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From Lake to Desert

by Ian Caldicott

I have a curse, it's a strange curse, but a curse none the less.  It seems that starting with the year that I moved to the USA every time I move the new place has a very extreme weather year.  From massive snow storms ice and  floods to heat waves and droughts every time I move weather records are broken in my new home.  Scio, Oregon appears to be no exception.  When we moved in back in November it was rain, Portland had more consecutive days of rain than ever before, the record here was actually a couple of days longer but the quantity this time was more.  The record rainfall total was not reached but one month during the winter was the wettest it had ever been.

Still the rain did end, spring leapt straight into summer and all was well, or so we thought.  The usual weather pattern around here is for lots of rain during the months of November through April with the odd few days of sun here and there followed a nice mix of sun and rain in May.  June through August   by a dry season with occasional showers, increasing in September and October. The kind of showers that are just enough to spoil the hay but not enough to water the crops.  Unfortunately someone failed to remind the weather gods this year that there are supposed to be occasional rains during the summer, Enter one of the longest dry spells in the areas history.

Remember back in the winter when the East pasture was under water?  Lake Ivan we called it.  The irrigation ditch as you remember was renamed "The Nile".  Well come early August and the East pasture and the rest of our ground is parched like a desert and the Nile, well lets just say that the dogs went for a swim the other day and came out dusty! It was only temporary, some water started back down the ditch once the main pump out by the river was fixed but it was quite a shock non the less.   So here we sit looking at the makings of a desert.  "Where's your irrigation?"  you might ask, but if you did be prepared for a look that could melt aluminum.

Our farm came complete with an irrigation pump and irrigation pipe so irrigation should be no problem right?  Well not exactly.  First reports of the amount of land that could be irrigated with the amount of pipe we had were less than fully accurate.  Only about a third of the property was reachable, IF all the pipe was OK and fit together.....it wasn't and it didn't.  It is hard to figure how much time was spent fiddling with the pipes trying to get them to fit together, trying to find bits to connect different pipes together etc. etc.  I remember back to when we looked at the place, it was September and most of the grass was dead, that should have been a clue that the pipe didn't really work as described.

So here we are in early August, two thirds of the pasture is rapidly turning into desert and the rest is being overgrazed because there is nowhere else for the sheep to eat.    Where once we had to wear rubber boots and wade through standing water everywhere we went on the farm now we have to be careful not to fall into the cracks that are developing in the ground.  I talked to someone recently who mentioned that they thought it would be nice to live a quite life on a farm, how much less stress it would be than a regular "city" job.  I shook my head and smiled to myself, "if only they knew" I thought, but then again I know and I wouldn't trade places for anything.......except perhaps some rain.