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TERRY WOSTER: An August as green as Ireland

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301
My brother Jim told me late last week of a conversation he’d had recently with a farmer in central South Dakota and the need for some hot weather to ripen the row crops.
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 Wow. Ask and you shall receive. The long-range forecast these days shows warmer than normal temperatures for most of the period into early September. Out in my area, the seven-day chart showed several 98s, which in the Pierre area can turn into 105s without breaking a sweat. OK, bad choice of words. Out here, even if the 105s, or the 98s for that matter, come as “dry heat,’’ anyone outside an air-conditioned structure and not neck-deep in the river is going to be breaking plenty of sweat. It goes with this territory this time of year.

 My brother’s farming buddy said his crops looked great last week, but they soon would fall apart without heating units or degree-growing days or however it is that the experts measure the weather necessary to bring a crop to finished stage.

 Me, I understand in theory the concept of hot weather to make the crops ripen. Deep inside, though, I’m still the dry-land farm kid who couldn’t stand the arrival of August with its generous ration of hot weather. Where we lived, dry-land farming meant just that. I didn’t know anyone who irrigated anything but maybe a modest vegetable garden (and that was usually with a sprinkling hose and a kid to stand and direct the spray every time the mother said the garden needed water).

 One time we planted a bunch of trees in the weedy space between the machine shed and the stock tank. My dad or uncle or someone — I know it wasn’t me — rigged a primitive irrigation system that included a couple of troughs from the tank. One of the troughs one year, I believe, caught the water that overflowed the tank when the wind was high and the windmill ran for several hours unchecked. The other trough was located so that when the tank was full, a kid could hook an oversized hose to the end of the pipe dumping water into the tank. That diverted the water down the trough and into a shallow trench that ran alongside the row of young trees.

 Looking back, I can see that it was an inexpensive and pretty effective irrigation system. Back then, I didn’t like it much. I always got yelled at for forgetting to switch the hose. In my defense, that chore required checking the level of the stock tank and the dryness of the soil in the tree belt a couple of times a day. I didn’t mind doing that on my way out of the house in the morning before heading to the field to start a day. I really didn’t like it in the evening when we got to the place at or after sunset and all I wanted to do was eat and read until I fell asleep.

 Fast-forward more than half a century and I’m driving home last Monday from a medical appointment in Sioux Falls. I hadn’t taken much time this summer to just drive and enjoy the scenery. I had no idea how green so many places look this late into August. I saw some beans the color I imagined when my mother talked about Ireland, her ancestors’ home. I saw corn way higher than my head. I know I’m collapsing as I age, but still, that’s pretty tall. The countryside was lovely for much of the trip, and I wished my dad and mom were along to see it like this one more time.

 I’m a farm kid at heart, though, and back in the corner of my mind, I could see vague images of those Augusts when everything shriveled in a matter of days as my dad talked about the need for a shower, a good soaker, and finally a gully-washer. He knew the downside of being too optimistic on the farm.

 Even so, if he’d been along on my trip, he just might have whispered, “Maybe not this year.’’ I’d probably have been praying he was right.

 
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