Cracked Earth

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The girls riding in style – delivering eggs to the farm to be sold.

In the early morning light, I open the back gate and close it gently. The soft clink-sound of metal on metal tells me, wordlessly, that it closed behind me. I walk, quickly yet unhurried, through the orchard, passed fruit trees, some leafed out and others just now blooming, to the edge of the electric fence. The thud of my rubber heals on hard earth reverberate through my body, beginning at the heal and traveling upward in a communication intimately known to cells and felt by body. This upward transfer of energy tells me something important about this place. It’s hard and dry; damn hard, like concrete, like a sidewalk. And I notice that it is cracked too, around the fruit trees and other places where the chickens have scratched the earth bare. The earth is July-hard, August-dry and its only the beginning of May.

California, including the wettest part of the state where we live, is in its fourth consecutive year of drought. This past winter is the driest on written record for California; with very little snowpack in the Sierra Nevada (5% or less than normal). And it’s not only dry but it is also hot. Not only did the years 2012-2014 set records for the driest three-year period of statewide precipitation on record, it also set records for the highest statewide average in temperature in 2014. And the news is perhaps even more startling. Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and University of Minnesota measured tree rings in nearly 300 blue oaks in central and southern California and found a shocking result. The 2012-2014 drought is the driest dating back to the year A.D. 800, meaning that it’s the driest going back 1,200 years; a staggering context in which to live, breath and drink.

I walk the hard ground the chickens have been on with vegetation in various states of growth and regrowth. I can see the most recent chicken paddock, consumed and scratched to nearly bare earth; and the paddock where they were the month before, regrowing quickly in the spring light and warmth. I reach the area into which we just moved the chickens and quickly navigate the electric fence. I hear them clucking in an increasing crescendo as I near their mobile coop.  They know I am there and they want out. Out in the fresh air and into the new grass with its virtual cafeteria of insects and seeds.  I open the door and they immediately leap and fly out in seeming jubilation. I say, “good morning” and then quickly turn for home. I wind my way through the trees – apple, pear and plum – reenter our yard with a chinck of the gate, and into the embrace of a hot cup of coffee. Sipping the bitter brew, I stare out into our backyard where the blueberries are ripening, the garlic is senescing and kale, carrots and other vegetables are growing and I wonder just how dry and hard it’s going to get before we see the blessed return of rain in the fall.

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