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Florida's droughts come with silver lining

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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2000

They go with the package of being a Floridian.

You are visited by pestilences like Republicans running the Legislature, jellyfish infestations on the day you pick to take the kids to the beach, winter visitors who never know when to leave, summer hurricane threats that fail to materialize but keep you on edge and parking spaces so far from the mall entrance that some honest exercise is required to get inside and shop.

The indignity of it all.

Worst of all, though, is drought.

Being surrounded by water and being without enough of it is not just an apparent contradiction in terms but an affront to the lifestyle you signed on for when you put your name on the mortgage. How can you sip a gin and tonic on that patio furniture out of the mail-order catalog while staring at dead grass and fire ant hills?

So government leaders convene, lower heads, set rules. You have to remember if your house is odd numbered or even. Reporters report urgent stories, urgently. Firefighters issue grave warnings. Nurserymen fret about the threat to their livelihood.

At the risk of insulting nearly everybody, this drought is the best news to come down the pike in a long time.

No longer do we, the garden-impaired, have to apologize.

We -- I speak in the first person plural in the name of full disclosure -- can look to the heavens, roll our shoulders and say the situation is beyond our control.

And we can finally feel a smidgen of -- certainly not superiority, but at least some sense of common dirt -- with those we know who have a gift for creating backyard idylls straight out of those lush-colored gardening magazines.

I have long been hobbled by a fantasy about those people, some of whom until now were my friends and neighbors. I imagined that on those secluded iron benches, by those ponds where mosquitoes magically never hover, among the stones engraved with inspirational messages on their gently worn footpaths, they successfully make their peace with whatever part of their lives they've completely screwed up.

Either that or they just flee whoever is in the house.

The first scenario plays better to my own insecurities, so I cling to it. But thanks to the drought I no longer have to berate myself for the clover, the holes, the dog piles, or the enormous brown spot where the dog lands after he has been bathed and is seized with the desire to bolt out the door and roll in the dirt to scratch his back.

Least of all that.

I don't have to sweat about not owning a smart-looking deck. Or a Jacuzzi. Or even those Hawaiian-style flares that you stick in the ground.

Or even why it is I left the camera out on the Weber grill in the middle of the winter when it did rain and ruined a perfectly fine $200 Japanese make that even I could operate with some skill.

This is a roundabout, even overdone way of saying that the drought can be a liberating thing, not a natural accident to be cursed with wasted breath.

I'm free to be a yard slob.

I can turn my attention to some other worthy task, like unpainted rooms and closets filled to bursting with the useless and forgotten that I have been promising for months I would get to.

I can invite my neighbor with the yard that has fallen from Zen-like grace into my kitchen for iced tea and not wince when she glances out the window.

And when she brings up the subject of rain, I'll say that I'm praying for it, too, and beg silent forgiveness for my little lie.

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