Grit Blogs > A Well-Worn Path

Measuring up

Lou Ann head shotI remember my Dad keeping a close eye on the horizon.  If it was near harvest and storm clouds were gathering I could read the stress on his face.  If it was a dry year and the towering, cloud banks to the southwest were few and far between I could sense his discomfort and anxiety.

So it’s not that I don’t know how important rain is to farming.  It’s just that after so long away from the farm I temporarily forgot how important it was to not only the financial, but also the social, fabric of country life.

I was quickly reminded of this after moving back to the farm. After even the slightest amount of moisture, no matter where I went, someone wanted to know how much rain I had received.  When I responded, “I don’t know,” I noticed eyebrows quickly rose in surprise and I presume a good amount of suspicion that my Farm Kid upbringing had been tarnished by too many years in the city making my trustworthiness doubtful.

“What do you mean, you don’t know?  Didn’t you check your rain gauge?” I would be asked.

“No.  I don’t have a rain gauge,” I’d respond, which obviously didn’t create a foundation for further trust from fellow farmers.

“What?  You don’t have a rain gauge?  And you call yourself a farmer?” some asked.

I had been away from the farm long enough to have forgotten that on the farm conversations about the weather aren’t considered idle chit chat. Discussing rain, lack of rain, hard, cold winters or early springs aren’t just polite and casual social pleasantries.  No, talk about weather among farmers is “shop talk” and all business.

This last summer, rain was scarce and talk about it abundant. Just a few drops meant the difference between a good crop and no crop at all.  In fact, not far from me the difference between having a milo crop that yielded well and one that never seeded out at all was five miles and three half-inch rains.  It was a tough, dry year and everyone was measuring any and every rain that fell. Well, everyone but me, it seems.

But all that has changed.  I now have a new rain gauge that I too check after every rain so when asked, I can confidently divulge my particular farm’s total.  I love going out after a sprinkle or downpour and lifting the thin glass cylinder out of its white plastic base and seeing to which of the red numbers and hash marks the liquid has risen.

It makes me feel like a real Farm Kid again. 

christine byrne
2/23/2012 11:36:08 PM

I can't tell you how much this cracked me up. I know that raised eyebrow look. I'd be tarred and feathered if I couldn't report in to my farming parents exactly how much rainfall I received after every rain. Mine broke once and I didn't get it replaced fast enough. My stepdad walked out to his shop, dug one out and forced me to take it. It is almost like a commandment in farming communities... thou shalt measure rainfall.


cindy murphy
2/23/2012 8:40:02 PM

Hi, Lou Ann. Just a (belated) welcome to the GRIT community; I really enjoyed your first post and meant to tell you so, but time got away from me. Hubs is the rain gauge watcher of the household; he always knows how much that little glass vial is holding. Of course, it's me who always asks, "How much rain did we get?", so I can start my day feeling in the know.....because inevitably a customer at the nursery will ask, then compare numbers to see who got the better part of the deal depending if we're experiencing drought, or deluge.


nebraska dave
2/23/2012 6:14:19 PM

Lou Ann, my rain gauge is not a fancy city one by any means. It's just an empty Van Camp bean can. A new one is set outside by the garden every year to measure how much moisture hits the garden area. Now since I have another garden property, I'll have to come up with two bean cans. Since I really love beans, I don't think that should be an issue. With the technology of today, rain can be measured remotely from inside the house but I'm just an old school kind of guy. I've never seen a bean can fail to catch rain yet. :0) It is so true that much of farm community conversation is about weather. I suppose that is because the fabric of livelihood relies on weather. Water, wind, fire, and soil all play a part in the success of farming. So it's no big surprise that farm folks like to talk about the ups and downs of weather. Until I started back into serious gardening a couple years ago, my thoughts were rain was a pain in the neck to be endured. I never gave it a thought until I started gardening that everything we eat depends on the weather even if we don't grow it ourselves. Some where has to have the right conditions to grow my California produce that makes it to my table. Have a great rain gauge day.