That Was Close

To say that the weather has been hot lately would be a gross understatement. To go within the span of one week from a 26-degree freeze to days and days of 95 degrees means tough times on the farm—for the plants, the animals, and the people.

On top of that, it’s been horribly dry. We’d watch the radar in agony as storms skirted north and south, missing the farm. The yard dried up, the pasture went to seed with little growth, and we irrigated our gardens just as fast and as much as we could to keep plants alive. We relegated as much of our major outdoor projects to mornings and evenings as possible and drank and drank water and iced tea to do our best to stay hydrated as the sweat poured down our backs, fronts, and faces.

These are not normal Northwoods conditions, especially for June.

When we first moved onto the farm full-time in 1999, we had two or three summers of what Mom remembered as “normal” Northwoods conditions from coming up as a child. There was rain in the evenings or overnight, a gentle breeze during the day, but not more than a handful of days in the 80’s all summer. There was no need for air conditioning.

But, after those first couple of years, we began facing drought—eight years of it. Nothing teaches you how to conserve water on your farm more than eight years of drought!

Each year, the drought would begin a bit sooner than the year before, eventually starting in March before the cycle broke. Everything was brown, and fire was a constant concern. If we did get rain, it was a storm, as this was the only system with enough power behind it to plow through the dry bubble that reflected most rain away from our area.

When this summer began with a similar process, we kept hoping for rain—hoping that the next cold front would blow out the dry air and prevent the full drought process. But the rain kept parting as clouds skirted north and south, seeming to tease us.

“Come back here!” I chided, wishing I had an enormous cloud lasso I could use to catch and retrieve the renegade moisture.

At last, this week, we did have some rain. We ran outside under the shelter of a canopy and danced to it in jubilation. Rain! We were having rain! The next day, there was a little as well…until dry winds swept through to steal away any moisture we had gained.

Then, on Friday, it was looking like we might receive more rain, but this time the clouds were angry. Lightening flashed, and the clouds rolled slate gray and fierce. With as much heat as we’ve experienced lately, growing angry clouds certainly wasn’t atmospherically difficult. Eyes on the skies and the radar, we could see that the system was moving north, but it was back-building faster than it was moving. Would it hit us?

Mom and I were working in the gardens, while Steve was up fixing a tractor by the barn. He had a clear view out across the long fetch of our northern field, and the clouds were putting on a real show. But when he noticed the twister forming, he packed up his tools and came to alert us. I’d already seen an alert that southern Ashland County was experiencing large and damaging hail, and all of us were poised to abandon our projects and seek shelter at a moment’s notice.

We quickly closed coop doors and moved seedlings under cover. The rumbling overpowered speech sometimes, but the clouds kept inching northwards. As Mom and I transplanted little tomatoes in the high tunnel, we heard the pitter-patter of rain hitting the plastic overhead, and a gust of wind made us think, “Oh boy, here it comes.”

But it didn’t come. We’ve survived many a terrifying and damaging storm on our farm, but it wasn’t going to be this one. We felt very lucky.

There have been other times we’ve watched twisters form and dissolve, seen dark storm fronts roll with churning skirts and towering anvil shapes overhead. We’ve seen every color the sky and clouds could conjure—some of which are beautiful and some of which are terrifying. Nature reminds us how powerful she is and how incredibly small we are, just in case we needed to know.

While I do hope we receive some more rain soon, I’m no fan of the drama of powerful storms. Please send a lovely, gentle, Northwoods rainy day—the kind that brings out all the happy frogs and toads and makes everything sparkle with droplets. Bring on the coolness of a clouded sky, which would serve as a much-needed break from the intensity of the cloudless blue sky of late. Bring on a moist and misty morning, where the calls of the morning birds travel far across the dampened air. And while I know that storms are an integral part of summer, please let them be tempered and relatively gentle. What we saw pass by this last week…well, I can only say “That was a close one.”

Sending thoughts for healing, gentle rains for everyone this week. See you down on the farm sometime.