Monday, July 25, 2011

The Calm After the Storm

Continuing my recent construction saga, I had a perfectly lovely weekend not working on Ma'ikwe's cistern. After storming the work site for seven of the previous nine days, forced marches were no longer needed, and thus no blocks were lifted nor any cement bags opened the last three days.

Once the backhoe arrived to dig out the site July 14 (history buffs may note that we liberated the project from its clay incarceration on the 222nd anniversary of Bastille Day), we
pushed the pedal to the metal in an effort to complete our below grade work before there was another cave-in. This meant battling temperatures in the high 90s on a daily basis, yet we reached an important milestone last Friday afternoon when we completed surface bonding the walls—which makes them both watertight and strong enough to withstand backfilling.

Everyone on the crew was relieved that there would be no cistern work over the weekend, and it was interesting to note the release we felt when a thunderstorm rumbled into northeast Missouri Friday evening. Having weathered the storm of construction, we were uniquely poised to appreciate Nature's storm right afterward.

There was no question that our gardens and crops could use the water. After a wet spring we've received less than one inch of total precipitation this month, and nothing significant since a half-inch shower July 12 (
to say we're dry would be like noting that Roy Orbison could sing a little). Yet if the rain had arrived any earlier we would have been holding our collective breath about another collapse of the excavated walls—and the horror of starting over again.

So much of country living is about working with what the weather gives you. While it seemed we were fighting Nature by undertaking concrete work in the elevated heat indices of mid-July, we actually found the perfect 10-day window to complete a project that absolutely needed dryness. Whew!

There is something exquisitely sweet about a rain that arrives right after the hay is in the barn. Not only do you get to enjoy the immediate drop in temperatures, you also get to exhale the tensions you'd been carrying for days hoping that it wouldn't rain. The thing you'd been fearing is now suddenly transformed into a joy, as simply as excising the "h" from threat to yield treat.

It's the same for us each fall when we're trying to allow our sorghum crop (one third of Sandhill's income harvested in three week rush) maximum time to ripen, while not losing the crop through frost damage. We get the best yield if the seed is dead ripe, yet we're gambling marginal increases against the possibility of catastrophic loss if we're caught by the mercury dropping to 28 degrees or lower with the crop still standing. (A hard freeze bursts the cells walls of the cane and when temperatures rise again, the oxygen exposure can sour the juice beyond saleability within 24 hours.)

Every day we carefully interpret the tea leaves of the long-range weather forecast and make decisions about how long we dare wait before sending the campesinos out into the fields with machetes. When, finally, the crop is all in, there is a palpable relief that invariably accompanies the first hard freeze. With the sorghum in the barrel we're no longer vulnerable, and can appreciate how the frost puts our summer garden out of its misery, knocks back the flies, and signals the advent of the heating season (think cups of coffee with a good book sitting near the woodstove).

When you farm, you necessarily dance with the weather. However, as a partner, the weather is notoriously capricious, and it's nice to get through a whole play list now and then without any missteps or anyone cutting in.

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