TOWNER, N.D. — I used to worry about us having a dry year after last fall’s drought-like finish. Then we got a whole summer’s worth of rain in four weeks’ time and I began to worry a little less about the chances of drought.
You never know, it could happen here still in the sand dunes of North Dakota’s McHenry County, but 10 inches of early summer precipitation should stave it off awhile. I suppose there are places where 10 inches of rain would seem normal, but not where I live, west of the 100th meridian, the traditional North American longitude that puts more rain and people on one side and less of both on the other.
Our yellow sand can soak up a lot of rain, and the first 4-inch shower sunk in pretty good. Then it started stacking up on us. Every slight depression became a water hole, every bog became a lake and every road ditch became a canal.
According to the averages, my little corner of the world is supposed to get 16.68 inches of precipitation in a year’s time and the wettest month is supposed to be July, with 2.69 inches of rain. There’s one of those official weather stations a little west of our place and, this year, it received 11.06 inches of rain in the past 30 days, which according to their table is approximately 379 percent of normal.
Used to be, we’d have to ask a half dozen neighbors with equal numbers of leaky pessimistic rain gauges and boosted bragger rain gauges to get a handle on the average local precipitation. Now we just look this stuff up on the internet from the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network to get the straight story.
I’ve come to a few conclusions after our little monsoon season. Pastures are pretty hard to navigate in a pickup when water leaves little for dry pathways.
You can go with a four wheeler and keep your feet up high and dry on the front fenders, or horseback and know that the hooves will splash enough water to get your feet and legs wet in the stirrups. You can try raising your feet on the front fenders of the horse, but most of our horses liken that to the spur licks of a bronc rider and will likely drop out from under you like a dunking booth at the county fair.
We have lots of fences and cross fences on our place, and that means a lot of gates. I usually put a gate in the corner or some other place along the fence that seems like a natural course of travel. This year, I realized that every gate has been centered over a pool of water.
You might keep your feet dry while you’re riding, then realize you need to open a gate and there you are with your cowboy boots in 6 inches of water snugging up a double half hitch on your gate post.
We have taken to sporting rubber work boots more and more. Some call them mud boots, or dairy boots, or Bogs, but seldom is the word “cowboy” part of the rubber booted terminology. You don’t look much like a Nevada buckaroo when you slide into the saddle with a pair of mucks pointed forward in the stirrups.
But we keep our feet dry. And, even as wet as it’s been, I can think of one thing worse than stepping off your horse into a mud puddle in your pasture … stepping off your horse and creating a cloud of dust as your foot lands in a pasture starved for moisture.
Green grass and water still suits the cattle better than brown stems and dust. We’ll just keep splashing along and see what happens next.