Katy Burns: The tribulations of October

  • Clam digger Robbie Gayton chugs some water while working on a mudflat under a warm sun on Sept. 4 in Freeport, Maine. Several cities across New England recorded their hottest summers on record, a period marked by dry weather, a drought in many locations, and hundreds of forest fires in the region. AP

Monitor columnist
Published: 10/11/2020 6:40:18 AM

Drought. Plague. What’s next? Floods? Locusts? Donald Trump unaccountably becomes modest and self-effacing and develops a sense of humor?

Okay, that last was ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean we should rule out floods or locusts. Because the drought sure was – is – real. And along with my kith and kin I’m mad.

After all, I grew up on the shores of Lake Erie. And I can attest that spending one’s formative years within just a few miles of one of the Great Lakes – which by some measurements is the largest mass of fresh water on the planet – can make one feel entitled to readily available and abundant potable water.

It can be startling to think about. When a good friend and former Clevelander learned that she’d been drinking Lake Erie water for all those years, she visibly blanched. But the water is filtered before it hits the household pipes, honest! It’s good – and cheap.

When we moved to New Hampshire I continued to take water for granted. There might not be a Great Lake in the backyard, but the Granite State has one pretty big one and a whole lot of smaller ones, along with an abundant network of rivers, streams, and small brooks. It’s as if you can’t go more than a mile in any direction without stumbling on some body of water. We are – or were – awash in the stuff!

At least until we weren’t.

Those who pay close attention – farmers, anyone? – are keenly aware when rainfall is wanting, but most of us simply glory in the great cloudless weather. Just as most of us take it for granted that if we turn on a tap, water will emerge, whether we’re on town water or our own wells.

And many have used it lavishly – not only on immediate household needs but for lawn watering, car washing, pool filling, and other discretionary “needs.” After all, especially for those us on wells, it’s free! And we’ve gloried in lovely cloudless sunshine.

Not now. The continuing drought has well companies working overtime as hapless householders discover their taps are dry. Lawns – which in my opinion are vastly overrated in the best of times – have turned brown.

And, we’re told, there’s no respite in sight.

Just as we’re trying to absorb the implications of making do with less water for the near future – and making do with less of anything is essentially un-American as we have come to live life in these United States – we are hit by no less than a plague.

It’s as if some sort of Old Testament curse has been visited on this proud land of plenty. And while the temptation is great, it is not fair to blame this – entirely – on our aforementioned and infamously mask-less Donald Trump.

Kind of fun, though, how the word “karma” was on millions of Americans’ lips when our head of state was laid low by the novel coronavirus. Washington Post reporter Molly Roberts’s summary of the episode was too good not to deserve further circulation: “Recent days have been a mess of chaos and melodrama: conflicting reports about the president’s battle with COVID-19 from his doctors punctuated by tweets of ‘LOVE!!!’ from the patient; a potentially dangerous surprise SUV ride followed by an early hospital discharge; an Evita-esque spectacle staged from a White House balcony complete with the ceremonial removal of a medical mask.”

Trump’s takes on the potentially lethal virus have been all over the map, of course, from brushing it off as a minor inconvenience that will “miraculously” affect only a handful of Americans and then “just disappear” to asserting it infects only “elderly people with heart problems” but “virtually nobody” young – even as, by recent count, some 20,000 plus twenty-somethings are hospitalized with the disease.

With just a few words, he managed to alienate both older voters and twenty-somethings as well as the millions who love them.

And it turns out, he famously told writer Bob Woodward, his whole policy was to downplay to the American people the extent and lethality of the disease because he “didn’t want to alarm people” – a philosophy, he added, he still holds.

Now that he himself has contracted the disease and been released – after being treated by the best doctors the government has and with the most advanced medication available – he is determined to pass on his wisdom.

“Don’t be afraid of COVID. Don’t let it dominate your life,” he said, and effectively proclaimed the plague to be in the nation’s rearview mirror.

We should “learn to live with it,” he advised, blithely ignoring the fact that more than 220,000 Americans could NOT live with the disease, and hundreds of thousands more have suffered permanent lung damage and other effects of the disease. Not to mention the fact that still is no vaccine and no known way to cure the illness.

It’s been a disheartening 2020. But we can look ahead knowing that – eventually – rain will return and we will have water.

And a lot – perhaps a majority – of us can comfort ourselves with the knowledge that we do have a presidential election in just weeks.

(“Monitor” columnist Katy Burns lives in Bow.)

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