Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall

This is what I awoke to this morning.  The picture was actually taken this afternoon. But I think you get the idea.

Rain.  Lots of it.  Coming down in buckets.  It has been so long since we got any substantial rain, that I rushed outside to see it up close.

I stood under the cover on the patio and gaped in awe at the torrent coming out of the downspout and wished I had gotten the rain barrel project started this summer.  We would have had several barrels worth.  It was, in a word, spectacular.

It was so spectacular that I slipped from the relative dryness of the patio into the onslaught and spun in circles in the rain.  It was freezing cold and delicious!  My bare feel splashed in the grassy puddles on the lawn beside the garden.  I was drenched in a matter of moments.

All of the plants in the garden were soaking wet.  The gourd flowers that I had so patiently awaited, were tattered and windblown.  The pepper plants were sagging heavily with the weight of wet peppers and leaves.

This is the rain gauge from my back garden.  It's kind of hard to see, but we got more than 3 1/2 inches of rain in just a couple hours' time.  What a blessing.  By 5:00PM, I swear everything looked greener already.

We took a drive up the highway to check out the local creeks and rivers.  Most of them have dried up almost completely.  Many of the rivers had a small stream running and some of the smaller creeks were full to the brim with freshly fallen rain.

The biggest river in our neck of the woods, the Platte, has been completely dry for weeks.  I had hoped that this would help restore the water flow.  Unfortunately, I think all the rain was south of the river basin.  The riverbed was still bone dry.

Seeing something like that is a little frightening to me.  I've seen the river low before, but I've never seen it dry up and turn to dust.  The local farmers assure me that this has happened before and the river will be back before I know it.  Some have even gone so far as to tell me that it's not dry from the farmers irrigating their corn and soybean crops.  All the irrigation in this neck of the woods is from ground water.  Anyway, we won't run out of water.  It can't happen.

I remain unconvinced.  I have just enough water science in my training to understand how hydrostatic pressure works.  Sure, they might not be irrigating right from the river, but they've pulled so much water out of the underground features that there isn't anything left to go downstream. The farmers poo-poo me and my scientifical leanings.  After all, I'm not a farmer.  What could I know about it?

A little, maybe.

I know that water rights have been a bone of contention since the American Frontier got out to these parts.  I know that water, or the lack thereof, was a prime mover in the Dust Bowl years.  I know that the Dust Bowl is the reason for all the trees in the windbreaks in the Great Plains. 

I also know, because I'm seeing it with my own eyes, that those windbreaks are slowly being dismantled.  Every summer a few more trees are torn out to make room for another half an acre of corn or soybeans.  Every year, another windbreak is taken out.

This is also frightening to me.  I've read the accounts of the people who lived through the dust storms.  About how they couldn't keep it out of the house no matter how many rags they stuffed in the cracks.  I read about how when the wind finally stopped blowing and they were able to pry their doors open and shove aside the mounds of sand and dust, the farmers found their livestock suffocated, choked to death on dust, in what was left of their fields.

It's frightening to me because once this very summer a dust storm blew through our little town.  We went into the house and turned on the scanner in time to hear the local cops making comments on the 'huge wall of dust' that just came through and how creepy it was coming up out of nowhere all of a sudden like that.

It puts a knot in my throat and a stone of fear in the pit of my stomach.  We have made so many dreadful mistakes.  We have much to atone for.  We have much work to do.  How can we just stand by and let people forget the lessons that history has taught us? 

Can this be fixed?  Or will that hard rain fall after all?