It’s been a surly summer on the farm

Mother Nature has certainly been in a bad mood this summer. I don’t know what made the old lady so grumpy, but I’m a fairly ancient guy, and I don’t remember as surly a summer as we’ve experienced the last few months.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a change. If football is here, cooler weather and sweet, fresh air can’t be far behind . . . can it?

In most of the west, it’s been a summer of heat and fire, with half of California seemingly burning up and the rest of us inundated with the vapors of smoke for months on end.

The blood-red sun sinking into the deep haze each evening seems almost biblically apocalyptic.

I live in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, but I have a small ranch right on the Idaho-Utah border, about 35 miles due west of Snowville. It’s usually a place I can go to get some hard, physical work in, and also escape the heat and bad air quality. This summer, even in the higher country, the heat has been stifling and numerous wildfires have kept the air smoky and smelly week after week.

After a winter with below-average moisture, the insolent weather patterns have unfortunately denied the Raft River Mountains of moisture all spring and summer. We’ve had a passing thunderstorm or two, but haven’t enjoyed a real soaking rainstorm for months.

Our grass hayfields – and everything else – are dry, dry, dry. I’m hopeful the grass will bounce back, but it looks pretty dead. We were smart enough to cut our hay in June, just as things were starting to dry out, so we got one decent cutting of grass hay.

We had some repair problems with our wheel-line irrigation system, and didn’t get things fixed until the pond was low enough that I didn’t want to pump out of it. The groundwater has also suffered, with our culinary water wells not producing enough water to keep the lawns green. We’ve essentially allowed the grass to go brown pretty much everywhere.

The creek flowing through our place is lower than I’ve ever seen it. Our springs have mostly dried up. There’s still plenty of water for animals, but very little for irrigation.

Our cows are doing fine, with sufficient forage, especially along the creek corridor. But we’ll need to supplement with hay earlier this year than in the past.

Our 200 free-range laying hens have enjoyed chasing grasshoppers across the pasture, and are still producing delicious eggs with deep-orange yolks. But they would no doubt like a little more greenery.

We still see lots of wildlife, including deer, moose, chukars, marmots, sage grouse, lots of hawks, eagles and owls, and the ubiquitous racoons and skunks (which the dogs tangle with regularly). We see coyotes and foxes off and on. My nephew, running on a trail higher on the mountain, saw a mountain lion that scared him enough that he turned around and headed back down. In the winter, we’ll see bighorn sheep in the cliffs above the stream corridor.

So, such are the cycles of nature –and life. Patience is required. No use obsessing or fretting over something we can’t change or control.

Mother Nature will do as she pleases. Whether it is climate change that is upsetting her is open for debate.

I do have faith that the smoke will clear, the temperatures will cool. Rain and snow will return — eventually.