I forgot how much I missed the sound of rain splattering in sheets across my roof with hail pelting the gutters and the release of pent-up tension and energy through cracks of thunder that ended with rolling notes, the lowest bass notes in the universe. I forgot how much a part of my life was standing on the front porch watching the funnel cloud form, watching the trees turn their leaf-backs to the wind, feeling the forces of nature press me back against the exterior wall of the house just before the glorious outpouring.
It has been three months since we had rain, and at this writing, over 75 wildfires are burning in Tennessee. Some days, the haze of distant fires moves in. Most days, the air smells of burning hickory. Despite temperatures in the eighties (yesterday, it dropped to 77), the grass is stunted. No one has cut their grass in at least eight weeks. No need. It’s as if we all got up and moved to New Mexico. Except for that burning hickory. That smell alone tells you. It puts you in mind of a Sunday barbeque.
I’m certain a meteorologist could explain the weather patterns causing this unprecedented drought, but the view from the ground is more apocalyptic because many of us have lived some decades in this storm-torn part of the world, casting our fate to the wind as we planted our lives here despite the well-known fact that tornadoes would likely touch our lives, the risk coming not once but twice every year. Tennessee is no stranger to temperatures in the Eighties in winter, just enough to get the atmospheric juices rolling, but what we weren’t taught to expect, these endless months of low humidity, this hot, dry, desert weather, leaves us wondering if shifts in the poles, global warming, the presence of El Nino, the pollution of the oceans, or angry gods are to blame. Three months without rain is a long time. It is a season. A semester in college. The first trimester in a pregnancy. The time it takes to turn a quirk into a habit.
If there’s a color Tennessee is known for, it’s green. We have underground rivers, lakes, and seas, cave-rivers, natural springs high and low, and, up until this fall, the eternal rains. Tennesseans are weather-buffs, checking our rain gauges daily, calling into the weather stations with our reports after the deluge. We are the survivors of the Thousand-Year Flood. Some of us watched a semi float down an interstate. We watched the Cumberland River claim new real estate. The Opryland Hotel. The Schermerhorn Symphony House. We are known for our humidity, hovering near the one hundred percent range, destroying hair styles, clothes, our will to move. It’s why we invented sweet iced tea.
But now, everything looks like a scene from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? A one-dimensional cast to trees and grass and dry leaves scuttling along in the stiff breeze, blowing the hickory-smoke fires along, burning acres of our gorgeous forests.
Maybe we haven’t appreciated the true beauty of our state. Perhaps we have polluted the ground with plastic and poisons. Maybe the Native Americans weren’t wrong when they taught their children that the land remembers.