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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Tuesday
Aug042009

« In Which The Drought Hits Texas »

the house where grace grew upThe Worst Is Over

by YVONNE GEORGINA PUIG

June 15.  Another dark and stormy day – in fact, the storm has been going on since Monday. It stays so dark you have to use a lantern or a flashlight to find the way to the yard gate. Lights on in the house all the time. And the incessant lightning and steady rain... Now the worst seems to be over – rain is coming down in buckets, but it is not so dark. It has been completely black, and the rain so blinding I can’t see the town lights. I’ll bet the creeks are all out, and the cows and possums will have to swim. I will keep to the high ground… 3:30 and the storm is going off to the east, and the west and north are clearing, and so beautiful. Have you ever noticed how, as a storm moves on, a strong cold wind blows back from it? This rain was three inches, and with the inch we had the other day, that ought to be enough to clear the sky for awhile.

My great, great Aunt Grace wrote this when she was in her late eighties, sometime around 1977. For sixty years, she lived on a hilltop farm in Navasota, Texas, without running water or electricity, manning the animals and vegetables, reading, writing poetry, and prolifically documenting the elements. To read a box of her letters is to understand the unpredictability of Texas weather.

Old Navasota

The one general consistency that Texans come to expect, however, is rain. Especially in summer. The drama of a warm Texas thunderstorm, dark as Aunt Grace describes, hanging low and green across the sky, is a wonder, and a wonder to articulate. Moments before these storms break the wind calms and the trees still and the sky takes on a surreal purple-orange effulgence. I have never seen it captured truly in a photograph.

Grace's black walnut trees

The skies in Texas have been clear for too long though. The summer of 2009 has brought only flimsy, intermittent showers to Austin, and the entire state is in the midst of the worst drought in fifty years. Hot, dry spells come and go; Aunt Grace wrote of one in 1980:

July 24 and still purgatory. Headline: "Carter prays for rain and cooler weather.” Either he is a monumental hypocrite or simple beyond the bounds of idiocy. The only respite we have it is not quite so hot. However, it is dryer and dryer. We had four days of clouds, lovely fat rain clouds, squally lightning, and  grumbling thunder, and it all brought down just one-third of an inch of water… I’m arguing with my common sense on continuing to water the beans and tomatoes… One special annoyance of heat and drought is there is so little one can do. Gardens won’t grow, pastures are at a standstill… There should be more to life besides just maintaining a temperature of 75 degrees.

Grace's house

The severity of the current drought has been coupled with triple-digit heat indexes all day, every day, another anomaly outside of the dog-days of late August. Thunderstorms are typically the way Texans cope with the heat, and without them, the waking hours plod on in a haze of blistering misery. We don’t even have morning dew. I haven’t spent a summer in Texas in ten years, and I arrived here in June full of dread. At 4 o’clock, walking up my sister’s driveway, the sun feels like it is literally eviscerating my flesh, but on the whole, to my surprise, I’ve appreciated it.

Living a Texas summer, this summer in particular, is living an extreme. And extremes necessitate adaptation. Better to sink in than to resist. I’ve spent a lot of time these last few weeks with my cats, outside, not moving. The cats lay on the shaded concrete beneath the carport, and I sit (trying to work) beneath the patio umbrella. Sometimes I’ll take a walk wearing a dorky deep-brimmed hat. And that’s the extent of the preoccupations around here. Air-conditioning is a relief, but when I’m home, I’m usually outside.

Grace's room and a roosterAll the familiar Texas things, even passing thoughts, begin to take on a languid significance. Hot breeze on the high branches of a big oak, a recollection that as I child I thought archeology was romantic, grackles hunting in the St. Augustine; I admire these things for their persistence. The air stirs, ideas surface, nature endures, slowly, in spite of this destructive, thirsty burden.

Aunt GraceNext week, I return to Los Angeles, where the weather comes easy. The ocean breeze always feels nice, but I will miss my quiet perseverant backyard. Here, the frills of the metropolis are immaterial. Meanwhile, the weather-predictors are predicting El Nino will bring rain to Texas in the fall. Here’s hoping, not praying, they’re right.

September 29th. At 3 a.m. there was a beautiful heavy shower. No wind, no lightning, just a downfall of water. This will be enough to bring up all the crops already planted, it will get the pastures growing better. And it will be a blessing on my garden projects. The planted beans will sprout, so will the squash. Come to dinner in a week or so. Don’t procrastinate. Nature is perfect for only such a short minute.

Mama Puig, Aunt Grace, and Poppa Puig in NavasotaYvonne Georgina Puig is the contributing editor to This Recording. She tumbls here. Photos by Michael Puig.

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"Be Careful" — Dolores O'Riordan (mp3)

"Stupid" — Dolores O'Riordan (mp3)

"Apple of My Eye" — Dolores O'Riordan (mp3)

Dolores is a former member of The Cranberries.

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Reader Comments (3)

Great post. You bring a unique voice to the table. Your nostalgia leaves me with a nostalgia for my own nostalgia.

August 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMaxx Mizzelskins

ditto. almost ready to visit Texas.

August 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAna

Wonderful piece.

August 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersuzette

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