OPINION

The Flatlander

A Thought For the Moment And For Life: Bring The Rain

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Here’s one of the secrets to good gardening. All the good farmers know this.

Don’t wait to water your crop until it’s all wilted and stressed. Water your crop to prevent it from becoming wilted and stressed.

A stalk of okra or a water-starved patch of corn will struggle even if it recovers from too little water at any point in its growth. Plants need consistency. Cut a cross section of an old oak tree and its rings will tell you its life story.

A farmer will go broke waiting on rain in the forecast. A gardener’s season will end prematurely with nothing to show for all her springtime labor.

It’s sort of like working on a hot day. If you’re thirsty and light-headed, you’re already dehydrated. Same with your garden, and though it will recover, it will produce less for the stress.

As of this writing, we surely need a rain in Round Bottom Valley. I’m checking the radar about every 30 minutes today. But yesterday, after a long day, and at a time when I just wanted to sit back in my easy chair with a cool drink, I got up, filled up several five-gallon buckets and watered pecan trees across our Tranquility Base. They weren’t stressed yet, but it wouldn’t have taken much, and even though there was rain in the forecast the next day, the risk was too great.
Time to water.

It’s a topic that’s important to me. Drought, as much as any other thing, shaped me into the person I am today. In my 55 years, none was more volatile than the summer of 1980.

As late as Memorial Day, 1980 showed prospects for another year that would give our farming community enough money to make a living and even grow the family operations a bit. The problems began in June when a ridge of high pressure settled into the lower Mississippi Valley and camped for four months.

Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees for 33 consecutive days and it rained less than one-tenth of an inch through September. The heat wave caused 1,700 deaths across the heartland, and losses in the agricultural community amounted to $61 billion.

There’s not a more helpless feeling than watching Mother Nature claim thousands of dollars a day. Each morning, my dad vomited violently in the privacy of his bathroom. He would emerge watery-eyed and pre-occupied, each day thinner than the next from no appetite.

You can always pray. And families did just that.

Local weather forecasters said the prevailing high pressure causing the drought was so strong, it would take a hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast to break it.

There were church services in 1980 dedicated to that very thing. Our church community prayed for a hurricane, and eventually we got one. But by the time hurricane Allen made its way through the Caribbean and hit south Texas, it was too late. Much of the brittle cotton and soybeans went unharvested as the cost of fuel would have exceeded the yield.

Many friends and family shut down their farm operations altogether. Others went even deeper in debt investing in irrigation systems that radically changed the farm landscape forever. Our family rolled indebtedness over from one year to the next, still hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt at Dad’s retirement 20 years later. An exorbitant life insurance policy they struggled to pay year after year was all that ultimately saved the farm. In my Dad’s death, he literally bought the farm.

I was 14 years old, an only son, and chief hired hand on our farm that year and many years beyond. Farming afforded us a great life in the wide-open spaces, no one really telling us what to do, and allowing us to hunt and fish as we pleased. But when an impressionable 14-year-old boy sees how little control you have over your destiny in a major drought, I knew I’d never take over the family farm. Had it not been for that circumstance in that year, I’d likely be farming cotton today.

•••

There’s a moral to the story, I think – this idea of watering to prevent stress and not waiting on the rain.

What big thing in your life are you waiting on? What random circumstances are you waiting to see magically come together before you make that big move that’s your dream? Where have you always wanted to travel and spend two months? When are you going to learn that second language, or how to play the dulcimer? At a certain point, we have to take the initiative. So much of life is best lived intentionally.

Take some time to think about watering your idea. Take the initiative to nurture it and help it grow. What if you wait another 20 years and then it’s too late? We see it every day. People work hard and plan for a great retirement, but life happens and there is illness or a pandemic or some unexpected family responsibility.

Sometimes, you must step out and say “yes,” and figure out the rest later. That’s a whole different column.

My encouragement to you today is to go out and water your garden.

See you in next week’s newspaper.

(Steve Watkins is a writer/columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at steve@stonecountyleader.com).

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