Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Waiting to Exhale

Farmers around here are holding their breath so hard they're starting to keel over in the cafes and parts stores. This could be one of the best grain crops they've had in years. I say 'could be' because in farming, disaster is never more than one thunderstorm away. And farming at above 3000 feet in the shadow of Glacier National Park is an annual invitation to disappointment. Once in a while, you have one of those summers where it all comes together. The ground thaws and dries early enough to get everything planted at a decent time. The rain falls right on schedule. And the grain springs to gorgeous, bountiful life. And then you wait. There is nothing quite as nerve-wracking as watching that bumper crop ripen with all the speed of a snail racing up the side of Chief Mountain. Will it be ready to combine before the sawflies buzz through and whack off every other stem? Will the cold, damp weather delay it so long that an early snow mashes it? It's so thick, a wind-driven downpour could do almost as much damage.

Or it could hail. Hail is a hit and miss annihilator of farmers' dreams. Storms tend to be compact, often less than a mile across. Sometimes you can almost draw a line where the squall ended that turned your barley to muddy green pulp without touching the neighbor across the road. The weather man isn't much help. It's not like you can run out and throw up a tent over a hundred acres of oats. Listening to a storm forecast is like parking your car at a jam-packed Walmart, knowing a plane is about to fly over and drop a few bowling balls. The odds that one will go through your windshield as opposed to one of the hundreds of other cars are actually pretty low. But you know it's gonna hit somebody. Combines and swathers are just now beginning to chomp their way across the fields to our south. A week of good, warm weather and some of our neighbors will start harvesting winter wheat. But here on the upper slopes, we'll be holding our breath for a while yet.


Stan Grace said...

Grain farmers....THe original high stakes gamblers!

Being Beth said...

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Seems to me that Katherine Lee Bates must have been looking through your eyes and at your view when she wrote those lyrics.

I think it takes a great deal of faith and fortitude to be a farmer, and that's part of what makes farmers the salt of the earth.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

What a profession. I love your blog. Just discovered it recently. How do you find time for the blog with all you have going on, and such wonderful writing as well? Awesome. Montana must grow writers as well as they grow grain.

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Thank you, Elizabeth. Come back and bring all your friends. ;>