With no irrigation, we dipped buckets
in the mud hole that granddad dug
at the edge of soggy Caloosa swamp.
We hauled water up to the young trees in the grove
where the sand rising with dust was already hot
and the trees suffered from lack of rain and growing heat.
To a boy not yet in school, it was hard work,
but I was happy to be outside;
my first job, I got to run about in bare feet,
riding, standing up, in back of an old Ford pick-up.
But even then I was questioning things:
“Grandpa, why don’t you get you a well like your neighbor across the fence?”
“Costs money, boy, big money, first you need a well, then a pump
then you gotta lay out irrigation lines. Besides, don’t matter how much
damn water I give ‘em, still twenty percent of what I plant every year
dies before the rains come in June. The sand’s too hot, I reckon,
they get stressed and roll up their leaves, and some just make a die of it.”
Such was what grandfather yelled out the back of the cracked window
where I stood in the bed of the ole pick up.
But I noticed grandfather had a habit of watering,
with his five gallon buckets,
which I finally had to ask:
“Why do we water the healthy trees first? Why
leave the ones looking thirsty with leaves drooping for last?”
It was middle March but it was already Florida hot,
Grandfather mopped his face with a blue bandanna
and took off his Bahama hat. He backed under the shade
of a Valencia orange tree, then shooting out in snowy bloom.
“Because the ones that look healthy, they’re the ones
most likely to survive.”
“We don’t see it but all these trees suffer from the drought.”
“I might as well tell you this now, ‘cause them teachers
might not let you know when you get to school next year.”
“See, an orange grove is a pretty place when blossoms bloom,
but life in an orange grove’s got a hard edge before the rains come in June.”
“Any other questions, young man?”
“Why…don’t you water the thirsty ones first? And how much is twenty percent?”