Saturday, April 4, 2015

Going Brown (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

Bougainvillea vine drapes a building with intense color.
I first visited California in winter-time, after the initial winter rains had flushed the hillsides with green. This was northern California north of San Francisco, and to me, coming from a December Denver where even in wet years the grass goes brown in October and stays that way until springtime, California seemed shockingly green.

I had a similar experience flying from Denver to Johannesburg a few years later. Stapleton Airport was surrounded by gray concrete, but taking off from Denver, all we saw from the city limits to the horizon was dry gray farmland. On the drive from Jan Smuts Airport in South Africa to new jobs on the Witwatersrand (the mining district of the Transvaal), we were surrounded by flowering hedges of bougainvillea and newly planted fields of sorghum.

As the reversed seasons moved from spring to fall, the Transvaal lost its unearthly tropical colors and began to look more like the high plains in Colorado. (It is at a similar distance from the tropics as Denver, but in the southern hemisphere.) Still, in my memory, Johannesburg is a flowery city, festooned with green and purple.


Turquoise puya loves a drought!
Later I would live for thirty years in southern California south of Los Angeles, through two statewide droughts (and the flood years that inevitably followed them). Even so, I never lost the sense that California was a green state. 

This morning, my spouse announced that the Puya berteroniana (Turquoise puya) we had bought from Annie's Annuals two years ago and planted at the top of the hill in back of our house was thriving in the dry soil. The day the earth turns brown can be a boon to the heat-and-drought loving Puya.

So when I read the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge for this week, I was thinking less about the earth going brown from the drought as a bad thing, than about plants that thrive in dry climates and lack of water, and the contrast we experience when we get a "snapshot image" of a different climate by traveling from one place to another.

April 1, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the day the earth turned brown. How did it happen? What else might be going on? It can be dramatic or even humorous. It can be the greater globe or a localized occurrence. It can be an aftermath or a revival. Follow where the prompt leads you.

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Going Brown

Our new house was perfect, except for the poor garden plot in back. Limp weedy stalks drooped in widely-separated clumps over the dry gray soil. 

Those first few weeks, as we unpacked and arranged furniture inside, I  could ignore the gasping pleas of the water-starved garden. New house, new job, new neighbors to meet, new schools for the kidsthere was no time for backyard farming.

Then my neighbor offered, "I make more compost than I ever use. I just enjoy making compost." Digging it in felt so good, transforming that dry gray earth to a rich, fertile brown!