It's amazing what a little rain can do for the land and the spirit
I heard it faintly, late at night, above the sounds of the house settling into sleep. My 2-year-old had just finished her nightly round of crying, singing, talking and laughing when I realized the rhythmic pitter-patter I heard came not from her feet against the wall, in time with her made-up tunes, but from outside.
I opened the window to see if I was right, breathing in the earthy smell we so rarely experienced last spring and summer. The drops fell steadily, wetting the porch and the dirt of the driveway.
That first shot of rain mostly missed us, and what we got was no downpour. Places to the south got an inch or more, but we had to be content with a tenth of an inch. But the next day brought another two tenths, with a little more in the forecast. And suddenly the world started to look like a different place.
The grass around the houses, which had been a mix of yellow and brown and pale green, now shone a bright emerald. The dry grasses left behind from last year in the pastures and the conservation lands now had a little cushion of green emerging beneath them.
Tractors were left idle in the fields across the area. Though everyone has been itching to get crops planted after a prolonged winter, no one is complaining about the rain in central or western North Dakota.
Last year's drought affected more than just the bottom line of producers. It's not easy to watch crops falter in the fields, nor is it easy to cull more and more cows in efforts to stretch precious feed through the winter. Every dry day and every puff of dust that followed a vehicle down the road or across the field also ate away at the optimism of the people who depend on the land.
It may be a new year, but last summer's conditions still are on the minds of many in the region. In North Dakota, winter lasted longer than normal, but it still was light in terms of snow and moisture in many places. Hay supplies stockpiled from past, wetter years have begun to dwindle as turnout time nears. A common refrain you hear when you talk to ranchers is, we can make it through one year of drought but not two.
My husband planted quite a bit of land into forages last fall. He figured he'd need more hay after having to cut far more acres than usual last year. But that rye and triticale needs moisture to grow. The little showers that came through mean the fuzz of green out in the fields will begin to turn lush, and, as long as we get more timely rains, there should be hay to bale in early summer.
A little rain hasn't cleared up all of the concerns. We know too well that we might not get any more. We may again be praying for rain or for those who need it. We may watch herds go down the road and crops wither.
But a dark cloud right now means a lot to the people who are putting their seeds in the ground or waiting to turn cattle to pasture and to make hay. I checked in with an extension agent in south central North Dakota after the first round of showers went through. "It rained, so everyone's happy," she told me.
Time will tell whether this was the beginning of the end of the drought conditions that still plague our region or just a little relief. Either way, it lifted some spirits and provided some needed hope.