Monday, May 30, 2005


Tonight may be the night when the long dry spell comes to an end. Technically, we should be under a driving thunderstorm right now, at least according to the radar on the television. So far, there has been thunder and lightning, but it's been a cruel teaser. Nary a raindrop has least not here in Celebration.

With any luck, we may get a good soaking by morning. Our whole area (Kissimmee) is under yellow and red blobs on the radar screen. We've also managed to top 2000 lightning strikes, according to the Fox television counter. The lightning counter was a new thing for me when I moved to Florida. In Chicago, we had a heat index and a UV index, but I don't think we ever got enough lightning to warrant keeping track.

I did witness a lightning strike once, albeit indirectly. It was before I was married; I was in my apartment, sitting in the livingroom with the front door open so the screen door could let in the breeze. I knew it was going to rain, but the downpour hadn't arrived yet. Suddenly, there was an ear-slitting explosion and a bright flash of white. Along with all my neighbors, I raced outside to see what had happened. A tree had been struck a couple of houses down, with its charred trunk neatly split in two. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and it didn't fall on any houses.

In Florida, I haven't witnessed any lightning strikes at close range yet, and hopefully things will remain that way. I worry about our home and appliances; we haven't taken any action yet, other than buying surge protector outlets, but we plan to sign up for Progress Energy's surge protection program. According to their website, and the propagada that they mail occasionally, for $5.95 a month, they "reduce electrical surges by suppressing them at your meter before they enter your home." In theory, the rainy season is here, so we should subscribe to the service soon.

Then again, the storms might be a no-show once again. I worked late this evening, and for a while the sky was lit up with nature's fireworks, punctuated with a distant rumble of thunder. It took a while to convince my husband that it really was thunder, and not just the echo of fireworks from Disney World, since it was Illuminations time.

But now that's all gone, and the sky is dark and undisturbed by any signs of imminent rain. I hope that it will make a resurgence overnight, because our poor lawn is dying out more every day. We ran the sprinklers, checking them carefully to make sure that they were all working and that none of them were blocked too badly by grass clumps or bushes. We found a couple that had gotten lost in grassy overgrowth; no matter how brown the rest of the lawn gets, the areas around the sprinklers stay like mini patches of jungle thicket. We cut them out to make sure that the precious water would reach the widest area possible.

Sprinklers are one of those aspects of Florida life that took some getting used to. In the Midwest, nature does most of the watering. During dry spells, you buy a lawn sprinkler that you hook up to your hose. The only houses there that have an underground irrigation system are those far above my socioeconomic level.

In Florida, sprinklers are the status quo. They are as inocuous as phone lines or a power meter. You have to keep an eye on them to make sure that none of the heads are broken, resulting in an Old Faithful-style gusher, and that they are correctly aimed, not blocked with sediment, and not lost under overgrowth. But once you get used to them, they become another fact of life.

The sprinklers use reclaimed water, i.e. water that you would not want to drink. It has an oddly sweet smell that I've never been able to figure out; I didn't even notice it until my husband pointed it out.

In contrast, the water in the house has a slightly swampy smell at certain times of the year. I don't even notice it anymore, but back in the days when we were tourists, I loved it. In my mind, it meant "Disney World," as it always tickled my nose when taking a shower at our hotel.

I'm so used to Florida now that when I return to Chicago, the water there smells funny to me. I was born and raised on Lake Michigan water, which tastes good but is heavily chlorinated. Since I never knew anything else, I never noticed the chlorine smell or taste. Now, that bleachy odor assaults my senses the moment it leaves the tap.

As I type this, the rain is still a no-show, but hopefully it will pour down in sheets overnight. Besides the scorched greenery, the lakes are as low as I've ever seen them, and one of the normally marshy areas along the East Village walking path has dried out to a muddy hole. With any luck, by tomorrow it will be teaming with water and bird life again.

If not, it will be back to waiting; supposedly, if we slip by unscathed tonight, the next chance of thunderstorms is tomorrow. I hate to ruin the tourists' afternoon plans, but I'm desperate. Just an hour or two is all that I ask...just enough to restore all the thirsty lawns and let the wetlands live up to their name once again.

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