I Should Know Better By Now...
I'm in the doghouse. Tuesday evening, as we were finishing up dinner, I looked out our window and saw a beautiful but intimidating cloud massing above our fields. Crepuscular rays streamed off its Southern edge, and a distant film of rain ran behind it. Andrew checked the radar and noted, relieved, that the storm appeared to be massing to our North. So with my mediocre camera phone I attempted to capture the sublimity of the evening sky, and, posting to instagram, I hashtagged #dodgedabulletthere.
Then, as we would need to close up the high tunnel and range coop for the evening soon anyway, Andrew and I headed up the hill for one final evening chore. I beat him back--the range coop is farther afield--and sat on the porch with the kids, eating dessert.
At that moment, a bolt of lightening flashed in my peripheral vision, and the crack of thunder followed so close at hand that they were virtually inseparable. As I calmly ushered the kids back inside, I thought of Andrew, in the field, fiddling with the roll up sides of a big metal structure. I hoped very fervently that I had not just become a widow.
He ran back inside moments later, just as the first fat raindrops began to hit the front steps.
It then rained hard for 2.5 hours.
Sudden thunderstorms are no stranger to us, but this storm did not budge. Hail fell. Thunder rolled. And the rain, as Winnie the Pooh would say, "came down-down-down in a rushing, roaring river".
My first year farming in Massachusetts taught me a valuable lesson about water--you can (almost) always bring it to your crops, but when you have too much of it you can't make it go away. Accordingly, we farm on a hill top. I'll forgo the fertile silt of a floodplain for the rocky slopes of a ridge because of nights like this one. In the waning light of evening, we looked down our driveway to the drainage way that leads from our upper pond down to our (main) lower pond. In our experience, it has only ever been a marsh: squishy and highly vegetated. Now, suddenly it had become a roaring river, and something seemed to be wrong with the culvert under our driveway, as water was poring over the road. This storm suddenly morphed from an inconvenience into a worry.
Meanwhile, Andrew was fretting about his animals. I forbid him to leave the house until the lightening had stopped, and so we stood in the window and watched the water coursing down to the pond.
All things pass, and the storm was no exception. With our kids finally asleep and the lightening reliably far way, we ventured out into the drizzle. The culvert, we saw, was clogged with the mass of vegetation that had formerly lived upstream. Uprooted by the storm, it had washed down stream, lodged in front of the (2 foot tall!) pipe, and (we soon saw) clogged the standpipe of the pond. We walked on to the dam of the pond, and found that our newly constructed spillway had worked, sort of. With the standpipe clogged, the surface of the pond was utterly smooth. But, when the water level finally overtopped the spillway, it began washing the backside away. We knew we needed to clear the standpipe, or the spillway would continue to erode. The only clue to the standpipe's location (other than our memories) was the island of vines floating near the dam. Andrew waded in and together we began pulling the sodden plants up onto the dam. We knew we had succeeded with a sound like a plane taking off suddenly rose from the depths. We had pulled the plug on a quarter acre bathtub.
Andrew then went to check on his animals. The layers were soggy and pissed, but otherwise unharmed. The pigs were as happy as pigs in mud, as they were, in fact, in plenty of it. The cows just went back to chewing their cud. The brooder with our youngest chicks was (thankfully!) warm and dry, but our second brooder, with the oldest chicks, only days from going out on pasture, had flooded. Four chickens had died, but the rest, though wet, would be just fine. Dryness is imperative in the brooder, so Andrew mucked out the wettest bedding and covered the rest with more absorbent peat moss. Finally, we set up a sump pump in our basement, and went to bed.
In the days that followed we cleaned out the culvert, worked to further flood proof the brooder, and did Monty Python impressions while doing chores ("lovely filth down here!"). It has been a soggy week, but the sun has returned, and we're ready to get back to the work of growing.