Conversations in town are buzzing so loudly, I even hear them. Key words rise above the buzz, floating on the warm breeze to the ranch:
Eighteen to 36 inches of snow.
Wind chill down to zero.
We all understand the implications behind these words because all of us have experienced each of these conditions.
Just not in September.
September is supposed to be the time to quit sprinting through haying season and grain harvest, not rummaging through drawers in a frantic search for wool long underwear.
We all knew harvest would be late, but we expected to wear t-shirts at the end of it.
Last spring, farmers who plant spring wheat watched their ideal March planting target lay frozen in the ground. They couldn’t get into their muddy fields until May or even June. If everything went just right, they might harvest by the middle of September.
Everything didn’t go just right.
The grain was not ready. A green tint across the fields told the story to even a rank amateur such as me.
Irrigated alfalfa was the same way. Second cutting was not ready until last week. Ranchers call one another to debate whether to cut and bale hay this late in the year, knowing the plants might not have time to harden off for the winter. They wonder whether they are sacrificing next year’s yield by harvesting now. If they don’t cut it, can they graze it?
When I drive past fields, I see about half of the hay laying in windrows, too wet to bale. Eighteen inches of wet snow might delay baling into October -- unless someone hauls in an industrial-sized wringer-washer to squeeze the snow from the alfalfa leaves.
But just like every change, we all will find a way through this storm and this harvest.
The storm forces us to switch hastily, instead of gently, from summer to fall.
This storm is a tutorial for our larger world.
I watch the farmers and ranchers in my community react to this storm, just as people throughout the world react to dizzying changes in technology, globalization and our changing climate.
Some ignore the signs and wait for life to return to normal.
As Thomas Friedman pointed out in his book, “Thank You for Being Late,” it isn’t the change that we all have a hard time adjusting to, it’s the rapid rate of change that challenges us.
That rapid rate of change might be especially difficult for ag producers, the harbingers of heritage.
We must learn how to use new apps on our smart phones while we gaze longingly at the romance of horse harnesses.
We read real-time market updates on a screen while recalling sitting at the kitchen table, listening to yesterday’s prices on the noon market report.
We spend evenings watching webinars so we understand how international economic conditions impact market fluctuations and predict how exporters might mitigate those conditions. Then, based on those webinars, we decide when to sell our livestock.
We accept all of these changes until we can’t accept any more.
We are done preparing. Now it is time to either panic or stick our heads in the sand.
This worldwide rate of change must back off.
This weekend’s storm won’t back off either, just like the September blizzard in 1934.
All of us have faced a Montana winter. It’s the shift that keeps us awake at night.
So it’s a good thing we can celebrate our 1934 heritage while we face this 2019 swing.
Now, I better go find my wool long johns and Muck boots.