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Summer Rains Reign

By Tom Poland
web posted May 29, 2015

LIFE DOWN SOUTH – I was traveling Highway 176 to Charleston last week when I saw a scene that could have been in a science fiction movie. A giant yellow sun backlit one of those center-pivot irrigation systems. Water shot in one direction in giant, leaping arcs and a curtain of sprays fell in another direction across a vast green circle of grain. It looked like H.G. Wells’s Earth-attacking Martians in The War of the Worlds.

In Wells’s science fiction novel, red weed, a Martian exotic, spread across Earth wherever water ran. The center pivot’s intent, however, is not to subdue mankind but to conquer thirsty earth with jets of water. Where it rolls, rich green crops flourish, nourished by water that’s existed here millions of years.
Down here in the river- and lake-rich south take water for granted. We shouldn’t. We’re water. Literally. People are from 65 to 95 percent water depending on age, condition, and gender.

Come summer, we get a lot of thunderstorms and frog stranglers. Then too, we have the Appalachian and Great Smoky Mountains that send their rains southward via streams, rivers, and aquifers. All this water wealth makes it easy to feel secure with our water supplies. Of course, it wasn’t that long ago that the lake was way down and people were very concerned. All seems fine now but when we read about California’s plight, the idea of running out of water causes great concern.

H2O. It’s the poster child for recycling. Earth has used the same water over and over for billions of years. Head to the sink and pour yourself a primordial glass of colorless, odorless, and tasteless water. Take a sip. Seems ordinary until you realize you’re tasting ancient dew. Aside from its chemical formula, H2O, just how much do we know about water? Not as much as we think. Where, for instance, did all the water come from? Great scientific inquiry attends this simple question: from where did planet Earth get its water?

Water covers about 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, and vast quantities exist in the atmosphere and underground. As Earth formed from gases and dust, it became a molten ball and to this day magma and a hot dense inner core remind us that when Earth formed it had no water. How did so much of this life-sustaining liquid get here? Two theories suggest how the elixir of life came to Earth.

Theory One—About 3.8 billion years ago the Late Heavy Bombardment peppered the planets with water-rich comets and asteroids. From them came the seas and surface and ground waters. If this theory is true when you drink a glass of water an interstellar traveler passes through you.
Theory Two—Scientists have found evidence of water in a 4.4 billion-year-old grain of sand. The conclusion? Water was here from the start in the form of vapors locked to grains of rock. Once the crust began to solidify, rampant volcanic eruptions spewed out copious quantities of water. As a saturated atmosphere cooled, it began to rain and rain and rain, a Biblical 40 days and 40 nights, filling Earth’s basins and aquifers. If true, when you take that sip of water, you may be tasting Earth’s first rains (or dinosaur urine) thanks to all that recycling.

We’ve had a cool, wet spring and the trees and grasses reveal it. Everything is green and vibrant. A dry, hot summer, however, will wither the greenery and cover it with dust. No matter how it got here, water is the elixir of life so here’s hoping we get ample summer rains. If storms prove plentiful and summer rains reign, they’ll keep things green and fresh. Bring on the thunderclouds and storms unadulterated, raw summer heat delivers. Their power and majesty remind me that I am at the mercy of nature.

In the summertime as I write, I watch the temperature and check weather radar. As the thermometer climbs, it peaks around 3:15 in the afternoon. I love seeing those yellow, red, and orange squall lines headed my way. Afternoon brings the heat to critical mass, and thunderheads gather, fanning smoky rays of light in soft spokes toward the earth. Forks of lightning splinter the sky and thunder rolls low and resonant. A peal of thunder precedes a spattering of rain, which releases that fertile “rain smell,” and then the land darkens, the wind rises, and curtains of rain come down.

It’s a scene I hope we see a lot and maybe we will. I hear we are in for a lot of rain this summer. Let’s hope so. Lawns, gardens, crops, and man and nature need it. H2O has been here longer than we have, and generations to come will reuse the water we use today. So, let’s use it wisely as we remember the mess California is in and the fact that we’re just passing through.

Photo by Tom Poland

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