Last winter was dry.
We like dry winters, those of us who walk about on hoofs and paws and those of us who might track mud in if weíre not careful. Then Spring brought us maybe a half inch of rain every ten days or two weeks, which is not enough to farm. Our oats did not produce much. The native grasses, collectively identified as Big Bluestem, were productive as grazing, but not much for hay. In fact, when grass yields the usual quantity of protein but it is located in smaller quantities, our sheep look very sleek. But as observed by our friend and neighbor, who manages our rural water district and peers into a lot of holes, they were dry all the way to the bottom: no subsoil moisture.
We were down maybe twenty inches of rain from our annual mean. Our County was identified by the national agricultural authorities as needing drought relief. And then it began to rain, maybe eight inches in three storms in the last two weeks.
Weeds, which had been snoozing away, woke up, and sheep love weeds. Big Bluestem began to grow, again. Our alfalfa is flowering again and likely will yield at least one more cutting if the ground dries enough to mow it and the shorter days can still dry the mown plants. One of our ponds had gone dry, but left mud at the bottom, so even if we hauled water in for a tank, unsuspecting calves could get trapped in the mud, which meant that a pasture with such a mud pond in it was unusable: but now itís full of water. And to get to the alfalfa, crossings need to be rebuilt, using, of course, the gravel that has been washed down the creek.
I wonder where the mean is in all this. Mathematicians think of a mean as something to which we regress, but regression sounds negative. Weather analysts talk about reverting. Horace thought it was somewhere between living in a shanty with a leaky roof and a palace, and he warned against being the tallest tree or the loftiest mountain. Marines of my generation thought the wisest course was to be the middle man in the middle rank. Aristotle, looking for Virtue, found it in the mean between Excess and Deficiency, which seems appropriate these days, but weíre looking for subsoil moisture, not virtue.
And how has Rhona responded to all this?
She is making her way to the mean of puppyness. Full or low, any pond or water tank is an opportunity for a swim or at least a bath. Any water, puddle or cat dish, is a chance for a drink. We used to feed her twice a day, but lately she has been foregoing breakfast — which means leaving it for cats and geese — so she can go to pasture with the sheep and eating a single meal with Flora, Tibbie, and Fife in the evenings.
If you asked them, they would tell you she has not yet learned to mind her manners. Pretty much like any puppy.
Copyright Jerry Wigglesworth, August, 2018