I recently saw a daffodil in bloom. The finding rattled me. Pulling out of the driveway and looking across my yard, I did a double-take. Yes, that was definitely a bold spot of yellow in the north-facing flower bed, a section that rarely gets much sun. The calendar said Jan. 15.
Pardon my disrespect to the heavens, but Mother Nature is all mixed up. And I am nervous about it.
Normally, I love daffodils. I've spent Octobers on my hands and knees planting the promising bulbs. As a girl on our ranch in Selma, daffodils lined the front of our house, a harbinger of spring right under my bedroom window. Their faces always cheered me, bursting forth soon after the clumps of native grass that filled with dew on foggy mornings, green patches of growth so bright that I hardly considered them weeds. My father always said that springtime in the Valley started in January. I tended to agree. But even those winters were not like this one.
Seasonal schizophrenia has become our affliction. The extent of the problem is sinking in. The air is filthy, the winds are slow. The afternoon temperatures push records. Now, we have turned to the skies in humble anticipation. Will rain ever come? The daffodils are three weeks early and the kids in local schools are starting to wear their summer shorts.
The worst drought in a century, experts are saying. I'm beginning to wonder if the grand scheme of our Valley forefathers was an arrogant ruse. Almost 150 years ago, these intrepid innovators created the Fresno Scraper along with a vast network of irrigation ditches and large fields that were leveled for planting. Theirs was a creation of magic, the cultivation of a desert that could turn seeds and cuttings into agrarian gold. Man had the upper hand. Until, of course, he didn't.
Thousands of acres of farmland are being uprooted and returned to their original state. Will these interventions stand permanent? In a locale that typically gets less than 12 inches of rain per year, were we meant to build our houses and sink our wells on this ground? Were we supposed to become the fruit basket of the world? Was it irresponsible — or pointedly remarkable — that we chose to set our roots into this soil?
Theoretical becomes personal and my mind begins its somersaults. Should I not plant my vegetable garden this year? Should I let my lawn go brown? I've decided to stay away from those water-hungry "color spots" like a mourner avoiding bright dress at a funeral.
But what about the nectarine tree that grows in my backyard? Should I pull it out? Is it selfish of me to water it, to enjoy watching its cycle of bloom to fruit? Is this an unnecessary extravagance when I have acres of orchard available to me 30 minutes down the road?
The water table on our farm has fallen from 45 to 65 feet in recent years. The irrigation ditch that cuts through our property was bone dry last season. I missed seeing the cold Sierra water funneled to the trees and grapevines. I wouldn't be surprised if the irrigation district made the same decision this year.
A couple of days after my daffodil sighting, the lone flower had fallen over, its trumpet lying flat on the ground. I righted the plant, propping it behind an azalea branch, as if I were tending a weak, disoriented patient. Or maybe I was the one confused.
At times like this, our spirits can feel as fallow as our fields as we find few answers to our many questions. We are thirsty. Bewildered. But I do know this: Lack of water can lead to the demise of plant or man. Or, I must sadly admit, Valley life as we know it.
Danielle R. Shapazian is a nurse and writer who lives in Fresno. She can be contacted at Danielle.Shapazian@sbcglobal.net.