Violet doesn’t remember the peach tree in her front yard ever fruiting so early in the season. The first peach appeared sometime around her birthday, if she remembers correctly, which is in the beginning of May. Now, it is the end of June, and already the tree is looking exhausted and weighed down by its fruit, which seems to be dropping steadily and always with a soft thump. As Violet looks around the landscape of the yard, she notices that the pink and purple hydrangeas in the front yard are wilting, and even the Japanese maple tree is looking droopy. 

This must be what her mother was talking about when she said there is going to be a heatwave in the Willamette Valley this week. She said it will be hotter here than almost anywhere on Earth, second only to the Sahara Desert. As Violet looks out across her yard, she imagines their garden waterless, the grass sun-scorched and yellowed, everything turning to sand as the sun beats down on her small neighborhood. She quickly shakes this thought from her head. 

Luckily, she spots their neighbor Mr. Bruno, walking his three dogs, Ethel, Annie, and Bug, a group of small poodle-looking dogs that are quite friendly and always excited to see Violet. The dogs love to jump up and climb on Violet’s legs, kissing her hands and face, and Violet loves it too. Sometimes the dogs race around Violet’s yard, sniffing the lavender and trying to find fallen fruit to eat, while Mr. Bruno tugs at their leashes, urging them not to eat anything. However today, the dogs are moving with a kind of lethargy, and they don’t seem to want to stop to say hello. They pull Mr. Bruno towards home, which is only a few houses down, lumbering slowly yet with a fierce determination. All of them are panting, even Mr. Bruno, who smiles beneath his sun hat and waves quickly as they pass. It seems the whole pack is in a hurry to escape the heat. Perhaps this is what Violet’s mother means when she says “the dog days of summer:” a day so hot that even the dogs don’t want to go out for a walk. She watches the pups race up the porch to the water bowl that Mr. Bruno leaves outside for them, and they sit there for a good minute and or two, lapping up mouthful after mouthful. 

Violet begins to wonder what it would be like to actually live in the desert. She knows that camels can go a long time without a drink, but she isn’t so sure about humans or other animals. The dogs certainly seem thirsty after their brief outing. Even Mr. Bruno, who loves hot weather and often sunbathes in his front yard, was also sweating. Violet herself has only been sitting outside for ten minutes and already she is thirsty, so she knows for certain that a ten-year-old is no camel. She turns to go back inside the house for a drink of water as the street begins to shimmer in the heat. 

Violet breaths a sign of relief as she enters the cool interior of her home. The house is old and drafty, which makes for a wonderful shelter in the summer, almost like a cave, especially since her parents always shut the curtains and windows to make the house nice and dark. She can hear their crummy old air conditioner chugging in the window, making “that awful racket,” as her father calls it. 

Violet goes into the kitchen, grabs a glass, and fills it with cold water. She takes a long drink before refilling the glass. Then she grabs a handful of apple slices from the refrigerator, arranging them carefully on her favorite blue floral plate. At the last minute, she grabs a book from her parents’ library called Nature Encyclopedia: The Desert, and stuffs it under her arm before heading back outside, settling into her favorite spot under the maple tree. 

She sits against the curve of the maple tree’s trunk, and she can feel the coolness of its bark against her back. The Japanese maple is at least as tall as Violet’s house, and she loves the way that the branches snake out in every direction. Its canopy of delicate leaves filters the sunlight into patterns, casting a dance of shadows across Violet’s arms and legs. Violet savors its shade and traces one hand across its paper-like bark before she opens her book and begins to read. 

She flips to a chapter called “Animals of the Desert,” and reads about how lizards adapt to extreme weather conditions. Violet is most intrigued when she comes across an image of animals crowded around a tiny garden that looks like it has been magically placed in the center of the desert. The encyclopedia calls it an oasis. 

Violet hears the caw of a nearby crow. She searches through the canopy above her until she sees the bird perched in one of the branches of the maple tree. Violet is careful not to stare directly at it, as her father has always told her to avoid eye contact with crows, so as not to scare them off. When she was younger, she thought that crows were dangerous, but her father was quick to inform her that crows are one of the most intelligent and respectable creatures. He told her a story once about a friend who found a young crow with a broken wing in his back yard and brought it inside to nurse it back to health. For a few days, multiple crows would come perch on the wire outside of his friend’s house, cawing relentlessly, and if her father’s friend left the house, the crows would dive at him, because they thought that he had captured their crow friend. Once the injured crow was fully healed, her father’s friend let the little crow outside to fly free, and after that, from time to time, his friend would receive gifts from the crows for his act of kindness: shiny objects, flowers, a polished rock left on his doorstep. 

Violet continues to watch the crow out of the corner of her eye. She wonders: Are crows smart the way that a ten-year-old is smart? Are they smart the way her teachers are smart? As her mind continues to wander, she reaches for her water, and comes to find that she has already finished it without noticing. As she gets up to refill her water, she hears the crow cry out once more, and when she looks up, she sees that there are now two crows taking shelter under the maple tree.  

Violet rushes inside with an idea. She emerges moments later with a wide, shallow bowl that she’s filled with cool water from the spigot. The bowl is glazed tan and turquoise. Her mother had made it but never uses it because it is chipped. For years, it has simply been collecting dust. Violet’s eyes shine as she places the bowl in the center of the yard, right beneath the maple tree’s protective branches. She races back inside. Quickly, she returns with a piece of blue chalk and steps onto the sidewalk. She stoops down and writes in round, wobbly letters, “Water For Animals,” with an arrow pointing to the bowl. Violet sits back down at her spot under the maple tree to see what will happen. 

It isn’t long before the crows come down for a drink. Violet, not wanting to scare them off, pretends to read her book while actually watching the birds very intently. Because the bowl is made of a heavy ceramic, the crows perch on its edge as they take drink after drink after drink. They take turns jumping inside of the bowl and splash around playfully as they continue gulping. Violet tries to stay as still as possible so that she does not disrupt this beautiful water dance, although her smile, carefully hidden behind her book, is growing wider and wider. She and the crows are communicating. It’s as if the water is a language they both speak. 

A few minutes go by before both crows fly back up to their perch. They begin to caw, one crow speaking, and then the other responding. Then a third crow appears and does the same water ritual: perch, gulp, splash, dance, gulp, shake, and sing. She imagines that the crows are signaling to each other, singing, “Water, water, water.”

Violet reaches for her apple slices. She nearly polishes them off when it occurs to her that maybe the crows are hungry too. She breaks the remaining slices of apple into small pieces and drops them into the water bowl, and they splash with a delicate, tinkling rhythm. Violet runs inside to grab more apples.

Her mother greets her in the kitchen and tells Violet she is just in time for lunch: cold sandwiches, carrots, and the last few crumbs of potato chips from the bag in the cupboard. As Violet washes her hands, she tells her mother about the oasis she is building, and how many crows have already stopped by. Her mother is delighted. After an hour, Violet returns outside to inspect the bowl, and finds that the bits of apple are gone, but there is something else in the bowl in their place: a small gold key. Violet grabs the key, and runs inside to show her mother, who helps her clean it up, and ties it on a string so that Violet can wear it around her neck. 

For the rest of the week, Violet faithfully replenishes the water in the bowl every morning. It seems that word of her benevolence has begun to spread among the animal kingdom because soon, a parade lines up at the watering hole. The neighborhood dogs and crows are the most frequent visitors, but various other small birds come to perch on the rim for a drink. Violet sees two or three squirrels arrive and dip their tiny paws into the bowl, scooping water to their mouths. Even the neighborhood cat, usually aloof and independent, rubs against Violet’s legs in gratitude before taking a long drink. 

One morning, the hottest of them all, Violet goes out to replenish the bowl and finds four lifeless bees inside it. Violet begins to sob loudly, so loudly that her mother soon comes out of the house to check on her. Violet points at the bowl, and when her mother looks inside, she instantly understands without Violet saying anything at all. Violet’s mother explains to her that the bees must have stopped for a drink, but they just couldn’t swim their way out. She says it wasn’t Violet’s fault that the bees died. That water can be both life-giving and life-taking. Violet continues to sniffle, but after a moment they are both quiet. Finally, Violet speaks.  

“Is it OK if I take the bowl with the bees and pour it under the artichoke in the backyard?” The bees love those flowers. They are forever nestling in between the bright purple hairs. “They might like to rest there,” Violet says. “Plus, it will make the artichoke happy too, to have a drink of water. And to say goodbye to its friends.” Her mother nods yes. 

Violet points out a blue stone nearby that’s shaped like a dinosaur egg. “Let’s put it in the bowl,” she says to her mother, “and make it like a little island where the bees can safely land. The butterflies and dragonflies too. To give them something to hold on to. Are they considered animals? Oh, and do we have any extra apples we could share? And extra glasses from inside, in case people who are walking by are also thirsty? I will grab my chalk to change the sign on the sidewalk. What do you think about ‘Water for Everyone’?”