A weekly letter from a friend who lives in Western NEb and farms Karen Writes:
Wreathed in smoke the sun rises as hard as polished brass, the customary fairy tale pinks and sherbet oranges replaced by molten gold, the new day smelted into being amid a pall of ashy greys and ghostly whites. The high plains are on fire, baked, literally and figuratively, by flame and unremitting heat.
Temperatures above 100 degrees are common and rains scarce. Irrigation well-motors strain under the load, some surging as the water table drops, others clattering to a stop…beset by mechanical problems. One of our wells has succumbed to old age and is scheduled to be ‘pulled’ on Monday. Meanwhile the crop withers…and Dale frets.
Unrelenting wind has become an member of the family, and, like a sharp-tongued mother-in-law, or a nere-do-well brother, hasn’t a single redeeming quality. It parches the lips, turns skin to leather, and sucks the life out of everything it touches. Pastures have turned to dirt and fields to dust; meteorologists say the heat is bred in the furnace of the desert southwest and carried to our area by the jet stream….but all we know is that it’s shriveled our hopes for a good crop to a hard kernel of fear… fear of not having sufficient irrigation water to finish the season.
On a brighter note our house has a new set of clothes.
I saved a piece of the original cedar siding; battered and weather beaten it’s seen 106 years of weather, good bad and otherwise. One day, as the carpenters loosened the old boards during a 40 mile-per-hour wind, dirt sifted into the dining room, leaving a layer of dust which had been trapped inside the old walls for who knows how long. Was it from the dirty thirties…those years of no rain and less money? Or was it deposited by the spring winds of the forties when women took to the fields, replacing men who had marched off to war? Or maybe it was fifties dirt…those halcyon years of my childhood when this old farmhouse was the center of my world…and, if truth be told, still is
Once the trim is painted this old house will shine like new.
Last week a friend forwarded an email she had received with the tag-line ‘drought in eastern Wyoming-need prayer.’ Drought seen through another woman’s eyes, the words bear repeating…..
“Things are tragically dry. There have been probably 3000 head of cattle going out of converse county each week for the last couple of weeks. I know of 5000 head that left Platte County earlier. One of my neighbors sold three semi-loads of cows and calves because there is absolutely nothing growing. In fact, Les Thompson (former HP, local bee expert) has lost all the bees he had out at Lovitts because they starved to death. I am feeding my bees sugar water every other day to keep them going. They are not making any reserves for winter. We are feeding the cows every other day until our leftover hay runs out. The cows are looking thinner than we’ve ever had them, but we usually keep them fairly plump. Even calves are eating hay as we feed it out. It’s a different year.
We have absolutely no wild flowers, no grass, or even the usual weeds. We had a fire a couple of weeks ago that started from an old coal mine seam, back in the trees. The seam started about 6 years ago when we had that big Lost Springs fire of 15,000 acres. It has been simmering underground since then. This year is so dry that the fire started by coming up through the roots of a tree. Until now the trees have had enough moisture not to burn. The dry results are what you also see south of Douglas right now.
So that’s how things are out our way. Hope things are well for you…..Terry”
I never met Terry, the ranch-woman who penned this tale of drought, but I know her sorrow over what is happening to the land, and our way of life.
I thought I knew drought, but I never imagined anything like this.