June 28, 2021 at 1:33 p.m.
I’ll admit that we farmers tend to gripe a bit about the weather. But before you write us off as a bunch of whiners, bear in mind we are not talking about some minor inconveniences here. It’s not like we say such things as: “Stupid rain. Now my wife will never believe my story about the country club forcing me to play golf all weekend.” “This dry weather is such a bother. If it doesn’t rain soon, I might have to use my smartphone to adjust the timing of our automatic lawn sprinklers.”
For a farmer, putting in a crop each spring is an act of faith that is somewhat akin to a skydiver leaping out of an airplane. Enduring a spate of unfavorable weather is similar to discovering you forgot to pack your parachute. As you plummet toward an uncertain fate, you go for your reserve parachute only to realize you forgot to pack that stupid thing too.
Long before modern science came along with its computer-generated, algorithmic weather forecasts – forecasts that enable meteorologists to be wrong at ever-increasing speeds – and before anyone had heard of El Niño or La Ninny, we farmers had to figure out the weather for ourselves. We often sought insight from certain wizened old farmers who lived in our vicinity, guys whom I guess you could say were the contemporary equivalent of soothsayers.
Martin, a bachelor farmer who lived east of us, was our neighborhood’s self-proclaimed soothsayer. His long-range forecasts were always the same. “Gonna be a dry one this year,” he would invariably declare each spring as he and I scooped seed oats into his fanning mill amidst the choking clouds of grain dust. The trouble is, Martin was right often enough to maintain his reputation as an astute soothsayer.
When the dry years came (as they inevitably will), Martin reveled in his oracular success. He claimed we would soon be afflicted by a series of plagues, including swarms of grasshoppers the size of horses. It’s all there in the Bible, he said. I never told anyone, but I often thought Martin was full of sooth.
As a lad, I saw how an extended dry spell could weigh upon farmers’ spirits. I remember the contempt as the word drought was spat out like so much dust-riddled phlegm. I did what I could, watching the sky for the tiniest sign of showers, using my mind waves to steer budding rain clouds toward our farm. Martin, who had a knack for showing up at our dairy farm every morning right at coffee time, would see me staring at the ether, shake his head and mutter that we needed an east wind to blow up a rain.
Often on a warm summer’s evening, I would ride my bicycle on the gravel road that runs past our farm. Upon reaching the top of the hill to the south, I would perch on the bike’s seat and study the sky. Sometimes, off in the distant haze, I would see a fleet of towering thunderheads drifting silently eastward.
It was easy to imagine that the clouds were gigantic ships. Their billowy popcorn tops were sails pregnant with a fresh breeze; their dark underbellies were mighty prows slicing effortlessly through the roiling waves of a translucent sea. Some lucky ducks somewhere would be getting their crops watered tonight.
Our turn would eventually come, and I would be awakened by the booms of a midnight thunderstorm. Hearing voices downstairs, I would quietly sneak down the steps and watch from the doorway as my parents sat at the kitchen table in the dark, sharing a cigarette, watching and listening as the storm vented its sodden fury. To this day, I feel a sense of comfort whenever I hear the sound of rolling thunder.
And there’s something ineffably wondrous about the way the world looks and smells and feels after a good soaker. For a farmer whose crops have been thirsty, it’s as if the gods have smiled down and have seen fit to mete out a tiny portion of a cosmic jackpot.
All of this was running through my mind the other night as an evening thundershower rumbled over our farm. I was standing in the open doorway, watching nature’s fireworks display and enjoying the refreshing aroma of the rain when my wife came up behind me.
“How’s the weather?” she asked.
“Right now,” I replied, “it’s too good to last.”
Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: [email protected].
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