As I worried the other evening about how much water I’ll need to get a new lawn going, it occurred to me that a fair number of people in rural South Dakota are worrying whether they’ll get enough water for wheat, corn and soybeans.
I’m not a fanatic about my lawn, you understand. We tore it up last summer and fall doing some construction work. When I looked out the window this spring, I saw bare earth around the place. I don’t need a lawn that would win Yard of the Week, but I want some cover. I could imagine that patch of dirt turning to a sea of mud in the May and June rains. (In my defense, in early spring, I still thought there might be rain coming.)
We planted a type of grass that, once established, is supposed to thrive with limited moisture. But it must establish itself first, and that requires water. That’s why I worried about water for my lawn as I stood outside in the heat and wind, imagining I could hear the moisture being sucked from the earth around my young grass.
Then I thought about the people who actually depend on moisture for their living. If my lawn fizzles, I’ll be bummed. I’ve invested some time and money in it, so it would be nice if it established itself for me. But I’m not counting on it for my livelihood and my family’s security. All I need is something to keep that sea of mud away.
People out in the country depend on their crops to make a living. If they raise livestock, they need rain to keep the dams full so the cattle can drink. Rural water systems have helped bring water to many isolated places in the vast farm and ranch country of South Dakota, but most of those places still depend on natural moisture. It takes rain and snow to make the crops and fill the stock ponds. Right now, things aren’t looking good.
I’m not so far removed from the farm that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be in the middle of a deep, relentless drought. That’s getting to be what’s going on around these parts this year, I’m afraid. Just check the weekly drought monitor to see what I mean.
In farm and ranch country, when spring turns to summer and one dry day follows another until it’s hard to remember when a rain cloud last appeared, people get nervous. They look at the sky more often than usual, squinting against the bright sun for a hint of a cloud on the western horizon. They pay more attention to the weather forecasts, listening for even the mention of an approaching weather system that might carry half an inch of rain. Half an inch? Shoot, even a quarter-inch would do wonders for the wheat right about, they tell each other.
I was 12 or so before we got television out in our part of Lyman County. We relied on the radio for news, weather and entertainment. My dad never missed the first weather reports from WNAX in Yankton each morning. In times of drought, he paid even closer attention than usual, and his face sometimes set in a fierce look as he heard another forecast of hot, windy and dry.
Back then, it seemed to me, most of the people I knew were farmers or ranchers. If they weren’t, they were involved in businesses that relied for their income on the success of farmers and ranchers. Everyone in those days knew the importance of rainfall, and they worried right along with the people who actually worked the land. Maybe that gave us all more of a common purpose, a sense that we were all in it together.
I still watch the weather forecasts and go online to The Weather Channel regularly. Lately I’ve been finding myself closely checking the long-range forecasts, looking for signs of cooler, wetter weather ahead. I’m not seeing much, but I keep searching. I guess I’ll never be so far removed from the farm that I don’t keep looking for rain.