A drive through town these days is often marked by brown landscapes, dying trees, and a certain sadness we must set aside to carry on the day’s business. Whether experienced as an irritating nag or an anxiety-inducing shriek, “drought depression” is on the rise, especially with climate change clouding predictions for a possible end. Each individual has their own reaction, but a common thread is feeling the loss of something fundamental to our existence, beyond the loss of a job or a loved one: the very ability of the earth to provide sustenance for human life.
Dark and dreary stuff, right?
If you made it through that first paragraph without skipping over to a YouTube cat video, you are to be commended. Drought-related catastrophes have become so commonplace they should have their own section in the newspaper between “Money” and “Obituaries”, but the pervasiveness of our water troubles only underscores how important it is to recognize that change is upon us.
A relationship that was defined by our supposed control over nature is capsizing: nature mandates our existence, not the other way around. We must come to terms with this truth, and based on the struggles we see happening everyday, it has not been smooth sailing. We still cling to a time when we didn’t have to give conscious thought to our landscapes as living ecosystems, instead trying to force plants into the role of inanimate outdoor decoration. Like the Five Stages of Grief, letting go of the good ol’ days causes a variety of reactions:
Denial: “When the drought is over I can go back to watering the sidewalk with run-off from my lawn sprinklers.”
Anger/Blame: “This is ____’s fault! Why doesn’t someone do something? If someone did something, I could still water the sidewalk.”
Bargaining: “I’ll do anything to keep my lawn; I’ll paint it green, if necessary!” (grass paint is a real thing, by the way)
Depression: “My sidewalk will die without run-off, the world is ending, #droughtdepression” (not a real hashtag…yet)
The fifth stage, acceptance, will help us move forward; clinging to the ideal of a perpetually lush landscape in a dry climate will only hurt us when what we see is in constant conflict with what we want. The past is dragging us down, both emotionally and physically, and prevents acknowledgment of the natural life cycle of plants in a place with only 13 inches of rain a year (if we are lucky).
Although not everyone loves to garden, we can all gain something from a deeper understanding of the ecosystem and our place in it, not to mention the positives resulting from a proactive response to crises: stronger community, a broader perspective, the opportunity and driving force for creative solutions, and the best part for those who love to garden, a whole new palette of plants to choose from.
The new paradigm will mean a great change, so dry those tears and let go of that lush lawn and sidewalk, put down that green paint and go find low-water plants to feed our beloved birds and bees. Wherever you are in the Five Stages of Grief, open yourself to the possibility of acceptance; our best chance for the future is to embrace the concept of California as a dry state, and to express this in our landscapes.