Thunder loud enough to be felt woke me at four in the morning early last week. I got out of bed, shut the windows and turned off my computer. I unplugged the surge protector from the wall because I have an innate distrust of technology’s infallibility. I then did what I always do when awakened by a thunderstorm in the middle of the night. I went through a mental checklist of all the things I might have left out in the rain: garden fork, spade, trowel, garden cart, clothes on the line, the cat. I can’t go to sleep until I’ve finished my inventory and accounted for all my tools.
My obsession with leaving things in the rain goes back to my early childhood. I was being cared for by a neighbor because, for some reason, my parents were away from home. While they were gone, I got sick. I ended up in the hospital because I became dehydrated. I was rehydrated and sent home. My neighbors felt so bad that I had been sick and gave me a doll. As I remember her, she was beautiful with blond hair, a cloth body, rubber arms and legs and a composite head of some sort. She was my favorite doll partly because I really liked the family who gave her to me. She was also, by far the nicest doll I’d ever had.
I don’t know how it was that I happened to forget my beautiful doll outside, but I did. That night it poured rain. I don’t recall how long it was before I remembered my doll, but when I found her, she was ruined. The materials used for doll’s heads in those days did not stand up to being abandoned in the rain. I was devastated. I not only didn’t have my favorite toy, but I had, in a way, let down my friends by not caring for the gift they had given me.
Last week when the thunder clapped, I couldn’t think of anything I had forgotten to put away.
For those of us who make our living by farming, thunderstorms any time of the day can cause the same kind of anxiety. We look out the window, pace the floor and feel a hole in the middle of our stomachs. The fields had just gotten dry enough to till and plant the very highest, driest parts. There still is water in the drainage ditches and I splashed through puddles above my ankles in the pasture when I checked fences. The deadlines for planting many crops has passed and we are making new plans for our fields. The prospects for a bumper crop just don’t look good.
While our weather patterns seem to be changing, growing things has always been a risk. This is not the first really cold, wet spring we have faced here on the northern plains. I remember having my garden freeze on the Fourth of July after another really cold, wet spring.
We are fortunate because our farm is diverse and if the rain keeps us from planting wheat, it makes the pastures grow. If we can’t plant a cash crop, we can plant something for hay. Our cattle don’t mind the rain. If I can’t get the yard mowed, the sheep can eat the grass for me. Diversity is a blessing.
There are times when all of the diverse parts of our farm demand attention at the same time. The sheep’s pasture may need fencing. The cows may need to move to new grass. The garden may be overdue for weeding. The fields need working. Hay needs to be cut and baled. Then I wonder if it wouldn’t be good to be a little more focused.
But when lightening flashes and hail stones bounce off the roof, or I wake up to puddles where they had disappeared only the day before, I remember why we are blessed with the diversity of our farm. The sheep are still grazing in their pasture. The calves are still growing. If the tomatoes don’t ripen, the broccoli will love the cold weather and the spinach will sprout all by itself.
I’m not sure I will ever get over the anxiety I feel when thunder rumbles in the middle of the night. I still make sure I have put all my toys away.
Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains