The Big Thaw

Timing has everything to do with the outcome of the rain dance.

When my son, Will, was about 4 years old, I shared that quote with him. He could not remember ever seeing a rain drop, so, in wise 4-year-old fashion, he and my niece began to dance.

They spun and twisted across the yard, laughing while Will looked skyward, expecting immediate results.

Not a drop of rain fell for another 6 months. We decided they must have danced backward.

No doubt, helpless Midwest farmers are dancing backward right now as they watch their lives float past them.

Water is so powerful, dancing backward is just about all they have left to do.

My heart went out to my Midwestern colleagues this week as I watched my pasture ridges turn from deep snow drifts to brown patches tinged with green. Their situation is helpless and horrific. Mine is fun.

The coulee creek completely filled the 4-foot culvert, then swam around it, circling the barn.

Spring Creek pushed three piles of 8-foot posts and old power poles 20 feet closer to the driveway.

Both of them converged just below my bridge – my convenient connection to the rest of the world.

The water raged and roared. From my house on the hill, it was hard to decipher whether I heard the creek or a semi slogging through the muddy county road a half mile away.

But I’ve been here before.

Last spring, the ridges and coulees of the ranch held deeper snow and the runoff was faster. The coulee creek flowed above my knees, filled my boots with muddy soup when I waded across it.

Spring Creek raced, daring man or beast to dabble a toe.

It piled driveway gravel into a beach head, dug ditches where dirt tracks had been, gathered the flotsdam left from the wind and thumbed its nose at anyone who tried to stop it. Other normally passive waterways left my neighbors’ farm fields with 40-foot deep gullies, bridges washed out and creeks permanently rerouted.

So, this spring, when coulee water glistened in the dawn, I paused to admire the beauty sparkling in the pink sky.

When those piles of posts and poles met me at the bridge, I was glad they are now so handy for the picking.

When my Adventure Friend called to plan the second annual Spring Creek Float, I was all in.

Eight of us piled into two boats for the extravaganza – one oar and a lot of long sticks in each boat guided us as we careened east through the pasture, two miles as the crow flies, but about six miles of meanders. The floodwater tricked us, hiding the deep channel, but high-centering our armada again and again until our arms ached from pushing off.

The sun burned our faces, but the breeze made us glad for longjohns under our jeans.

Three of us rode in a bathtub-sized dinghy while five cruised in an aluminum skiff. Not long after we pushed off, we discovered the skiff was less than seaworthy.

No worries. The crew beached the boat periodically to rid themselves of creek water and piled back in.

Until the boat filled just as the current quickened. A couple of hard hits against the bank and everyone abandoned ship. They managed to scramble up the creek bank, soaked only to their waists.

Their captain followed the boat under a fence to a mid-creek high spot while the crew walked to the waiting truck and consoled themselves with high heat and good music.

Meanwhile, in our boat, my gloves got wet.

For some reason, I didn’t receive a lot of sympathy.

Lisa Schmidt