It struck me the other day as I heard this conversational question several times from different people…I haven’t heard that since I lived in eastern Montana!
The past 17 years, while I lived in Mount Vernon, WA, the question was more likely to be “Think we’ll have a summer this year?” Rain and clouds were plenty—300 days of them—with averages of 30-40 inches annually. Sunshine, not so much.
I grew up in the semi-arid high plains in Montana where drought was common. Rainfall might average 10-13 inches a year, depending on the area. I remember watching the clouds with my dad and wondering if it was going to rain…or hail…or just dry lightning.
Now I am again living in the semi-arid high plains desert of north-central Arizona, where ranchers look at the gathering clouds and ask, “Think it’ll rain?”
Following is an excerpt from my book Follow the Dream, when Jake and Nettie are watching the sky, hoping and praying for life-giving rain.
Sunday, July 14, 1929
Spring rains never came this year. The little bit of grass that came up is nearly gone. Used up rest of the hay already. Jake’s not himself. I’m really worried.
When they watched the skies now, it was with a tingling sense of hope and dread. The clouds built up over the rims, dark and angry, then dispersed as the hot winds blew them to nothing.
In June, Jake had only shrugged when the thunderheads passed over and splattered just a few hard raindrops like bullets into the dust. There was always a chance that the next storm would dump its load and the grass would come back, resurrected from its hardpan grave.
Each time the sky grew dark, Nettie ran to gather clothes from the line, shut the windows in the house and bring four-year-old Neil in from riding his stick horse. While their son played cowboy on a saddle in the kitchen, she and Jake prepared themselves, anticipating the long, drowsy afternoons of gentle rain when they could rest without guilt, and just be together as the earth replenished itself. But disappointment always followed one brief, hopeful interlude after another.
As summer wore on, the clouds produced nothing more than a frightening display of heat lightning, the air so charged with electricity that the hair on Nettie’s arms stood up. She thirsted for a view of something green, the smell of new grass. A silent vigilance overtook their lives.
She watched the tension pull at Jake, his hopeful expectation as the sky darkened, the half-smile when he heard the first clap of thunder, and then the slump of his shoulders when the storm again passed them by. Her heart ached for him, and fear built inside like the thunderheads on the hills.