Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Drought and the Memory of a Thunder Storm

A clump of rudbeckia, one of only a few plants able to bloom in heat and drought.
These photos were taken on Sunday.
Since then very dry conditions have worsened, although I have not documented the pitiable sights.

[My camera was pushed off my untidy desk by Mimacat who for some indecipherable feline reasoning felt she should spend every spare moment of several days on the desk.
I have taken it to a local shop hoping it can be repaired.
The battery door is sprung.
The photos below were taken by putting a heavy rubberband around the camera to hold the door in place enough for the batteries to make contact--that is, if the camera was held just so.
I have an older camera but haven't seen the USB cord in some time.]

Looking across the perennial strips toward the lower veg patch.
Pastures have browned, Big Creek is dry.
Grass on the lawns crunches underfoot.

That triangular patch of hillside pasture seen in the distance, looking south down the valley, is usually green.
Daily the grass available to the neighboring cattle is diminished.

Looking across the front lawn into the meadow on Sunday.
J. cut the hay on Monday.
Ironically he doesn't have to watch the forecast for a spell of dry weather to cure the hay.

I sowed tomato seeds the first week of June, meant for a late summer crop of tomatoes.
The seedlings sat in rows in two large pots, seed leaves raised in a tight clasp, like folded hands.
They refused to progress.
I decided the potting soil I used was at fault.  I had been suspicious of this when about a third of my early crop tomato seedlings were too stunted to set out.
I used so much potting soil this spring that in the interest of economy I bought several sacks of an
unknown brand.
It was coarse, heavy stuff.
I was tempted to throw out these later seedlings, but potted them on in fresh, good quality soil.
To my amazment in two days they put out true leaves.
I gave them a dose of 'Miracle Grow' and today noted that
the second set of leaves is forming.
Unless weather conditions change dramatically, there will be no late garden.
The Govenor of Kentucky has issued various directives to make simpler the delivery of water, hay, and feed to livestock farmers in the worst hit areas of the western KY counties.
From a Lexington on-line news source:
Drought-related conditions in Kentucky began in March, with abnormally high temperatures and lower than normal rainfall, and those conditions have continued this summer. Sixty-six Kentucky counties are now classified under Level 1 drought, with moderate to severe drought conditions, while 24 counties in the west are under the more-severe Level 2 classification.

We have been diligently watering the gardens as best we can and have continued to harvest broccoli, beets, green beans and sweet corn, along with early tomatoes. All the plants are displaying considerable stress, and I could weep looking at the shriveling vines of the melons and cucumbers.
There is no rain in the forecast, but warnings of temperatures at 100 F abound.
We are dis-heartened.
Still, we are blessed in comparison to those in the path of the horrendous fires in Colorado.
We have friends who live in Colorado Springs where the worst fires are out of control, and we are concerned for them.
I well remember the summer fires in Wyoming: the scent of smoke blown in from hundreds of miles away, the air thick with the odor of charred pine and sagebrush; the dirty orange glow in the sky as the long twilights faded.
I am reposting an essay written in 1997 and first posted during my first weeks of blogging in 2008.


The thunderstorm moves in just as the evening milking is nearing completion. All day the mid-summer sun has climbed, a brass ball in a sultry sky, shriveling the long green streamers of field corn, wilting the dahlias along the north end of the house. The cosmos near the front porch droop delicately, their soft pink petals faded and limp, frothy leaves dangling on listless stems. In the yard hens scratch in the dirt, clucking querulously.
My Grampa Mac has not lingered over his noon dinner today, has foregone his usual doze in the rocking chair. Leaving his pipe and can of Prince Albert on the living room table, he gathers the hired men, pitchforks, a water jug, and clambers stiffly into the passenger seat of the farm truck. The truck bumps down the rough track to the meadow, lurching over ruts, its slow progress marked by puffs of dust.

I scuff along to the meadow gate to watch the slow loading of hay bales, the jerking stops and starts of the old truck. Three times the men return to stow neat tiers of bales in the bay of the big barn. Their blue shirts are stuck to their backs; when they swill from the common jug of ice water, wetness dribbles onto their chins, drips and mingles with the sweat of their forearms, spatters onto their dusty shoes.

In the northwest sky, clouds pile, dirty-white shading into ashy grey and purple-black. My uncle fusses about the dooryard, shooing his hens toward their coop, muttering dourly about "thunder heads." A sullen wind stirs up acrid dust, rushes through the branches of the apricot tree, turns up leaves on the maples.

No one needs to fetch the cows home for milking; an hour early they cluster uneasily at the gate. We stand guard while they cross the dirt road and plod into the barn, cow-pies splotting behind them onto dry packed earth. The old De Laval milk pump sputters and drones, its sound harsh in the heavy air. The clatter of pails and milk cans, the scrape of the hoe pushing manure into the gutters, create a dinning discord as the wary hush deepens outside.

I lurk at my grandfather's heels, getting in his way, edgy as the stable cats, until he installs me on an upturned bucket in the alcove between the milking barn and the hay barn. A tiger cat weaves around my sneakered feet, eyes glowing amber in the strange early dusk.

As the milking machine is pulled from the last cow, the sky outside the open windows is slashed with fire, yellow-white, cutting against a horizon gone an angry blackened green. Thunder crescendos, barn timbers creak. Cows plunge in their wooden stanchions, straining, frightened. At the third boom of thunder the lights flicker and go out. The milk pump whines to a stop. My grandfather appears at my side, his bulk familiar and reassuring in the gloom. We walk out to stand together in the roofed passageway between stable and milk-house. Rain pounds on the tin overhead and sluices in sheets past the open sliding door, drilling a trench in the gravel under the eaves.

There is a pause like a gasp of indrawn breath, a silent split second before the rain is followed by a staccato of small hail. Steam rises from the ground and the stale smell of tired dust gives way to a cool scent, like snow in summer. In a few moments the din slackens; familiar farmyard shapes reappear, looming through the silver veil of wet. The thunder creeps off, still grumbling.

Grampa Mac reaches inside the stable doorway, plucks his ragged denim barn frock from a peg. He wraps me in the coat, the woolen lining scratching my bare arms. Hoisting me, he plods through the green twilight toward the house.

Essay from writer's retreat
Wentworth, N.H. 1997
Sharon D. Whitehurst


  1. delightful! your writing always sets the atmosphere for me. I am reading a book about Sarah Prine, a settler who made her home on a Texan ranch. I sat up half the night, last night, quite tranfixed.
    It's worrying about the drought you are enduring. I cannot imagine needing to have water delivered, as we live on such a damp island.
    I do hope people do not lose their animals.

  2. Beautifully written, as always. You should be published . . .

    Sorry to hear you have such a draught, and those high temps must be so exhausting. Can you rig up a temporary grey water system to recycle shower water into your garden?

    We have 10/10 cloud cover here, and it is threatening to rain again.

  3. Southwest Ohio is also very dry.

    Your essay is perfect.

  4. I feel for you about the lack of rain, we had 2 years down here of little rain, but this year is making up for it.
    We're just now getting up into the 90's which is really late for here.
    Our tomatoes are now suffering from too much water and we need to start new seedlings.
    We use to live in Colorado Springs and it was always dry, the fires look so terrible.

  5. Sharon I wishI could send you some of our rain,as I sit here posting this to you it is pouring down,bouncing off the road I think I have only needed to water my plants a few times this summer really,its been wet,never mind does save me one job a day.I hope your well and get some rain soon,love Jill xx

  6. To me your essay is so evocative of farm life and prairie storms - beautifully written. I, too, wish we could send you some of our extra moisture this June, - it has been a damp and miserable month with great flooding in BC. - today the sun shines in a blue sky, but tomorrow they are forecasting rain again.

  7. What a wonderful essay. I felt like I was right there. You have a talent for writing.

    I do hope you get some rain soon. We were in severe drought conditions for almost 5 years, I hope yours won't last that long.

    Have a great week and a happy 4th.


  8. I so much wish I could send you some of this rain that has hardly stopped pouring out of the heavens for months!

    Keep your spirits up.

  9. You certainly should be published MM. Beautiful, evocative writing.

    I too would be happy to send you some rain. It hasn`t stopped today and the garden and fields are struggling to drain the water away.

  10. What is up with the weather matter where one lives ...its wrong for the time of the year ... too hot too dry or, as we are suffering ...too wet and too cold.

    You really do write a beautifully compelling essay ....a group of your works would make a wonderful 'dip in and out' type of book ...maybe you should look into it. xx