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Kathy Bradley - Curious effects of the drought
Kathy Bradley
Kathy Bradley

    Droughts have personalities. The late-blooming adolescent who appears only after hope is high and the corn is tall and then proceeds to turn the green satin fronds into cardboard tubes. The chronic melancholy who arrives on the train that picks up winter and hangs around so long that, by the Fourth of July, she's just another face in the crowd at the parade. The manic-depressive that explodes the afternoon in a 20-minute three-inch downpour and then slinks away to pout for two weeks without so much as a cool breeze. This drought, the one that presently bears down on the asphalt and the tomato plants like a panini press, the one that seems almost impossible in light of the flooding in other parts of the country, well, still I'm trying to figure her out.
    She is, like all the others, selfish and megalomaniacal, but I have observed one distinctive trait: This drought has had a very strange effect on the various species of wildlife around Sandhill. I saw it first in the mockingbirds, noting an exhibition of both good sense and manners as they — contrary to past behavior — didn't seem to be relentlessly ramming their heads into the windows or relieving themselves on the front porch.
    Then I noticed the squirrels, dark ones, sitting on their haunches in the middle of the fields first thing in the morning and late in the afternoon. They were big enough to be prairie dogs and looked a lot like them with their tiny hands folded across their chests as though in prayer. Squirrels are not usually still, certainly not in such an exposed position, flat open acreage spread out around them on every side. And, yet, these seemed to be not bothered at all by the noise or movement of people or vehicles.
    Even the deer, normally almost invisible during the summer, especially during a very dry summer, started galloping across the fields at unexpected moments. Just the other morning a doe and twin fawns stood in the road in front of my car, nonplused at my appearance and convinced to move out of the way only after an assertive pressing of the accelerator.
    The oddest occurrence of all has been the nesting of a pair of quail under the boxwoods right outside Mama and Daddy's front door. They coo almost constantly and scurry out whenever somebody approaches the front door, their fat little bottoms swaying. One afternoon I watched Daddy sitting on the deck, cracking peanuts and tossing them over the rail toward an open spot in the hedge from which the two of them would rush out to grab the shelled nuts and then dash back into the cool cover.
    If climate change is, in fact, happening — and I really don't see any reason not to believe that it is — it occurs to me that this could be just the beginning. That everything we think we know about the critters that share our living space could turn out to be as useless as the 1973 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia. That the whole "they are more afraid of you than you are of them" philosophy of dealing with snakes and raccoons and assorted other varmints may need to be seriously reconsidered. That I may soon be sitting on the front porch in the rocking chair with rabbits at my feet and cardinals in my hair.
    Eventually the drought will end. What should be green will be green. What has been brittle will be soft and flexible. And the animals will, most likely, revert to their ordinary personalities. They will move back into the periphery. They will stop looking me in the eye. We will startle each other again with unexpected appearances and sudden movements.
    I will miss them.

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