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Choices

Once upon a time, I considered becoming an engineer, but with all the wisdom of a 14-year old, I was afraid that the work would keep me inside too much.   The other day, as I was fertilizing ahead of an approaching storm, I was reminded of that long ago choice that headed me toward agriculture, and how lucky and blessed I am to have been able to follow that path. 

The field I was working in is pretty inspiring in that way.  It really makes me glad to be a farmer.  Some of it is steep, which can be exciting sometimes.  It has a lot of challenging spots, and I am still learning, but most of it is a high, broad North to South ridge with a mostly gentle slope toward the west.  West, from where storms come.  

The 7:00 am forecast had warned of a chance of showers by 6:00 pm.  Would there be enough time to finish applying fertilizer for my 2015 winter wheat crop?  Or would I be rained out till tomorrow afternoon?   Or even later?  Better not make plans for tomorrow, until you know what you get done today.

The fertilizer company service man was just finishing his reloading of the applicator hooked to my tractor when I pulled into the field at 8:00 am.  I had run out the last applicator load the night before about 9:30 pm, and put 85 gallons of diesel in the tractor before heading home to dinner.  By 8:15 am, I had everything greased and rolling, back to burning 7 – 8 gallons of diesel every hour just like the day before.

The view from that field is spectacular.  The dirt road along the north edge is a popular spot with photographers, and I have met people from all over the world up there with their cameras.  To the North you can see the Naff Ridge windmills, and Tower Mountain and Mt. Spokane behind it.  Northwest, Steptoe Butte sits majestically over the surrounding Palouse.  Southwest, across the Snake River, you can see the wind farms around Dayton, WA, and on a clear day, you can see the mountains of northeast Oregon. 

To the west the Palouse landscape rolls to the horizon until it blends into the channeled scablands.  The Snake River canyon is out there somewhere, completely hidden by folded Palouse hills on both rims.

All day long I watched the western sky.  The gusty wind that had been about 8-12 mph in the morning gradually increased to 15-20.  (After years of looking at your handheld wind meter when spraying, you get a pretty good feel for wind velocity). The morning started with patchy, fast moving clouds on brilliant blue sky, but as the day progressed, the clouds increased and the blue sky was covered. 

By noon as the wind picked up, I could see streaks of rainstorms coming in on the western horizon.  “I’m not going to make it.”  Then, about 1:00 pm as I stopped for another load, it lightened up in the West and the rainstorms dispersed.  “Ho! I might get this after all!”  Followed immediately by, “DON’T screw up now and break something.”

But, the storm re-organized, the rain streaks began again.  “I wonder how many professional weathermen actually get to watch this in person?”  One more fill at 2:15 pm should finish it.  By then, the wind was up to a steady 20 mph or more.  The service man quickly and expertly loaded the applicator, did some quick calculations that said I should be able to finish, all the while looking at the approaching storm.  He announced that he was (wisely) heading back to town before the rain hit and made the dirt road too treacherous for his big truck. 

I headed back into the field, watching the wide panorama to the west and the rain streaking down out of distant clouds, but now they were closer.  And steadily moving closer.  “I’m going to get wet.” Back and forth, 30 feet wide and 4.8 miles per hour, I kept covering the field – and watching the sky.  I was on the last pass as the first big fat rain drops, driven horizontal by the wind, started to plaster the west facing tractor cab window.  I felt like I had just witnessed a miracle unfolding: the arrival of the rain perfectly timed with my finishing the field, and what a perfect vantage point for watching it take place. 

Having called my wife for a ride home, I sat in the now quiet tractor cab and listened to the wind howl and the rain splatter.  Now, I could hear the thunder rolling from one side of me to the other – surround sound in real life.  Lightning flashed from cloud to cloud overhead, and to the North, a little patch of brilliant sunshine appeared around the base of Tekoa Mountain streaking down out of the chaos of clouds that extended to every horizon.  To the South, Moscow and Pullman were getting dumped on as well.  When my ride arrived, we sat there in the pickup and watched the storm as it passed.  “Majesty.”  Just that one word kept coming to mind, reverberating in my thoughts.

And then it was done. Clouds continued to race by, but the rain had quit, after having just made the soil surface sticky.  The rain gauge at home registered just 0.16 inches – sixteen hundredths of an inch.  Such an amazing show for so little moisture.  And if I had become an engineer, I probably would have missed it all.