I want to know: Will we ever see the rain?

Honey and Bunny and Sadie nodel our dried-up lawn

Sadie (left) and Honey Bunny – allowed outside only on condition that they be harnessed (because of traffic and other dangers) – model our dry-as-a-bone and crispy lawn.

Readers of my vintage will instantly recognize the musical reference in the title of this blog post. It is, of course, to a Creedence Clearwater Revival song from 1971, Have You Ever Seen the Rain? (Which you may listen to here, if you’d like to hear that classic all over again.) Now, I fully realize that in it John Fogerty is talking about something altogether different than drought – though having studied the lyrics a bit just now, I have to admit I’m not at all clear on what he is on about. Nevertheless, I have not been able to get my variant on the words of his chorus out of my head since about this time yesterday, when Raymond and I arrived back home at the Manse after a three-week vacation on the coast of Maine.

Summer 2016 had been hot and worrisomely dry well before we left on July 10; I first mentioned our area’s low-water worries in a post in late June. So every single day Raymond and I were away, I would check the weather forecast for Queensborough on my iPhone, desperately hoping to see some rain in it somewhere. Sadly, it always looked just like it does right now:

Queensborough weather forecast

You will of course note the discouraging lack of a symbol of a cloud with rain coming from it in this eight-day forecast. Yes, there is one image suggesting thunderstorms on Friday, and that brings some hope; such images showed up from time to time when I was checking the forecast from 600 miles away. But then the next time I would check, they had disappeared, to be replaced with full sun and a projected high temperature of 30 or 31 or 32 or even 33 degrees. And what the forecasts said turned out to be true, we found out upon our return yesterday. While areas around and not far from us – Belleville to the south, Haliburton County to the north, even nearby Madoc – have had at least a bit of rain, every dark cloud and every bit of moisture has skirted Queensborough. We seem to be our own little heat dome – well, make that drought dome.

We drove in yesterday to find our lawn not just shades of brown and yellow, but downright crispy to walk on. You’ve already seen the front yard in my photo at the top of this post; here’s a shot of the normally verdant back yard:

Parched back yard

And here’s just one example of how most of the perennials are looking:

Parched hosta

And here, to cheer things up a bit, is a closer look at two of our three cats, to show you just how cute they are.

Honey Bunny and Sadie up close

Everyone in the Queensborough area is worried about the drought. It’s terrible for the farmers; I hate to think what the prospects are for this year’s corn crop. It’s terrible for the groundwater situation, and thus for household wells. Everyone I’ve talked to since we got home says (with cautious relief) that their well is holding out so far, but everyone is also being very, very careful with water usage – and lamenting the fact that you really can’t tell what the level in your well is, which means you can’t know whether household disaster (the well running dry) is imminent, or whether you’re in relatively good shape.

How bad is it? A recent story in the Belleville Intelligencer – written, I am proud so say, by a brand-new graduate of the journalism program in which I teach at Loyalist College – says that the local conservation authority expects it will have to issue a Level 3 low-water warning for the first time in its history. (We are currently at an already-worrisome Level 2.)

Basically, nobody has ever seen anything like this before. Well, actually, not quite; yesterday I was chatting with a nonagenarian retired farmer from the nearby hamlet of Cooper. Had he ever seen anything like this before? Yes he had: the summer of ’49. (That’s 67 years ago, people! Not many of us can say we remember weather details from that far back.) There was no hay to harvest that year, and no hay to harvest means nothing to feed the cattle. He said the farmers got through the following winter by helping each other, handing over a couple of bales whenever they could spare them to someone even more in need than they were. “By the end of that winter, my cattle weren’t looking too good,” he concluded.

But let’s jump ahead 67 years and return to the drought of 2016. Raymond and I are coping like everyone else whose household is on a well – being very sparing with water use, planning to do laundry at the laundromat in town, and resigning ourselves to having a crispy brown lawn. And despite the drought, we found there were good things happening on the Manse’s modest acreage when we returned from our trip. For one, there are lots of little tomatoes on our heirloom tomato plants:

Tomatoes on the tomato plants

And my beloved phlox, which get a fair bid of shade, are looking not too bad:

Healthy-looking phlox

And wonder of wonders (and thanks to a little bit of watering help from our neighbour Ed), the new shade garden that I put so much sweat and even blood into creating is not only not dead, but looking kind of okay!

Shade garden, Aug. 1, 2016

And those are all good things. Plants can be hardy, through drought and other trials. And you know, so can people. Here is one more story out of my conversation yesterday with the farmer from Cooper that I think kind of says a lot. Believe it or not (given that we’re talking about heat and drought), it has to do with a hockey arena.

The Cooper arena has been closed for some time now and is used only for equipment storage. But when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, it was a hot spot for local hockey games and skating parties all winter long. That is, if you can call a building that was the coldest place I have ever known – invariably colder inside it than it was outside, except for the dressing rooms where there were blazing wood-burning stoves – a “hot spot.” Here’s a picture of the old place that I took a while back:

Cooper Arena

The old Cooper arena. On the winter nights of my childhood, there was no colder spot to be found than the stands of that place.

I well remember being in that arena with lots of other local people, cheering on two teams – maybe from Cooper? Queensborough? Eldorado? Tweed? Madoc? There were lots of local hockey teams then – as they battled it out on the ice and we shivered in the stands. There were some great players in those days, and some great rivalries. If the walls of that old barn of a place could talk, I’m sure they could tell some great stories.

But the story my Cooper friend told was this: that it was because of the great drought of 1949 that the arena got built in the first place. The men of Cooper got together to put it up that summer because – well, because there was nothing else to do. No crops to harvest, that’s for sure.

What do we take away from this story? Well, not only is it a great tidbit of local history, but to my mind it is further proof, if any were needed, that people in rural communities will always make the best of a bad situation.

The rain will come, eventually. It will be glorious. “Shining down like water,” like John Fogerty wrote. It may not come in time to save the crops and lawns this year. But we will make do.

And in the meantime, maybe we should just get together and build something.

6 thoughts on “I want to know: Will we ever see the rain?

  1. Ah we have that same terrible drought in my neck of the woods…the grass became crunchy a couple of weeks ago and now I hear that farmers are cutting down corn crops that will come to nought. My husband and I made our decision today to replant our shoreline with conservation in mind, thanks to the Natural Edge program offered through Watersheds Canada. The more shade we can all create, the better! All the best in Queensborough and say hi to Elaine K.

    • Thank you, Liz, and I will indeed say hi to Elaine! Good for you for working to create shade – in times like these, we realize how important that is. I am so glad that Raymond and I planted two trees (a maple and an elm) on our front lawn, and I hope we will live to see the day when they make a real difference in very hot summers like this one. You are fortunate in time of drought to have shoreline!

  2. Isn’t it amazing how the evil weeds survive despite disappearance of all of the grass around them! How is “my” farm looking in the current conditions?

    • You are so right about the weeds, Keith – when we drove up to the Manse after our vacation, all the grass was like straw but some of the weeds were about two feet tall! And green! As for “your” farm, I took a drive by today to check it out for you and, to my untrained eye, the fields actually look pretty good – at least as good as any other farm fields around. (It helps that there is no corn planted, corn suffering the worst from the drought.) The land of your ancestors has good modern-day caretakers!

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