Living in a Dry and Parched Land

Yellowstone River, Montana

This week's sibling assignment was given to us by Raymond Pert. The assignment for this week is What do you enjoy or love about the rain?

I never thought much about rain growing up in the Silver Valley, a mining community whose largest employers, the mines, didn't care one way or another if it was raining on the ground or not. All the natural resources came from underground, and raining or not, it didn't affect the outcome of the final product.

This wasn't the case during my years living in eastern Montana in the latter part of the 1980's. It was quite an eye-opening experience moving from a mining community, to an agricultural community, whose farmers relied on a good rain season because they were dry land farmers.

Every day, there would be talk about the weather. Either it rained too little, or if it did rain, it wasn't at the right time, or it rained too much.

But through this whole experience, I came to appreciate the rain. It was not longer just something beautiful to watch in the mountain valley of my youth. It was now a necessity that people relied on for their livelihood.

I remember the first year I was in Glendive, and part of my job was a college recruiter for the local community college. That winter had a decent amount of snow, because I remember driving in it.

But the following years, the snowfall wasn't as good. I remember PKR and I took up cross country skiing, and we had to drive to Yellowstone Park the winter of 1987 because that was the closest place to find snow. And it was so dry, there were elk just laying around the town of Gardner, Montana, where we stayed.

I found an old New York Times article about the drought dated July 7, 1988. It was comparing the Montana drought to the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. One of the farmers interviewed in the article was a man named Carl Hopkins, and this is what he had to say:

''I've been in this country since 1912,'' said Mr. Hopkins, an 85-year-old rancher who built a 320-acre homestead into a 16,000-acre grain and cattle operation 190 miles east of Billings. ''I've never seen it like this, not even in '34. My God, look at it. It's as bare as a dance floor.''

I remember traveling across I-94, and seeing the dry river beds in the summer. The parched ground. The hot, dry winds blowing across the prairie.

And it made you appreciate a good rain. It made you realize how much depended on the rain. When the sky finally burst forth with a good rainfall, you thanked God because your prayers were finally answered, and some crops may be saved after all.

Living along the Yellowstone River in Glendive made for an interesting view. My first apartment looked over this muddy river, a bit different from the river I was used to, The Coeur d'Alene River.

The first year I lived in Glendive, the river froze over, and, in the spring, the river "goes out" a term I had never heard before. It is an amazing sight. When the ice on the river starts breaking up in Miles City, the word gets to Glendive faster than the break up, and you know it is coming. Pretty soon, huge ice chunks are crashing and breaking their way down the river, and finding solid ground along the banks. Then the water starts running again.

Unfortunately, this only happened one year, the first year I moved there, the spring of 1986. In the years following, at least until April of 1991 when we moved, the winters were always too mild to even freeze the river. I will never forget the first witnessing of the "going out" of the river. And I think some of those ice chunks didn't melt until June.

So now, I enjoy the rain for two reasons. One, one of the most beautiful sights is to watch a thunder and lightening storm in the mountains, with the lightening flashing brightly, lighting up the whole valley, and the rain coming down in torrents.

And I also enjoy it, because each time the rain falls, I know it is fulfilling its obligation, to provide moisture to a dry and parched land, wherever that may be.

1 comment:

Inland Empire Girl said...

I agree with you that rain is enjoyable because of the thunder and lightening in the mountains. As we move toward a total weather change in the Pacific Northwest it will be interesting to see what we observe. They are promising a "wetter, colder winter". We will see! Good info on the days in eastern Montana.