A THIRST for Attention: Drought Persists in the Southwest

A THIRST for Attention: Drought Persists in the Southwest

Mother Nature has Texans holding on to their very last drops of hope.

Unfortunately, many residents of Southwestern states are familiar with the serious challenges associated with drought; in Austin, they've suffered through it for a few consecutive years. The extreme drought conditions they're facing have presented historic problems for the city. From watering restrictions and risks of running out of water, does any reflection of optimism exist?

Although the future for drought-stricken trees is questionable, raising awareness is possible to achieve, thanks to the hard work and determination of Austin-area organizations.

Women and Their Work, a 35-year-old nonprofit, multidisciplinary organization, encourages artists to create new pieces via visual and performing arts, theater, film or music. Its gallery features 2,000 square feet of space for exhibitions, but one particular concept had a "thirst" for a new, even bigger environment.

Tibetan prayer flags THIRST in Austin
Prayer flags mirror the image of the dead tree Davey crewmembers helped install for THIRST. Crewmembers also helped loop the 14,000 flags 2.5 miles between Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge and the 1st Street Bridge.

"THIRST is the biggest exhibition we've ever done," says Executive Director Chris Cowden, referring to its collaborative piece designed to recognize Austin's depleting water source and terrible, ongoing drought. "Approximately 300 million trees have died," Cowden says, "and more continue to die."

To best depict the stark reality of drought's effect on trees, the project needed a strong visual artist component. Upon receiving an invitation to submit a proposal from the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation-established by one of the most innovative artists of the 20th century-Women and Their Work gathered a team of professionals to deliver a polished result.

Visual Artist Beili Liu, Clayton&Little Architects' Emily Little and Norma Yancey and Landscape Designer Cassie Bergstrom worked together to determine a call to action through art. Their solution? Position a dying tree just high enough above a lake its roots cannot reach the water.

THIRST, A CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. It was the strangest request Dan Hunsicker had ever received.

 THIRST flags at Pfluger Circle in Austin
Pfluger Circle displays 14,000 prayer flags to raise awareness of drought's impact on trees in Austin, Texas, and beyond.

While Bergstrom had worked with Hunsicker, district manager for Davey Tree service's local Austin residential office, on a past project, the company had maintained a good, well-known reputation among THIRST contributors. So when the installation process required large tree moving equipment to transport the designated dead tree to its temporary exhibition site, Davey naturally received the call for assistance and a bit of expertise.

"THIRST was an extremely arduous project," Cowden says. "Once we found the tree-38 feet tall, weighing 2.5 tons and located in the middle of a pasture-we had to figure out how to install it."

The tree's peculiar combination of immense weight and extreme fragility presented a challenge. How could Davey help by transporting the project's centerpiece so gracefully as to keep its branches intact to ultimately create a stunning silhouette?

MOVING THIRST. Before its removal, transport to and display above Lady Bird Lake, the dying tree required a bit of cleanup.

THIRST in Austin at night

THIRST, the art installation shown illuminated against the white sky, raised awareness about the impact drought will have on Austin, as well as memorialized the loss of 300 million trees in Texas as a result of drought. Photo: Ben Aqua

Davey crewmembers first removed its leaves, then used a supersonic air tool to remove debris from the roots. Upon removing the tree, Davey finished off its new appearance for the exhibit by applying a second coat of white paint to its bark.

The tree's midnight journey to Lady Bird Lake required a lot of patience and planning. "Getting there was challenging," Hunsicker explains, describing the three-lane width of space required to transport the tree down the interstate. However, the tree arrived on site safely by 2 a.m.

THIRST, FOR A GOOD CAUSE. THIRST arrived to Lady Bird Lake for a reason. The lake, located in the center of Austin, maintains a constant water level throughout all seasons, which suggests frequent passersby may not assume drought is a concern. But THIRST proved otherwise.

Women and Their Work unveiled THIRST at night, illuminating its white silhouette against the dark, night sky. "It looked as if the tree was floating above the water at night," Hunsicker says.

Tens of thousands of people saw the exhibit during its display from Sept. 29 through Dec. 18, 2013. According to Cowden, THIRST spoke to people in a visceral way. "Art can change people's behavior as well as affect the world. Even though it's difficult to scientifically access,art changes the way people think about things."

Want to learn more? Watch a documentary about THIRST here.

  • The Tree Doctor July 30, 2014 >Hi, Barbara! Thank you for your comment - we appreciate you reaching out! Feel free to check out this PBS segment featuring Dan Hunsicker, Davey's district manager of our Austin local office: http://www.davey.com/about/newsroom/davey-in-the-news/thirst/. Enjoy!
  • Barbara Wagner July 30, 2014 >This is the most dramatic way I have ever seen to convey the way drought and lowering of the underground water table impacts what happens on the surface. Thank you, Davey, for bringing this to the attention of your customers. This story deserves a wider audience. I hope it reaches national media as global warming will make water problems even more severe.
Add a comment:
Featured or Related Blog Posts
  • Heat Wave

    Heat wave.

    The term usually makes many people think of the tropics or the desert.

    But extreme heat has hit many areas hard so far this summer. Record highs have been broken in some cities, while others have seen their hottest temperatures since the 1980s.

    Read More
  • Forecast: Hot & Humid

    The air-conditioning is set on high. The fan is blowing in my face. And it feels so good, particularly since my dog and I were just panting within seconds of stepping out to a heavy wall of heat and humidity. His face tilts up to mine, happy for the nice, cool breeze. We face the facts together as I sip from a tall, cool glass of water and he laps up the same out of his bowl: Despite our yearning to enjoy the outdoors, it's hot. And it's hot in nearly every region of the country.

    There's simply no denying it: This summer's a scorcher. While it's difficult to find the motivation to open the door to the heat lingering in the air outside - let alone step out onto a dry, parched lawn - I brave the elements because I notice my trees need some TLC, too.

    It's difficult to imagine another day of 90-plus degree temperatures. So I can hardly imagine how my trees must feel as their roots cling to nothing but the dry soil, day after day.

    Read More
  • How Are Your Trees Handling the Mild Winter Temperatures?

    We've been blessed with several mild days within the past few months. I have certainly appreciated the additional opportunities I've had to spend some time outdoors, but these constant fluctuating temperatures sure are confusing.

    It's difficult for people to adjust to colder temperatures and snow after enjoying a few consecutive days of sunshine and moderate temperatures. But it's also difficult for trees to handle such rapid temperature fluctuations.

    While people can seek shelter indoors to fulfill their daily health and nutritional needs, trees aren't so fortunate. They need water, just like us. And, like most of us, they can become stressed. So when the ground freezes over, or when the hot, dry summer climate arrives, drought stress may affect your trees.

    Read More
  • No Green Left Behind

    Now that Daylight Savings Time has begun, it's time to start thinking spring. As temperatures begin to gradually climb higher during the next few weeks, blooming flowers, chirping birds and budding trees paint the perfect scene of the season.

    But early spring often presents us with drab colors and climates as winter leaves us behind. So, before spring transforms the environment into a palette of bright greens, yellows, pinks and blues, the season's rain showers must wash Old Man Winter's salt-stricken sidewalks and mud-trotted lawns away.

    There is no denying I've got spring fever, especially after experiencing sudden warm temperatures during a recent visit to the Midwest. As I soaked in the sunshine, however, expecting to see eager green crocus emerging from the soil along the path, the empty brown cavities I noticed within several nearby evergreen trees dampened my excitement for the season.

    Read More
  • Water Your Trees and Lawn Where It Counts

    Confused as to which season is ending and which one is about to begin?

    Although you'll notice the calendar makes it pretty clear the first day of autumn falls on Sunday, Sept. 22 this year, Mother Nature doesn't always adhere to those dates. Instead, she often changes her "mood." The resulting unusual environmental conditions gets you caught up in the transition, unsure whether you should pack away your shorts and T-shirts just yet or resurface your sweaters from the depths of your closet earlier than planned.

    The summer months delivered some heavy rains that saturated lawns with excessive water and moisture, while other regions suffered extreme heat and drought. Unfortunately, both cases present similar symptoms on your trees and turf. No matter the extreme weather conditions you've suffered this season, knowing the differences between parched and drowning roots can help you better prepare your landscape for fall.

    Read More

Request a consultation

What do you need services for?
Sorry, we can’t seem to find the zip code you specified. Our residential tree care offices may not service your area. If you believe this is an error, please try again. Need help? Email us at info@davey.com.
  • Email newsletter
  • Woodchips
*Please fill out all required fields.