COUNTY AGENT GUY
This summer’s drought has been much in the news lately although it’s not really news to those of us who have actually been dealing with the long dry.
Our area has gotten by better than some, worse than others. I can drive a short ways, glance out the car window and mumble, “Wow, those lucky so-and-sos.” A short ways later a peek out the window can cause me to mutter, “Wow, those poor so-and-sos.”
The drought came with scattershot spots of good rains, creating islands of emerald lushness amidst a sorrowful sea of brown. Try as I might, I could never muster the mental might to draw some of those coveted clouds to our farm.
Thanks to the Internet and Doppler radar, I was able to watch in real time as rains approached our place. I could scientifically quantify the exact moment when precipitation-laden clouds parted as they approached our farm, only to reorganize and dump rain a few miles later.
A short drive would find me on wet roads. I would glare out the car window with a jealous eye and think, “Those lucky so-and-sos.”
It will rain where it will, but no one has escaped this summer’s punishing heat. I haven’t felt this level of warmth since Thanksgiving, when I was tasked with retrieving a cow-sized turkey from the bowels of the oven.
My car’s air conditioner malfunctioned for a while this summer. Motoring along a superheated superhighway with no air conditioning when it’s 105 out is cruel and unusual, even for a hard-boiled Midwesterner like me. You can open the windows and crank the fan to “jet blast,” but that just makes it feel like you’re being cooked by a gigantic hair dryer.
Some say the heat is due to global warming, but I blame it on the fact that this is an election year. Just watch. It will turn substantially cooler after the polls close.
Veteran denizens of this region can recall several scalding summers and the extreme methods they employed to cope with the extreme heat.
“It was so hot that summer,” and old-timer might say, “that whenever we wanted to have chicken for dinner, all we had to do is chase a rooster out of the coop and into the sunshine and poof, roast chicken.”
For me, the summer of 1976 stands out as being devastatingly hot and dry. That year was also our nation’s 200th birthday, so it came to be known as the Dry-centennial.
Dad and I were planting corn that spring when we noticed strange noises coming from the field. It sounded like small, muffled detonations were taking place underground. We dug into the seed furrow and discovered the source of the mysterious racket: the soil was so hot, our seed corn was popping.
The only grain we managed to harvest that year was oats, but even that proved extremely challenging. The grain was so light and chaffy, it began to float out of the wagon and off into the sky. Hoping to save our crop, we tied a tarp over the loaded wagon. But the oats was so airy it ballooned out the tarp and lifted the wagon clean off the ground.
The good part was, a guy could tie a string to the wagon and walk it home without the use of a tractor.
That was an era before air conditioning was invented – at least as far as we were concerned. Not only did we endure the scorching summer, we tossed bales and milked cows throughout that overheated season.
Our parents must have known that air conditioning would only make us weak and soft. Years later I would learn the truth of this folk wisdom.
For many, 1989 is their touchstone for a hot and dry year. That won’t work for me as I spent nearly six weeks of that particular summer in a hospital bed as I recovered from a farm accident. The one good thing about intensive care, I thought, was that they kept it so chilly, a guy could see his breath.
I returned home in late August and was soon back at work on our dairy farm. One day shortly after I got out of the hospital, I decided to carry a salt block to our cows. I tried to pick up the block, only to discover that I could barely lift it.
I found this deeply mystifying. Why on earth would the salt company choose to double the weight of their blocks?
The truth suddenly dawned. And if anyone has more persuasive proof that air conditioning can leave a guy feeble and flaccid, I would like to see it.
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.
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