Letter From thenHeartlandnby Jane GreernThe Big DustynA friend says her secret wish is for somenvery old distant relative, who she’snnever met and won’t miss, to die andnleave her a fortune. Waiting for rainnthis summer is a lot like that — only lessnrealistic.nIn what threatens to be our thirdnvirtually rainless summer, I watch thenten o’clock news religiously, waiting, fornthe weather. We pop a cork overnhundredths of an inch 100 miles east ofnhere, 60 miles west, just across thenriver, in a backyard on the south edgenof town. When we’re lightly splatterednon our back porch (it doesn’t happennoften) we pick up what we’re doing,nrush inside — and a dozen drops disappearnin the dust. We feel guilty deepwateringnour young trees, but haven’tnbeen ordered to stop yet. We wait asnlong as possible in the spring to startnhelping our lawn along, and feel evennmore guilty about that.nPeople who have never lived in anrural area, or even in a city in a ruralnarea, have a hard time imagining hownanyone but farmers and ranchers arenhurt by a drought. (Two early-morningnNew York City TV news show cohostsnwere kvetching recently becausenthe city received IVi inches of rain onenday and was due for more the next.)nThe truth is that even New York,nMiami, and Los Angeles will feel thencrunch if the Midwest and GreatnPlains don’t get some rain soon. Whennthere is no rain, crops don’t grow,nwhich means many things: (1) peoplenwho eat food, a group that includesnmost of us, have less of a selection; (2)nthe food that is available costs morenbecause’it’s more scarce; and (3)nthere’s less grain to feed livestock, whonare slaughtered younger, forcing up thenprice of meat. Range-fed livestock oftennrun out of food, too, after severalndry years, and must be shipped elsewherento graze, or slaughtered prematurely,neither of which forces up thenprice. Everyone spends a little less,nbecause from the seed dealers to thenbusiness-owning public, less money isncoming in.n50/CHRONICLESnThe economic downturn during anbona fide drought makes people justnplain cranky. According to some experts,nthe incidence of spodse and childnabuse is higher during a seriousndrought than it is even during a longnwinter of stir-crazy isolation. We don’t,nas a rule, have many murders or muggingsnin most parts of this region — anpurse snatched from an elderly womannoutside a Bismarck bingo pador madenthe front pages statewide — but duringna drought psychologists and counselorsnsee an increase in patients who arenhaving marital problems as a result ofntheir money problems, or who arensimply depressed. During an averagenday there may be litde pockets ofnlightheartedness, to be sure, but thenbasic mood is one of suffocating lethargy.nA drought makes it hard to have fun.nIf there is a severe danger of fire, allnkinds of camping and hiking are discouraged,nif not actually banned.nFourth of July fireworks are outlawed.nLakes dry inward from the edges, leavingnswimmers and boaters nothing butnscum. Huge, man-made, 180-milelongnLake Sakakawea in North Dakota,nformed in the 1950’s when thenCorps of Engineers dammed the MissourinRiver 50 miles north of Bismarck,nwas released a little at a time lastnsummer by the Corps. So was LakenOahe in North and South Dakota.nWhy? So that Mississippi River shippingncould continue (there’s virtuallynno Missouri River shipping). Ownersnof cabins and resorts on Sakakaweanwere forced to extend or move theirnboat docks inward more than 100 feetnin some cases — and the systematicndrainage continues this year.n(In addition to downriver flood control,none putative advantage put forthnto North Dakotans for the 1950’snnnconstruction of the Garrison dam,nwhich pooled Lake Sakakawea overnhundreds of thousands of acres ofnprime farmland, was the provision ofncheap, easy water for irrigation. Saidnirrigation never became a reality, andnnow, faced with also losing recreation,nfishing, and tourism on the lake. NorthnDakotans are ticked off^ enough to startna hopeless lawsuit, with other uprivernstates, against the Corps. North DakotanAttorney General Nick Spaeth is reportednto have said that while hencouldn’t encourage people to revoltnand take over Sakakawea from thenCorps, if it happened, those involvedncould expect a full pardon from him.nAnd former South Dakota GovernornBill Janklow has said that he’d rathernfight nature than the Corps, becausenonce in a while it’s possible to get Godnto change His mind. . . .)nLast December 5, huge and rathernfrightening percentages of North Dakotanvoters defeated measures thatnwould have increased the state salesntax, gas tax, and income tax. At thensame time, they defeated measures fornvideo gambling, “health” education, anfine for not using car safety belts,nretirement benefits for state legislators,nand — amazingly, given the understandablen”leave us the hell alone” votenon all the rest — the reorganization andnstreamlining of state government,nwhich “The People” wanted but apparentlynthought they could accomplishnmore effectively as a 650,000memberntask force. Popular wisdomn(from the groups who had supportednall or some of the measures) had it thatn”The People” put their collective footndown solely as a result of several discouragingndrought years, not becausenthey were fed up with governmentnmeddling. Immediately after the election,nmany North Dakotans thoughtnthey could read the handwriting on thenwall and started talking about leavingnthe state and looking for a job innMinneapolis/St. Paul or Denver. Mynhusband and I thought about it, briefly,nourselves. A tangle of official, hurriedlynformed “task forces” has begun to looknat ways to rejuvenate the state, butn, most folks who have chosen to staynhere say all our problems would clearnup if we just got a littie rain, and they’renprobably right.nJane Greer lives in Bismarck.n