Tuesday morning there was a serious rain event in my neighborhood, too late for the tadpoles I had been watching in a pool up in Michaux State Forest.
I started photographing them at the end of March, when they were newly hatched.
The First of June marked nine weeks I had been visiting and photographing them. It’d been about a week since I’d last seen them and they did not have legs. They should have grown legs soon, but the lack of rain has transformed the vernal pool into a vernal bed of rapidly drying leaves.
If tadpoles had knees, they might very well have danced for rain and prayed to whatever deity holds sway over the lives of future frogs. It would have been nice to see rain fill the six-foot-wide, six-inch-deep at the center, pool. It would be nice to see the pool refilled with a few thousand tadpoles like instant shrimp, just add water, one could buy in a packet from an advertisement in the back of a comic book.
For the past several weeks, clouds boasting such storms have avoided this part of the county. According to the National Weather Service, Adams County is three inches below its average rainfall for the period beginning in January. Drought conditions are reported in northwestern Pennsylvania. In northern New England, Virginia and the Carolinas, conditions are “abnormally dry.” And in the southwestern U.S. and up the Pacific coast, drought conditions on June 3 were Extreme to Exceptional, as reported on the U.S. Drought Monitor website.
A friend who lives about three hours drive east of Los Angeles reports no rain has fallen since February.
The nationwide rain shortage has not been helping the Ogalala Aquifer, lying beneath eight middle-U.S. states of the nation’s breadbasket. For decades, our agricultural withdrawals have exceeded Nature’s input, the way an adult spending more money than comes in a paycheck depletes a savings account begun when the adult was a child. At some point – in the case of the Ogalala, that could be as imminent as 2030 or thereabouts – the credit card bill comes due.
There is no such thing as water shortage that cannot be solved with lots of pipe and enough money to lay it. Land developers regularly prove that premise.
Sometimes, the pipe is on wheels. A few years ago, when a chemical leak near Charleston, WV, sent thousands of gallons of deadly chemicals into the Ohio River, American Water Company hauled water from Pennsylvania to its 300,000 customers in West Virginia.
It is easy to blame our ancestors for fouling our rivers. A century or two ago, the resources of our environment seemed without limit. We could dump waste into the rivers, let it disappear around a bend, and assume it was gone forever. A man named Rockefeller made kerosene for street lights, and dumped the byproduct – gasoline – in ditches outside his refinery, where it ran into creeks and rivers – until someone created an industry making engines that run on gasoline.
One could wonder how he thought that was a good thing to do, but even now, in spite of well-documented proof of the hazard, the only change has been in the products we continue to pour in our water. Exxon, Saudi Aramco and other petrochemical companies are busy building plants that will turn natural gas into plastics – the latest product documented to turn our drinking water into waste.
Meanwhile, in Adams County, PA, we can open our taps and water pours out and we can tell ourselves there is no drought.
Someone tell the tadpoles formerly waiting impatiently for their legs to grow out.