Drought | TheUnion.com

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Photo for The Union by John Hart

Editor's note: Steve Sanfield, an award-winning author, poet and storyteller, shares the following poem he penned during the drought of the early 1970s and has since revised. Sanfield, the founder of the Sierra Storytelling Festival who has lived on the San Juan Ridge for 45 years, was a member of the Freedom Riders of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Sanfield said he sought to share this poem, which first appeared in his collection, "The Rain Begins Below," with members of the Nevada County community, who no doubt have the drought on their minds.


Can you spare some water?

I'm down to rock bottom.

No water for horses.

Can't even begin to think

about keepin' the fruit trees alive.

Never been like this before.

Mid-December and the only fires

on my neighbors' minds

are those that could

scar these hills again.

Crisp clear days

hardwoods aglow

but at night

no fires are needed.

Gardens long ago withered

wells gone dry

high country lakes dead and desolate

drained for the first planting

of winter crops in the valley below.


Among the Hopi Indians

when the rain doesn't fall

each man and woman asks

What did I do wrong?

Did I stumble in the sacred dance?

lay down cornmeal with an evil thought?

Many seasons ago when

no rain had fallen

on the land and the spirit

for so long

I set out on a journey

in search of a rainmaker.

(It must be my fault.

It is because of me

the clouds always pass.)

Rabbis reverends roshis

and then atop the high mesas of Arizona

I ask the Hopi elder Grandfather David

what I can do.

A long night in the kiva

the feet of dancing kachinas

shaking the earth

and he says

Return to your home

Purify your heart

Ask nothing for yourself.

Simple and direct.

An impossible task

a quest for heroes

who left our world long ago

but what else to do?


Now years later

so many lives bone dry

dreams crushed by reality

visions incomplete

anger and bitterness seeping in

through the fault lines of the heart

and still no rain.

I search the radio dial

for a hopeful sign

and hear Smokey the Bear

died in a cage in Washington D.C.

He was 25 years old.

Discouraged but undaunted

I consult the Talmud at random

and find: 'The rain falls from above

but it begins below.'

As always

It comes down to

letting the rain fall.

Dear friends,

please do what you can.

Steve Sanfield lives in Nevada County.