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The Celestial Weatherman Enjoys a Joke


Havre de Grace. -- It's enough to make a person paranoid, and besides that it's unfair.

Here in town it rains, heavily at times. The Fourth of July parade was held in a downpour. But on the farm a few miles away, where we need the rain badly, it seems to have been prohibited. We're painfully dry, and when everyone else is getting wet, I tend to take it personally.

For days, thunderheads came rolling in from the west late in the afternoon. The wind picked up, leaves rustled, and little puffs of dust went spinning across the fields. But then the storms would lurch away, usually toward the Deer Creek valley just to our north, and make their way around us to the Susquehanna. Farms a few miles down the road were a healthy green, but we hadn't had a real rain on our farm since some time in May. The place looked like it, too.

It wasn't a total disaster. We're not growing any corn, wheat or beans this summer, fortunately, and the spring was wet enough so that the hayfields and pastures made good growth before the weather changed. We've already made more than enough hay to get us through the winter, and by rotating the cows from pasture to pasture we've had enough grass.

Even when we're coping with them, though, heat and drought as intense as we've been having are disheartening. That's all the more so because relief has come so tantalizingly close. It smacks of discrimination. We ought to be suing, or at least getting on a victimization list.

It sometimes seems as though the celestial legislature that determines the weather patterns has deliberately and maliciously gerrymandered us out. Or perhaps it's only ineptitude, not malevolence. Maybe our weather this summer is being managed by temporary helpers, well-intentioned spirits with an urban orientation who think that by diverting the rain around us they're doing us a favor.

The day of the soaked parade was typical. On the afternoon when the parade was scheduled, I was ready to bale hay. We had some pretty second-cutting alfalfa in the field, and I didn't want to lose it. But the hay was just too green to bale. It needed another another hour or so of sun to cure, and the sun was hidden behind thunderclouds. We decided to take a chance and go to town to watch the parade.

We'd driven less than three miles when we hit rain so heavy it was like stepping into a waterfall. It continued all the way to town, and as we didn't feel like watching a parade in monsoon conditions we turned around and went home again. At almost exactly the place where we'd entered the downpour, we left it again. Behind us it was still pouring, but the road ahead was bone-dry, and by the time I get back to the hayfield the hay was ready to bale.

This hot weather is especially hard on livestock. Our cows and calves are now in a big field with some woods. They tend to spend the days in the woods, which provide shade and a refuge from many kinds of flies, and come out into the fields at night to graze. The woods don't protect them from the deerflies, which bite viciously, but the cattle seem to know the deerflies are a minor threat and the sun a major one.

Cows, like most animals but unlike people and horses, don't sweat. That makes it doubly hard for them to deal with the heat, and makes summer by far their most difficult season. As long as they have enough to eat, winter is easy by comparison.

Recently, when they first see me around the barn in the early mornings, the cows have started to complain. They bawl, rattle the gate, and stare at me disconsolately, as though they assume I could do something about the weather if I wanted to -- or by opening the gate, I could let them into a field where it's already September. I tell them I'm finding the summer as much of a trial as they are, but obviously they don't believe it.

Anyway, just as I'd concluded that we'd been singled out for punitive desiccation, we received what I can only describe, meteorologically, as affirmative action.

Thursday evening it rained four inches, which is about 10 percent of the rainfall we normally get in a year.

The water landed on us as though it were coming from a fire hose. Lightning struck, much too close. When I was in the cellar looking for propane lanterns, sparks jumped out of the circuit-breaker box. Gullies were sliced into hillsides. A water bucket left out behind the barn fetched up in a field half a mile away. Streams rose, barns leaked and trees fell over. One landed on a wire, and we had no electricity for more than 12 hours, though all our neighbors got theirs back in three.

It did soften the ground, wash the dust from the grass, fill the pond, and placate the cows. But if this was a response to our prayers, it seemed a little, well, grandiose. All we'd been asking for was a little rain, for crying out loud. I suppose this was a demonstration of the maxim that you'd better be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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