Dry Wells

What goes around…this passage is from 2002, recorded in Slow Road Home, and here we are again. The windows were open last night; something was missing.  We are hoping for a good rain today. Oh, please.


We turned on the floor fan for the first time last night as we were going to bed, to keep the still, humid air stirred up a bit. I woke up a few hours later, bothered by the noise of the whirring blades. I’d much rather hear the outside sounds coming through the open window–a trilling  toad, a whippoorwill, a screech owl over by the barn.

I  switched off the fan, and stepped out onto the porch into  the tepid night before getting back to my dreams.  The earth lay silver and still. High clouds pulled past the face of the moon like a silk scarf, flooding the valley with  pulses of lavender light. The barred owl’s who-cooks-for- you, the other night so close to the house, called from farther down the pasture, near the crook in the ridge where  the creek disappears up the canyon of leaning oaks and white pines.

Crickets and katydids were in full evening voice, sine-waves rising, falling, their chorus mesmerizing in its repetitiveness, mantra-like and reassuring.  But something was lacking, and I did not at first grasp what it was. A layer was missing from the score of our  night music, and I stood there in the dark with an unsettling emptiness.

Then I knew: the creeks were silent. For the first time since we’ve listened to the nights here, Goose Creek and  Nameless Creek that converge outside our bedroom window were not the dominant background of sound. That turbulent chatter has been so always-present, we  have taken it for granted until now. Tonight, an entire section of our orchestra was mute, the silence itself a jarring noise.

Wells across our region are drying up from the three-year drought. And it is not just the wells that are drying  but the very source–the vast waters in bedrock where  most of the drinkable water on Earth is found. When this source goes dry, it takes years, maybe decades to replenish. Some wells and springs will never come back after a sustained drought like this, leaving dark caves and crevices silent and dry far beneath our feet–places that have  been wet with liquid sounds since these mountains were  born.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I agree. Quite evocative. We’re experiencing the same uneasiness, as the creek that runs by our house is lapsing into silence. We’ve been frugal with our water for some time, but now are becoming hyper conservative. It’s scary to think one could lose one’s home from lack of water as surely as from fire.