the house. Great Girl's fencing salle was invaded by rats. After one of our scorpions boarded an airplane for Alaska and stung a passenger, an ABC Pest Control guy showed up on the local news, explaining that critters are being driven indoors to find "food" (anything--paper, insulation) and water. The pest control folks are doing a land office business. Or they were; the infestations have greatly died down, because the creatures are all dead. This is a summer without mosquitoes and without fire ants. Pet owners are rejoicing in the absence of fleas.

But of course, we're missing the higher parts of the food chain, too. When I put out the bird feeder in July, it would be swarmed by starving birds and emptied in hours. Now I put it out, and only a few grackles and jays show up. I should be hearing songbirds and mockingbirds every morning, and mourning doves and cicadas in the heat of the afternoon. But it's weirdly silent.
Rick Perry says he doesn't believe in man-made global warning, that it's just a natural warming trend. Then he's pretty savvy to be trying to move to D.C., because if this is an irreversible natural trend, Texas is just going to spontaneously combust. Come to think of it, though, Perry's own house burned down three years ago, so maybe he's just learned to cowboy up.

So have we all, really; people talk with straight faces about "cold fronts" bringing the temperatures a little below 100. It seems natural for the children to be inside all day, every day: the heat is dangerous, plus the ozone (and now the smoke) polluting the air. And when they do try to go out, they're back inside in minutes. We've done a good half-year of homeschooling since May; what else is there? Even folks with kids in school have had their kids doing review and early preparation work over the summer, so they won't go stir-crazy when the computer games have gotten old. Some have wondered if this year's TAKS scores won't take a measurable boost from the drought.
I love this city. I love Texas. But the charm is starting, just a bit, to wear off.


Blogger Sophia said...

I appreciate you writing this.

6:28 AM  

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