When rain didn't come, our neighbors came through

Water is the lifeblood of a farm. Without reliable rainfall or a source of irrigation, our farm suffers. This spring our ponds and ditches swelled over their banks. Wood ducks floated on sun-warmed puddles that shimmered in open fields. I watched a great blue heron fishing the ditches in the blueberries while I mowed the grass. After years of drought, John and I were grateful for every cloudburst, even if our tractors mired in low spots.

But when July and August came, the skies remained clear. The new growth on the blueberries wilted, and dry grass crackled beneath our work boots. John and I reassured each other that September would bring fall rains. Gold swept over the sassafras trees, but no clouds arrived.

Blueberry bushes set their buds for the next season in late summer and early fall. Each evening John wandered through his fields and arrived home shaking his head.

"Doesn't look good. The bushes on the high sandy ground didn't set fruit buds last year, and it looks as though they won't this year, either."

Because our blueberry bushes grow in a peat bog, we haven't invested in overhead irrigation. Sometimes during a drought, we fill a spray rig with water from our pond and hand-water young bushes.

But these older bushes covered too many acres to water in that manner. And our pond, needed to irrigate fall raspberries, was subsiding. One day, I noticed that our ducks could stand up in the water several yards from the banks of the pond.

"I can only drop the intake pipe on the pump for the raspberries one more time," John said. "Soon the pond will be too low."

Farming demands not only faith and courage, but also a plucky creativity. After surveying more wilted shoots and curling leaves, John bounced off in his pickup. He rolled in later with a glint in his eye.

"Went and talked to Rob. He's done using his Ag Rain to irrigate his corn maze, and will lend it to me. In exchange, I'll store it in our barn. Saw Eddie, too. I can borrow his irrigation pipe. He even offered to help me set it up."

Over the next couple of days, John rattled in with a trailer loaded with 30-foot sections of aluminum pipe. He strung them out half a mile to a spring-fed pond at the back of the farm. He hauled in the big wheel traveler, wound with hoses, and positioned the irrigation system in the blueberries. Eddie was troubleshooter.

"Come see," John said one morning. I could hear something rumbling as we slipped through the pines behind our house. Even the pokeberry leaves along the wooded path hung limply, and nests of rolled laurel leaves littered the earth.

A jet of water fanned out 150 feet over the blueberry bushes. Their red leaves sparkled under the spray. Slowly, the large wheel, powered by water pressure, turned and pulled in the jet cart spraying water. Water gurgled in the pipeline.

"Still no rain forecast?" John asked.

"Only a slim chance," I answered.

"Eddie has more pipe. When I finish watering these berries, we'll hook up the rest of it and shoot water to the pond."

Now I'm accustomed to the pipeline threading through the trees in front of our woodshed and down to the pond. My corgi has learned to leap over the metallic tube vibrating with water pressure. Spencer, a barn cat, uses the pipe as his special skyway.

"Like my waterfall?" John asked one evening as he settled onto the porch swing with the paper.

The rush of water cascading into the pond mingled with the chipping of a cardinal. Though September yielded less than an inch of rain, the generosity of our friends flooded our pond and watered our fields. Blueberry shoots straightened, fall raspberries grew plump, and our ducks splashed and reveled in rising water.

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