Monday, June 28, 2010

Water Rites

The sun has gone down on the gardens at Spruce, but I can still hear the signature sound of summer in my yard: the swish and patter of the oscillating sprinkler giving an evening drink to the posies. In about 15 minutes or so, I'll ease out to the faucet in the dark and turn it off. That will signal the part of the evening when I run the bath water and start a load of wash. It's ritual; it's habit; the water rites are as much a part of summer as ripe tomatoes, gloriosa daisies, moss baskets and cucumbers. One doesn't exist without the other. Success in the garden is dependent on this water ballet.

We moved here after the parched summer of 2002. After we had endured the daily cycle of watering the mum, aster and hibiscus lines; driving the green pickup with the trailer and 1500 gallon water tank to the Co-op, driving home, starting one of the other tanks with a float, coming back to town, and then driving ever so slowly with the sloshing load of water behind.

Watering the gardens had to wait til late in the evening. Putting in a load of wash waited until everyone had bathed and had gone to bed. All the water using tasks were completed before 7 am when the cycle of watering the money making plants began again. It was tedious, frustrating, tiresome and just the latest dry year of the past twenty.

We moved to the farm after a dry year. Little did we know that the most precious asset that homestead possessed was a really good farm well. At the time, our only water usage was family sized: no livestock, no greenhouses, gardens just under construction. As time went on though, we gained 4H and FFA steers that needed their tank filled daily during the heat of the summer. We added greenhouse flowers and finally, several acres of outdoor growing area. Each of these enterprises taxed the well capacity and pumping ability. I don't know what year we first pumped the well dry. But that shock was a nasty one and one that would be repeated again and again no matter how many well drillers and diviners we had digging holes down the hill from our farm stead.

We got smart; we figured out how many hoses we could use at one time in the greenhouses and for how long. During a normal spring, three different people could water at one time without major loss in water pressure or pumping the well dry. If one more person watered in their transplants, all bets were off and someone would be taking a coffee break while the well recharged. During business hours, all household use took a sabbatical. A mere trickle came out of the faucet to rinse off the dinner dishes. Starting a load of laundry was out of the question! We had our priorities.

But during the drought years, during the late 80s, late 90s, early 2000s, all our "voluntary" rationing was insufficient. Some nights, the bath tub was filled with water the color of a beach. We brought drinking water from Millie's; we took laundry to town. The kids spent lots of quality time at the library while I did wash. We invested in not one, not two, but three 1500 gallon tanks. Butch Mather gave us a 1000 gallon tank. We bought the old Westboro Fire Dept. water truck. We filled up at Westboro/Tarkio Agri-Service. We bought a flatbed and starting hauling water from town.

It all took a long, long time. It all took alot of money as we drilled several wells and laid lots of pipe. And, as far as I can tell, the only really good well was the original well on the place.

We're in a wet cycle now. The year Gabe and Abbie were born, we were seriously short handed at the greenhouse. But not a day went by that the well went dry. I gave thanks several times a week while we were watering right, left and in the middle and the water flowed freely and that extra task was avoided. We've added the irrigation booms, which supply more pressure through their supplementary pumps and can be filled while no one else is watering. The weather pattern is on our side now, but it can and will certainly change and we'll struggle and ration and juggle again.

So....old habits die hard. Even though the water at Spruce street comes on and out as long as I pay the Tarkio Board of Public Works, I still get up and run the sprinkler first thing in the morning. I wait for Blake to shower before I water all the pots. I listen to the sprinkler after its dark. And the household appliances rumble and shudder and fill and rinse while we fall asleep.

Time to turn the sprinkler off. Time to fill the coffee pot. Time to watch the weather man. Time to take a bath. Good night.

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