Up until about a week ago, Georgia (the whole southeastern US actually) suffered from extreme, exceptional drought conditions. In June, Atlanta imposed watering restrictions, meaning once per week you can water your garden. No one is supposed to wash their car. We’re supposed to be rationing the laundry.

Early July brought some rain, but towards the end the rain died off and in August the temperatures soared into the triple digits. I began walking the dog at midnight because it was cooler. That’s when I discovered all of the midnight watering taking place. Neighbors who we commiserated with by day about the drought and heat were out in baseball caps and dark pajamas pointing a hose at their flower beds with the porch lights turned off.

As Rufus and I passed they turned their backs, and I looked the other way. No understanding nods passed between us, no apologetic glances.

Now I understood why a freshness emanated from certain yards when I walked Rufus in the mornings, why their yards smelled sweet and the ones next to them smelled dead. For every three or four yards where the grass was browned out or even the ivy looked stressed, there was at least one yard where the vinca bloomed profusely and the fescue thrived. Uh huh! Midnight waterers.

Truth be told, I was pissed. And envious.

As my midnight dog walking continued and midnight waterer spotting increased, questions arose. Should I make my outraged sentiments known? Should I try to politely and lightly persuade them to do otherwise? Should I lay down the mother of all guilt trips? Should I call the city who trawled the neighborhoods during the day looking for violators. Should I look the other way? Should I join them in this defense of our poor, thirsty gardens? I hemmed, hawed, grumbled, stewed. There were no easy answers. As time went on guilt flared; I felt like a collaborator. That pissed me off even more.

By early-August, the rain supplies in our rain barrel were used up. That’s when Tim and I caved, and began using buckets and watering cans to save our plants. Our methods didn’t waste the way hoses and sprinklers can, and we did our illicit watering before dinner, not in the dark. These were some of the justifications we crafted to make ourselves feel better about choosing our own interests over the common good

It’s not as if the reservoir was dry, we said. If it gets that bad, we promised, we’ll straighten up, fly right, and let the garden go.

We’ve had some good soaking rain nearly every day for a week. The rain barrel is full again. But, I’m finding there’s some muck that won’t wash away. It’s like a seal has been broken, and now I’m one of them.

Melissa, 38, Atlanta, USA