Q. There’s got to be some better reaction to a summer thunderstorm than stopping everything you’re trying to do on a Saturday afternoon. Suggestions?
First, I suggest you read up on the rotation of the earth, the jet stream, and weather systems, and start savoring the temperature differentials that cause those beautiful thunderheads to roil and the pressure to drop. This is the South in summer. We have a wet season. You know how Costa Rica and the lovely equatorial lands have what they call the “rainy” season? Our thunderstorms are the first cousins of that. Which brings us to why they are necessary, namely, the crops. Bless the thunderheads, bless the farmers, because every peach, tomato, and succulent melon that you have eaten this season and will eat for the tag end of this season is the product of that fecund climatic arrangement. Not to mention the cotton. Second, stop looking at a thunderstorm as an agent of denial, and see it for what it is: Zeus’s invitation to find a good porch and a good book, ice down some wine, and enjoy forces much, much bigger than you as they are at play.
Q. We’re involved in some culinary larceny and now are having a crisis of conscience. Our property backs onto a neighbor’s that has better blackberry bushes but he doesn’t seem to know about them. Should I tell him?
Everyone loves a repentant garden thief, especially a thief of the prized black jewels of summer. Yes, absolutely tell him. There are two ways to go with this. If you think he has a sense of humor, then make him a blackberry cobbler and ring him up, or send him an e-mail and say: I have a gift and a confession. Come on by for a drink. When he gets settled into his cocktail, bring out the cobbler and tell him you’ve found some bushes and you want to enter into an old-school “sharecropping” arrangement. If he’s not an idiot, he will think the whole thing hilarious and you will have a great partner in the harvest. If—which is more likely—you don’t think he has a sense of humor, tell him sooner rather than later. No drinks, no frills, no fun: Make him the cobbler and walk it over. Say casually—at delivery—that you were screwing around on your property removing underbrush and found some bushes. They could be on either side of the line, but, best you could reckon, they seem to be on his. So you’re tithing him the pie, get it? And letting him know you were back there. Because the last thing you want is a humorless neighbor to find you messing around in his woods with a flashlight at dusk some August night. And who is such a heartless bastard that he cannot be warmed up by the gift of a freshly baked, hyperlocal blackberry cobbler as a summer lagniappe? Even if it comes from a low-down, no-account blackberry thief, next door to whom he has the misfortune to live.
Q. Given all the handwringing over sugary drinks these days, is sweet tea as we know it in jeopardy? Should we just go ahead and outlaw it?
Don’t go overboard. The South is not a dictatorship and certainly not one regarding gustatory choices. While we could post a reasonable medical argument that sweet tea should be available for human consumption only by prescription and on the presentation of recent blood test results paired with some form of state-approved photo ID, let’s not rush into lobbying for a full-on ban. You don’t have to drink the stuff, but it is a useful geospatial coordinate marker. Let’s say you’re driving from Chicago at night and your GPS is on the fritz. Like other distinctively Southern drinks such as Sun-Drop and NuGrape, sweet tea has a place—on I-95, I-10, and I-65—at what we can call the various “land gates” of the South. When the great barrels of sweet tea appear in gas station checkouts, I know I’m in the homeland. Everything equally saccharine, and deadly, for everybody. No matter who you are.