You see, so much of the Midwest economy depends on agriculture--specifically on the success of the corn and soybean crops. We have gone from the drought classification to severe drought to extreme drought. The lawns are usually the first to show the signs of a drought. That came over a month ago for us. Although it is nice not to have to mow every five to seven days, the fact that we found ourselves with brown lawns in June did not bode well for what was to come.
Many communities are on an odd/even watering schedule and some have instituted a temporary ban altogether. Occasional "green dots" of a dandelion, or broad leaf plantain, are now history.
The past two weeks have really taken a toll on the corn crop around here. While we met the old farmers’ benchmark of "knee high by the Fourth of July," the growth hasn’t progressed too much beyond that. Both the sweet corn and field corn are tasseling out at a height of 18+ inches less than normal, and cob/ear formation is "pickle sized," if at all.
While most plants droop when they are water challenged, corn spikes. In the effort to survive until the next rain, the corn plants draw on the water reserves of the central leaf spines, the leaves contract and tighten, and they point upward in the process. The cornfields actually take on the look of pineapple fields. We are now going beyond that. The bottom leaves and stalks are beginning to turn yellow and brown and we are "seeing six in." As the lower portion of these plants wither, one can see further into the field as the plants dry out. As the old maxim goes--when you could "see six rows in" (to the field), it was time to harvest. That should be in late September/ early October, not in mid July while the tassels and ears are barely forming!
Oil may be critical for economic life, but fresh water is essential for plant, animal, and human life. Dehydration accelerates as the temperature rises--especially for little folks, the elderly, and the frail. A life threatening state can be reached in a matter of hours on a really hot day. In the years that I served as my mother Alice’s full time caregiver, I tried to watch her fluid intake carefully. I learned that the standard requirement of eight glasses of liquid per day was not enough, as she was hospitalized twice in five years for the early stages of dehydration. Coffee, iced tea, cold sodas, and milk really don’t count in reaching that "recommended" benchmark. It HAS to be water!
The drought factor is being accentuated by the record-breaking temperatures of the summer of 2005 which are being set from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Canada to Mexico. If we are not careful (and vigilant), we could again see the devastating casualty rates which hit Chicago ten years ago in 1995 (where over 700 succumbed) and the entire European continent in 2003 (where upwards of 35,000 died). The bulk of these heat-related fatalities in Chicago, Paris, London, and other major cities were the elderly--many who lived alone. The real tragedy was that in so many cases, it was days (and even weeks) before the bodies were found: simply because no one was checking on these poor souls on a regular basis. That is absolutely unconscionable and must never be allowed to happen again.
Shortly after that tragedy in the Windy City, a task force put together the Chicago Heat Plan, which now serves as a model for the nation. Communities, congregations, organizations, and individuals can do so much to prevent a repeat--at very little cost and investing just a little time. If you are aware of an elderly couple, or know of someone living alone, take a few moments to give them a call (or knock on their door) to check on them regularly. You could be saving a life!
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This story was published on July 21, 2005.