· SPRING /FALL 2013 | VOLUME 9 | ISSUE 1 ·

Rougarou, an online literary journal.

Tasting Drought

Thomas Fox Averill

Drought. The sun beats down, rising like a coal each morning, baking the earth to such a high temperature the heat waves radiate, rising through the night, any small breeze pushing its way through cracks in our house, spoiling whatever cools we've claimed through air conditioner, fan, soaked sheets.

The garden is cracked earth, the plants wilting, each leaf a tired dog's tongue, outstretched. Watering is more like boiling, the onion tops literally cooking, the flesh no longer white, but opaque, as when sautéed. The cabbage and broccoli sours. The squash stems begin to thin, eroding into the ground. The milky sap of lettuce is bitter, the beets dry, the radishes splitting, the spinach bolting and browning, the corn refusing to rise.

Some plants flourish. Okra, remembering its African roots, celebrates, throwing shoots from its trunk, festooning itself with flower after yellow flower, the purple center a small patch of shade, the creamy petals soon withering and the fruit, with its viscous fluid, as thick as the air itself, growing an inch a day.

The chiles — Hungarian wax, Anaheim, jalapeno, banana wax, habanero — are bright, their skins tough, the capsicum of their innards intensified by lack of moisture. They are to the mouth what the sun is to the ground.

And tomatoes, remembering their Mexican origins, thrive, too. Not as plump, but warm as blood, sweet and sour all at once. Cooked together in a savory thick stew, these survivors taste of drought.

Even such hardy plants lose fruit — okra, tomato, pepper fall to the molten ground. We wait out the summer heat, and finally August comes and goes. We've eaten our survivors, the stew and a thick salsa of okra, peppers, pre-sautéed onion, and tomatoes, thick and spicy, almost like a gumbo. We are happy to pull up the distressed plants in October, till the stubborn earth, and hope for enough snow to start all over.

Spring rains are abundant, so heavy we can't plant until well after our usual time. By then, sprouts have surfaced &mash; cilantro, arugula, cherry tomatoes. We let them volunteer along with peppers and okra, for what else will make a garden when we can't plant in mud?

By the time the garden dries, the best we can hope for is another summer of nurturing survivors: okra, tomatoes, peppers. We almost wish for drought, its rare and purified taste.