March’s rainfall brought a brief respite from the long drought we’ve been enduring the last year or so. Although we love seeing the trees and grasses green up with the freshness of spring, we expect that our water woes aren’t over yet.
There is a discouraging pall over the countryside and among the people. The Blanco River’s limestone bed is exposed and there is fear that wells will go dry. Pasturelands are grazed to the nubs. Farmers and ranchers are forced to dig deep into their pockets to buy hay and feed. They wonder whether they should risk planting summer crops and think about selling off their herds.
You hear drought talk everywhere in Blanco. “Have you ever seen it so dry?” asks one. “I bet we don’t have any bluebonnets this year,” says another. “Boy, this is depressing,” responds someone else.
A typical weather forecast goes like this: On Friday, there’s a 60 percent chance of showers next week. By Monday, the chance is reduced to 30 percent for rain on Wednesday. On a sunny Wednesday morning, the forecast is for clear skies and a chance of rain the following week. This pattern has repeated itself for a year.
Even the day or two of rain we’ve enjoyed doesn’t dispel our notion that we’re still in the thick of a rainless period.
The drought is starkly visible from the front porch of our farmhouse. Wherever we walk a tiny column of trail dust is kicked up behind us like exhaust smoke. Dust clouds rise and make us question whether there will be any top soil left. Our angora goats are grey with dust. When the livestock run to the feed troughs, it seems an eternity before the dust settles. By the end of the day, our bodies, house, car and livestock are coated with the gritty deposits of fields that once grew oats and sorghum. My wife exclaims, “I’m dusty, everything’s dusty, all I smell is dust. Give me mud!”
You take encouragement where you find it. One recent day, I marveled at the churning white and grey clouds, the morning sunlight glittering off their peaks tens of thousands of feet in the sky. Later in the afternoon, the clouds stacked up in pewter towers and dropped a cascade of rain. No sooner than the rain arrived it was gone, a short-lived tease. But even this small amount of rain left the countryside refreshed and gave us hope, if only short-lived.
We in the Hill Country know that our lives are at the mercy of weather patterns we can’t control. We take what we’re given and then deal with it as best we can. That makes us tough and determined. We fear how bad it will get, but we’re eternally optimistic that things will get better.
One day the rain patterns will return. Droughts come and go. This one will eventually be remembered and talked about like that great other drought that parched the landscape in years past. “I remember the drought in the 50s when the Guadalupe went dry,” the old timers say. When our grandkids are grown and start complaining about how dry things are in their drought, we can tell them, “You think this is bad, you should have seen that drought in ’08 and ‘09. Now that was a drought.”
Mike Patterson divides his time between Blanco and San Antonio.