catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 15 :: 2012.07.20 — 2012.08.02


Imagining rain

Tonight, I picked up my farm share as I do every Wednesday night.   In the box, the tomatoes, head lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, summer squash and onions were looking quite perky compared to the wilted humans who gathered under the overhang next to the baking asphalt of the church parking lot.  It’s been a rough year for Farmer Dale.  It’s been a rough year for all of us, with day after day after day of record high temperatures and very little significant rainfall.  Farmers who are nearly a century old are saying this is the worst they’ve ever seen.  Sparks and heat from farm machinery are causing fields to burst into flame.  With anxious questions about the changing climate in the air, the atmosphere feels apocalyptic indeed.

As I chatted with Dale and my friend Amber, who bakes bread for weekly pick-up, the sky clouded over and thunder rumbled in the distance, and yet we did not rejoice.  Earlier in the day, I’d seen a rainbow and then watched as storm after storm grumbled along the horizon, dissipating just to the south, then just to the north.  Promises be damned.  Like many around here, my spirit feels not just hot and dry, but hopeless.  Even as a few drops began to spatter on my arm, Dale and I exchanged a few cynical last words and I headed to the car.

On my way home, I considered the topic at hand for this issue of catapult: the 100-Mile Imagination.  It’s a catchy title, suggesting creativity and play, but during this particular summer, I feel like we’re seeing the dark side of the reality that place shapes what we believe is possible.  Not only can our places open up our imaginations, they can close our imaginations as well.  Just a couple of parched, steamy months have not only undermined our belief that it will ever rain again, but emanated into other areas of life as we become convinced that this or that project is surely failing, so we might as well just give up, let it all go to the drought and the insects and whatever other scavengers want to feast on such emaciated remains. 

If such a small blip on the radar of human history has this much power to grow despair, what about years of living in a household marked by chronic addiction or abuse or hunger or loneliness?  Such is the reality of too many of our neighbors, both here in Three Rivers, Michigan, and around the world.  Such is the reality that stunts the imaginations of generations of children who come to believe that power is wielded through fear or ultimate meaning is achieved through pregnancy.  For many of us, despair like that caused by a seasonal drought is a luxury, while for others, despair is like a dominant gene, degeneratively narrowing our vision to a tiny range of destructive possibilities.  Never mind believing it will rain when the struggle is to believe you will reach your thirtieth birthday or that your children will not go hungry when there are no school lunches in the summer.

If I lived somewhere other than a small town in southwest Michigan, I might not perceive the effects of this summer’s drought so clearly or ache so deeply for those who live off the land, human and otherwise.  Likewise, if I lived somewhere other than one of the poorest counties in the state, I might be able to flip on my mental air conditioner and tune out all rumor of discomfort.

Instead, I and a host of volunteers will sweat our brains out this week, mowing the lawn, mopping the floor and hauling tables around in preparation to host the third annual Huss Future Festival.  We’ll ignore the weather service warnings that we’re in one of the poorest neighborhoods in an impoverished county and throw a huge party: everyone’s invited!  We’ll kick up dust clouds in the kickball field, where the grass is dry to its very roots, sowing life and laughter in a place that some have given up for dead.  Halls that are disintegrating for lack of year-round temperature control will be filled with art and the smell of fresh coffee and the echoes of live music.  Perhaps some day our fears will come true: it will never rain again at the old Huss School property.  The “for sale” sign will go up and come down and the machines will arrive to dismantle the story, brick by brick.  But in the meantime, we will set up a misting station, paint a mural, sign some kids up for library cards and invite all of our friends to come out for a Saturday.  Imagine that, we’ll think, folks showed up and I’d bet my bottom dollar every last one of them had a smile on their face.

On my way back to the school to do a bit more Future Fest prep after picking up our farm share, it begins to rain in earnest.  By the time I’m back in the office, cranking open the blinds, the rain is pooling in puddles like I barely remember across the parking lot that, hopefully, come Saturday, will be chock full of cars and kids riding the apple barrel train.  After weeks on end of unrelenting heat and sun, my delight is tempered by mistrust.  I note this shadow side of my hope and tuck it away as a reminder of why change can take a long, long time — longer than we ever imagined.

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