Sunday, April 10, 2011

Praying for rain

I thought I would continue some of my meditations on the 12 days I spent in Virginia.

I thought it was interesting: during the time I was there, I experienced just about every form of weather imaginable. Snow, rain, hail, sunshine, clouds, wind (including very high wind), cold, warm, cool . . . even almost hot (mid-80s).

And in the midst of all that diverse weather, I came to appreciate how important . . . and almost hair-raising . . . weather can be to farmers.

A couple of days after I arrived, with temperatures below freezing, I woke up to find that a ninth lamb had been born on the farm this spring. The momma ewe, Ewok, seemed less than concerned to take care of her lamb, so Phil and Amy discussed what should be done. Would the baby would make it? Should they dispatch her?

"I will not shoot it," said Phil. "Let's let nature take its course. If she lives, she lives. If she doesn't, then that's fine, too."

Four-year-old Abraham took it upon himself to pray that baby Chestnut would survive.

At the end of the week, she was still tiny; her right front leg seemed slightly lame; but she looked as if she was very much going to make it in this world.

I'm going to leave this part of the story here for the moment. But I wanted to mention it to you because of where my post will end up.


On Thursday evening, March 24th (the day I arrived), as we discussed what I might do on Friday, Phil said I might not be able to work in our fields because the soil was too wet. It might dry out enough before I was ready the next day, but if it was as wet as he expected it to be, he would be unable to run the tractor over our land to pull the subsoiler through the dirt. The surface of the soil would be too slick; he would lack the necessary traction.

As it turned out, the land was dry enough by the next morning that Phil was able to cut swales and subsoil a couple of rows for me to plant.

It turned out I was able to plant trees every day I was on the farm, though several times we wondered. There were a couple of days when the soil came close to becoming unworkable--usually due to too much moisture, though a couple of times I wondered whether it would be too dry.

One day, I began work and the soil was just "perfect": not too moist, not too dry. But a mist began to fall. Very gentle mist. I was somewhat concerned, at the beginning, that it might soak through my water-resistant shell, but it never happened.

Then, sometime about an hour or two into the mist, the soil suddenly--I mean, in the space of maybe a minute--completely changed character.

Up to that point, it had been easy to work. I was grateful for the moisture. It made the soil pliable. But then, all of a sudden, in the space of about a minute, as I said, it suddenly turned gooey, sticky, nasty to work with. I was able to finish the rows Phil had already subsoiled, though it became almost twice as hard to open a hole as it had before the soil changed character.

At the end of the workday, about an hour or two later, I was unable to drive the heavy-duty, "dually" farm truck out of the field where I was working. Phil and Amy's neighbor, Butch, towed me out with his Caterpillar tractor.

So you get an idea of just how gooey the soil is on the farm, here are a couple of pictures of what I looked like at the end of one of that day. An overall picture . . .

From Drop Box

And a close-up of my boots!

From Drop Box


The next day, I was able to observe the opposite effect. When I first began work, the soil continued mucky, sticky, nasty; and then, an hour or two after I began, in the space of one minute . . . I experienced almost exactly the opposite of what had happened the day before: suddenly the soil went from gooey mush to friable. Amazing!

I titled this post "Praying for rain."

That's because, over the course of the 12 days I was on the farm, I became very much more aware of the weather and how it impacts a farmer.

I don't recall what day it was that Amy decided she had to move some of the young plants out of the green house into the outdoor soil, but that day came.

With great joy, she set the vegetables into their final places in the field.

And that night the temperature dropped below freezing.

Not a lot, but enough to cause consternation.

And there was the morning when Chestnut was born: Colder than we would have preferred for a lamb to be born outdoors.

And then there was my experience the last night I was in Virginia (Monday night/Tuesday morning this past week--April 4th/5th).

Monday was warm. Hot, even. And windy. Really windy. I'd pull out a shovelful of moist soil, and a minute later, after inserting a tree into the hole, as I went to put the soil back where it came from, it had turned dry and either crumbly or hard (depending on how much clay was present).

As I kept planting trees throughout the day, I began to worry.

Whew! It's hot! I'm adding a quart or two of water to the soil around each tree after planting. But what if it doesn't rain? These trees will die! . . . There is no irrigation, no artificial source of water. They are totally dependent on natural rainfall. When will the next rainfall be? Will they survive?

It's funny: I worked with Phil & Amy's neighbor, Butch, early in the day and he had made some offhand comment about rain coming that evening, but we looked it up: none of the weather services predicted any rain for the foreseeable future, anyway, and there were absolutely no signs of rain coming: the sky was clear, cloudless and warm. . . .

When we went to bed, it was still in the high 70s. I left the windows in the RV wide open. About an hour later, the winds came up strong enough that I closed one set of windows on the windward side. An hour after that, I closed the windows on the other side. And then, shortly after 3 am, I heard a tremendous clattering sound come from outside the RV and begin pounding on the roof: "Hail?!?"

My thoughts immediately turned to baby Chestnut and the other sheep and lambs out in the yard . . . and the cattle down the hillside . . . not to mention the chicks up the hill. . . . I was snug, warm and dry. But they weren't protected.

I looked outside and soon realized that the clatter had nothing to do with hail. It was simply raining hard. --Good news for the chestnut trees! Still potentially dangerous for a baby animal that is unprotected. But nowhere near as dangerous as hail.

Moments later, as I continued to look outside, I saw a figure with a flashlight in hand and/or a headlamp on its head steal across the front of the RV. Phil had come to check to make sure everything was all right in the rain.

It got me thinking: A farmer's life is almost like that of the mother of a newborn infant . . . virtually all the time. No deep, sound sleep; no solid rest; just a constant wonderment about what is happening with the animals and the crops: Is it too hot? Too cold? Too dry? Too wet? When will the next rain come? The wind? Is everything all right?

Amy's post, If not one thing, it's another, expresses well what struck me: A farmer's work is never done. And he or she is totally dependent on the mercies of God in terms of weather.
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