Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Frog Drowning in Missouri

Tuesday through Thursday I was part of a crew working full bore to build a cistern (see my blog of April 23, Bridge Work). By Friday, we were rained out, and it’s not clear which month we’ll be able to get back to it. Sigh. Welcome to the vagaries of Midwest spring weather.

It started raining Thursday night, and continued through the day on Friday. All together we had about an inch through mid-day Saturday, which the gardens needed and was by no means excessive. But it was enough to precipitate cave-ins along the sides of the cistern pit, collapsing clumps of soggy clay and dirt atop our unsecured block walls. All of that will need to be dug out and the soil removed from block cavities before the walls can be laid true and grouted securely in place. We were about half a day from having that work done before the rain caught up with us. As it will probably require a backhoe to re-excavate the hole (if you were wondering about the possibility of manually removing wet, sticky clay from a trench over one’s head, think pyramids), we’ll have to wait for enough dry weather that the weight of the equipment doesn’t trigger more cave-ins. That probably translates to June.

Given that I need to be on hand long enough to oversee the digging out, the completion of the block wall assembly, surface bonding the walls, and pouring the concrete for the barrel-vaulted top, a peek at my calendar means that this work won’t happen sooner than July. So the rains—while good for morel and shiitake production—were untimely for cistern production.

As momentum robbing as this was for our cistern crew, our work in April will mostly still be usable in July, so it’s more about delay than loss. The news for farmers in central Missouri was more troublesome.

Saturday, Ma’ikwe and I drove down to Columbia, about 125 miles south of Rutledge. It was raining the entire drive, and it quickly became apparent that we were entering territory that had been pelted with much more rain than we had experienced in the northeast corner. (I heard a rumor that some spots had already received seven inches, with more on the way.) In the agricultural parlance of northeast Missouri, it was a frog drowner. By the time we got south of Madison, we were seeing entire fields under water. This might have been desirable if the farmers were growing rice, but this is corn and bean country.

If those fields had already been planted—which was a distinct possibility given how dry and warm the prior month had been—all that effort was ruined. In addition to the non-trivial loss of labor and fuel associated with getting the fields ready, the substantial seed and fertilizer investment was all flowing into the ditches along with the water. Ouch!

Driving through this zone was both awesome and humbling. I never cease to be amazed when in the presence of Mother Nature flexing her muscles, and by the power of flowing water in particular. There were several places where the sodden fields were no longer able to contain the rainfall and it was surging across the blacktop. Luckily, we were negotiating this stretch of highway in the daylight and I had time to slow down before each cascade, keeping the rooster tails under control. Near Hallsville, we saw one car that was parked in the front yard… in water above the axles and rising.

After experiencing this mid-state deluge in progress, the rain delay for our cistern work seemed pretty minor.

No comments: