Monday, September 10, 2012

Under the Right Cloud

By Rob Watson

My best friend, here in State, is an older gentleman, farmer, and mechanic. One of his goals over his 86 years has been to make things better, for his family, his friends, and the world in general. He seems to have a soft spot in his heart for most everyone, even those he regards with caution.

We spend a lot of time "checking things out" around his modest farm. During the last few years, State has endured a severe drought. Friend's 14 acre lake declined, all the fish died, and it finally went completely dry. The death of the fish, which we frequently fed, struck friend to his very soul. Ever the optimist, Friend enlisted my help in anchoring a float in the deepest part of the dry bed. The goal was, should the rains ever return, the lake fill, and the fish be reintroduced, the solar powered lights on the float would attract bugs for the fish.

Friend, in one of his restorative moods, spent a pile of money (well, to me it was a pile) rebuilding a dam, that for many years, retained a duck hunting pond for the former owners. The dam had been washed out many years before by one of those infrequent gully washer, toad strangler, rain storms.

On this day we surveyed the dry lake and the to-be-pond. Friend voiced his often expressed fear that he would not live to see water in either of them again. We also visited the several fields planted by his participating tenant. (more correctly described as partner and friend) Most of what we saw was rather sad looking crops, retarded by the lack of water. The last fields to be examined brought us to a seldom used path between two fields. At the top we could view everything for many miles in every direction. The crops on our right and left were milo and sunflowers, both of which looked healthy, vigorous, and productive. The beautiful, extended view and the appearance of the crops left us both in an elevated mood. We went off to the casino for lunch and a spot of blackjack. (I broke even, Friend won $5, and it was not the end of our good fortune)

That night the weatherman reported that moderate rains were expected, but not for everyone. "To get rain", he said, "you have to be under the right cloud." That evening and night, huge dark clouds formed north of Town. They produced continuous flashes of lightning and rolling thunder. I concluded we were not under the right cloud. But, Friend's farm, dry lake and future pond might be. Daylight showed less than a inch (2.5 cm) of rain had fallen in town.

8 AM sharp brought a phone call from Friend suggesting we go "check things out", as he had heard enough rain had fallen to have "Running" water. (necessary to raise the water in the ponds). Off we went in bright sunshine and cool winds, with high expectations. Travel along the ten miles of dirt roads to the farm, revealed many places where the ditches were full of water and the roads themselves had been flooded... more excellent evidence to promote hope for the dry ponds. The rain gauge at the lake read 3.5 inches (8.7 cm).

Either of us would have been pleased to see so much as a puddle in the lake bottom, from the road we could see the 14 acre lake had recovered half its area and 1/3 of its volume. The float we had anchored the day before floated quietly in the center.

The road to the restored pond was too muddy to travel. Water was still running off the fields and into the drainage that would feed that pond. We decided to wait to see it at it "full" height.

The next day things were dryer and firmer so Friend decided to risk driving to the restored pond. We were required to walk across a field to get to the pond. Friend, minding his heart condition took it slow and easy. I, not being so hampered, walked on ahead. Being a former resident of Big State, I was familiar with ponds and dams and associated possibilities. I could see from a closer look that the new dam had washed away. The gap was 30 feet (10 meters) wide... a good 1/3 of its length. A quarter acre of water was all that remained behind the destroyed dam. As Friend walked up to the dam, disappointment shown on his face. "Friend", I said, "I don't think this is what you came out to see."

I took a series of pictures and surveyed the area. As I walked over the overflow bypass, formed to protect the dam from high water flow, it was clear, the water in the overflow was more than 3 ft (1 meter) deep and several feet wide before water topped the dam and began to wash it out. A local rain gauge showed 4.1 inches (10.3 cm) had fallen near the restored pond.

We walked slowly back toward the truck, not much was said. As we got to the truck, Friend said "Rob, you are right. That is not what I came out to see."

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