The ground has been so dry that, for the first time in 11 years, I should have irrigated the gardens. Between the lack of rain, the potato beetles and the marauding animals, most of my potato plants have shriveled up. I’ve gone from dreams of French Fries to the reality of french-fried plants. All that time squishing potato beetles wasted. And I don’t feel like it built character or anything.
My beets germinated poorly for lack of moisture, and the carrots almost not at all.
Maybe next year I will install the pump in the surface well in the front yard and use that water for irrigation…next year.
On the bright side, the garlic has done well — no penicillium or fusarium this year (both of which are encouraged by too much moisture). And the onions are looking good.
Yes, July was a hot month here on the hill, with only the occasional shower. Each time it rained, even a little, I would go to the garden and tease back the rain-colored soil to reveal persistent dryness just below the surface. I wanted more rain, despite what it might do to dampen tourists’ spirits or the evening’s Red Sox game.
Late on the 29th of July we FINALLY got some real rain.
I spent part of the day traveling to the slaughterhouse to pick up our beef. The shop is fifty-six minutes away across the New Hampshire border and into Maine. On the return trip, my little blue car strained under the weight of the meat. The total carrying capacity of a 1999 Honda Insight is 350 pounds. There were 275 pounds of meat back there, and I can assure you that I have weighed more than 75 pounds for a very long time. Using this vehicle was a calculated risk — the other option being a one-ton diesel with AG plates. “Agriculture” plates seemed like a good idea at the time of registration. They’re cheap, but the plates only allow you a 20-mile travel radius from home. Sanford, ME is a touch outside the radius. And the New Hampshire plates would surely be an invitation to ticket me and add revenue to the Maine state coffers.
So there we were, showering sparks from the undercarriage whenever we hit a bump in the road. I winced, but was grateful that the light mist falling would at least prevent us from causing a wildfire.
As we drove, I remembered my grandmother talking about the Great Maine Fires of 1947 — and how close those fires came to burning down my grandparents’ dairy farm. A wet spring had yielded to a dry summer that year, and by October, conditions were right for fire. Several towns — Shapleigh, Waterboro, Newfield and Brownfield to the south and west of the farm in Limerick — were burned extensively. For a time, Limerick was in the path of the fire. My mother remembers going to a high point in town and seeing fire surrounding her. She remembers my grandfather plowing up part of the back field to create a firebreak. She remembers black hoses snaking up the white clapboards of the house to the roof where her father sprayed water to dampen the shingles against flying embers. Embers lifted on the sere wind like thistle seed — floating to ground ahead of the fire line before rooting and blossoming into greater destruction. My grandmother, toting a newborn, packed food, clothes, pictures, papers and other valuables in anticipation of evacuation. Fortunately for my family, but not for others, the wind shifted and the fire withdrew from the farm. It was a scary time.
Like I said, I was glad it was raining.
We got home without incident, and loaded the beef into the freezers. The skies were grey, but the mist tapered off.
I was lying in bed when the real rains finally came. Not a torrential downpour, like so many of the rain events we get now — those tropical, large-drop-drenchings that run off faster than the ground can open up to receive them — no, this was a steady, slow rain.
The soothing rain was filled with relief. Nature’s musical equivalent of an F in a C chord resolving to G. The drops hit the leaves of the maples outside my window with a “piff,” modulated by the leaves’ dips and tips. Drops, their energy spent after bouncing from a lowest, last leaf, accelerated briefly before hissing into the front-yard grass. Other drops on the dirt road just beyond the maples tapped out a bass line. I drifted into sleep lulled by the three part harmony.
The next morning broke glorious. I went to the garden and poked my finger into the dirt before eagerly shoveling more deeply with my cupped hand. The soil was moist all the way through the root zone — down four inches at least.
The garden seemed sated after the night’s long draught of rain. The plants were clean and looked filled. The air was fresh, heralding the departure of a sultry July.
I’m glad we got some rain.