Hot, dry and surrounded by gnats

Published 7:22 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How did I do it?

I used to be thin as a rail when I worked in the watermelon fields. Up and down the rows we moved, tossing the 30-pound melons with ease.

When the heat really got to us, we would split a watermelon open, stick our hand in the middle, and eat the seedless heart.

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The heat did not seem to drain me then. A quick swim at the spring at Bazemore Mill Pond after work and I was good to go. There wasn’t air-conditioning when I got home, just a fan stirring the hot air.

It was occasionally dry, just like now. My most vivid memories of farming back then was waiting and praying for rain. Decades later, that is why I never, ever complain about too much rain.

As for the gnats, I know they were around because I remember the little bottle of the insect repellent, 6-12, on my desk in the first grade. It fell off my desk into the rolled-up cuff of my blue jeans spilling the contents of the entire bottle into the fold of the denim.

I am not sure if I remember because of the other kids laughing or because of the chemical smell in my jeans. At least there were no bugs around me when I wore those Levi’s for a while.

This summer, which has really just begun, seems to be hotter and drier than normal. The only things that seem to be happy are the gnats, which seem to be thriving this year.

The insecticides that are increasingly geared to children and families seem to only attract more of the little bugs. If the bug spray does work, it isn’t for long. The sweat soon dilutes it and who doesn’t sweat when both the temperature and the humidity are both at 100.

I have to admit that the few pounds I have put on since my teen years probably make it seem hotter. OK, it is more than a few pounds. Without the air-conditioning that is everywhere in our modern world, I have no idea how I would make it.

The Mill Pond at Bazemore I loved as a kid is down 30 inches this year. The great spring that feeds it is just a mud hole now. Compass Lake is dropping faster than I ever remember and we probably won’t be able to get the boat back in the boathouse this summer unless we have a hurricane.

Southwest Georgia is now in what is classified as an extreme drought. According to the University of Georgia, the rain year begins on Oct. 1 of each year. Since the first of October of last year, southern Georgia has received 70 percent or less of normal rainfall.

Mixed with the extreme heat, the soils are extraordinarily dry. Ninety-five out of a hundred years, our soils would be wetter. That is why you see every irrigation system in sight running at full throttle. In my youth, that wouldn’t have been an option. The crops would have just withered and died.

Even now I believe I could take the heat and the drought if it wasn’t for those doggone gnats. As a southerner, I can blow them away with an upward burst of air from my mouth with the best of them. However, today’s gnats are so aggressive and so numerous that a man my age can easily get winded trying to blow them all away.

Gnats have managed to make it in the church for both weddings and funerals I have attended recently. You can hear the people quietly huffing and puffing unless they had the foresight to bring a fan.

As a church organist, nothing is more aggravating than gnats acting like kamikaze pilots dive bombing into my ears. There is no way to deal with them buzzing around my eardrums while my hands are occupied. You should try music with a stubborn gnat in your eyes.

No matter how frustrating these times may be, it is where I choose to live. There is no place I would rather be than Southwest Georgia in the spring and fall. The moderate winters I get to experience make me the envy of all my friends up north. I think of these types of summers as just a time to endure.

And then, just when you think it will never rain again, you have a thunderstorm pop up. I stood in my backyard last Friday savoring the smell of an approaching rain. The heat dropped 20 degrees in just a few minutes. The downpour was soaked up by a thirsty earth even as it fed my spirit.

As I sit here tonight, the fourth thunderstorm in five days is approaching. The drought isn’t broken and the heat will be back. But for just a few hours I can enjoy a break from the heat and gnats I as enjoy the sound and smell of the pouring rain.