Since the Rain

“Give me clear blue skies/ and 18 inches of rain” is probably the real state motto of everyone west of Wichita, KS. We all want rain, but not too much and not during wheat or cotton harvest and certainly not all at once this time, please Lord? We want it hot for the corn but not too hot and no water-sucking southwest winds. We want prices to stay up till we sell and then to drop so the grocery bill doesn’t kill us. Or as a friend of mine (farmer’s wife) sighed one evening, “If farmers and ranchers didn’t have something to complain about, they’d die.”

But this year is looking to be a decent one, at least down here. We’ve got really good rains in the ground with a modicum of hail thus far and no serious tornadoes yet. The pastures are greening up, ranchers are starting to rebuild their herds, and the soil is wet at least three feet down, making the start of a very good winter wheat crop. Even the cotton farmers are happy so far (except for rock-bottom low prices). The reservoirs are coming up and with the rain, people are not having to water their lawns or irrigate, so they are not using the groundwater or the reservoirs. And the mosquitoes have not hatched yet. Playas are filling, the flowers look good, and if the snap freeze last November killed off every crepe myrtle in the Panhandle, well, everything else that survived is looking very good just now.

Yeah, I love Ian Tyson, at least his older work. I grew up listening to him as half of Ian and Sylvia, and then rediscovered him in the late 1980s with _Cowboyography_ and _Eighteen Inches of Rain_ and other albums. I’m not certain there’s anything that’s made me as discomfited as standing beside the truck out in Cathedral Valley in Utah, the only vehicle in that half of the park, and hearing the opening bars of “The Ballad of Claude Dallas” coming from the speakers. You see, I was up in western Wyoming and eastern Idaho when Claude Dallas escaped from prison, and well, go listen to the song.

“Navajo Rug,” “Old Double Diamond,” “Wind in the Wires,” “Banks of the Mussleshell,” “The Coyote Song,” and of course “Four Strong Winds,” pull me west and north, conjuring the Colorado Plateau, the plains of Alberta and the Rocky Mountains, the scent of short-grass and desert rose and pine, of watching storms sweep up the plateau at Mesa Verde, trailing sweeps of blue rain across Sleeping Ute Mountain and into the San Juans . . . or the hard-edged sky over red and orange rocks at Capitol Reef and Arches (before it was “discovered.”)

And I can sing along with Ian Tyson (and Gordon Lightfoot) without hurting myself or having to change octaves. The land is greening up, we’ve had good calving weather, and there’s water in the river. Time to gas up the pickup, grab my Ian Tyson CDs, and go drive the river roads along the Breaks. We’ve made it through another on the southern range.




3 thoughts on “Since the Rain

  1. I never knew Claude, but I know people who knew both him and the older warden (can’t remember his name). Without fail everyone of them stated that the warden had it coming. Several of those on the jury stated they never would have convicted if Claude had just left the wardens to die instead of giving them a mercy shot. And they were almighty ticked off when the judge chose to ignore their recommendation on sentencing and threw the book at Claude, sentencing him to the max sentence.

    I haven’t in a few years, but I used to go down to the Owyhee’s and camp out for a week or so in the winter bobcat hunting. Right down in the same country where it all took place. When I was wandering around Bull Basin the various versions of the events would come to mind.

    • Pogue and Helms were the wardens, IIRC. I suspect Tyson knew people down that way as well, because of the last verse of the song. “There’s two sides to each story/ There may be no right or wrong./ The lawman and the renegade/ Have graced a thousand songs.” (And it says something that I can rattle that off from memory without having herd the song in four or five years, and I can hear the instruments in my mind’s ear as I’m typing.)

      • Sidenote: last I knew, Claude was driving a tour bus, I wonder how many people realize who they have for a tour guide?

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