Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Summer Drought

Here in North Texas, within 10 miles of the Red River that forms the southern border of Oklahoma, we experienced record-breaking heat and an extended drought this summer. Officially, there were 66 days this summer when it’s been 100+ (38C). It’s been as high as 117 (47C) on the thermometers here a couple of times. As late as Sept. 29 it hit 100 degrees.
We’ve had measurable rainfall here at Rainbow’s End twice in the past 4 months. The first time was barely more than a trace and the second time, in late August, was a decent inch or so. Last month, I watched two systems go by, dropping rain to the west and to the south, but not on us.
While the temperatures have finally moderated this week (yay!) to cool mornings that warm rapidly to the high-80s (~31C) in the afternoons, we’re still looking for rain. Maybe this weekend. There’s a 20-30% shot at scattered showers.
I’ve posted pictures elsewhere of land so dry and cracked it’s dangerous for livestock to run across. The pastures the horses have been using have pretty much been grazed over. I mowed an 8-acre pasture this weekend that has lain fallow since last year. It’s mostly weeds, but there’s a little grass in it. I’ll be able to bag about 10% of it as winter feed and the rest will be used for bedding. Hay prices last month were already 1/3 higher than they were last year. I’m betting they’ll be double or more by December.
Non-native trees have really struggled. My althea and crepe myrtles didn’t bloom at all this year. This maple tree dropped its leaves in early August. I have no idea if it will recover.
Similarly, and not surprisingly, the water-loving willows and cottonwoods also dropped their leaves prematurely. 

The native cedars (junipers), which are evergreens, seem to be doing well, and the bois d’arcs are hanging in there too, though fruit production is way down. Same with the native pear trees. Thankfully we started out with good rainfall in the spring -- the ponds filled and fruit set well. As the drought wore on, however, immature fruit dropped and much of it dried up “on the vine.”
The pear crop started out promising enough in late spring. By early September, it was a dried-up memory.

I’ve come to rely on a pear crop and bushels of horse apples to keep the goats and horses and ducks and chickens treated up and happy in the early winter. I’ll continue to treat them with fruit from the grocery but, ouch – another bite out of the wallet.
There are three ponds on the property: one a natural catch-basin for run-off and two that were dug to provide the dirt to build the pads for the barns. The smallest pond is about 5-foot deep (that’s how tall I am!). Here I’m standing on the dry bottom looking over the rim.

The catch-basin is the largest pond. When I first moved here, it was home to a couple of hundred catfish, stocked by the previous owner. I’d bring leftovers and dry dog and cat food to feed them. They’d come a-swimming over as soon as they saw me. It was quite delightful. A couple of years after moving in, we had our first summer drought and the pond dried up for the first time ever. There were a lot of happy herons that year. Thinking that first drought was just a weather blip, my dad and I took the opportunity to build a small pier in anticipation of restocking the pond and enjoying the antics of a new batch of catfish the next year. It wasn’t just a blip, though, and when the pond threatened to go dry the next year, I had to face the fact it would be a long time, if ever, before the pond would see fish again.
The pond, full, in winter during one of the very occasional snowfalls the region gets.
When the pond is full, water is within an inch of the top of the lower section of the pier. During heavy rains, the lower section goes underwater completely.
In the upper right you can see a tree that's fallen in due to erosion.
The dogs love to swim. Today, Loki is standing in the pond wondering where the water went.
I am quite baffled where these mollusks came from. These shells are 6-8 inches across and there are numerous shells scattered along the dry pond bottom. One of nature's mysteries.
Behind the main barn is what I refer to as the duck pond. In the past, it’s been where the ducks trundle off to in the mornings and hang during the day before coming back into the much-safer backyard to spend the night. Sadly, there hasn’t been much trundling lately.

The ducks have to go through the goat yard on their way from the backyard to their duckpond.


This is the normal water level in the duck pond.

This is the level it was at last week. Today, it's even lower.
Another of nature's mysteries. A crayfish (aka crawdad) in a land-locked, man-made pond. I've seen a handful of these guys around. My guess is their eggs came in riding on the legs of wading birds. 
So we wait for rain. My appreciation for the trailblazers who settled this country and had to live off the land and survive whatever the seasons threw at them has increased tenfold. While my plans to bag up enough hay this year to see the horses through winter and to harvest enough native fruit to keep them happy fell through because of the drought, I know my beasties and I will find the needed feed anyway. Early settlers had no such safety nets. For what we have, I’m thankful.


Karen said...

How truly devastating! And you're right, at least you can run to the feed store, unlike the early settlers. Thank goodness for that! Hope you get some rain soon.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Karen: Actually, I prefer to drive to the feed store. Those 50-lb bags tend to get heavy when you're running...

Karen said...

Okay, you've got jokes today, I see! :>P

Wilkins MacQueen said...

Unbelievable. To watch your farm shrivel has to be harder each day.

Yes, those early settlers had grit to tough it out.

Hay going up by 1/3 is a hard one to chew on. It'll likely go up higher as winter sets in. Hard times for everyone, animals and humans.

I hope the trees come back. Terrible to lose them.