Postcard from Wallowa: Heat in the Northwest Back Country

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Wallowa Lake State Park (Image: Wikimedia)

The farmers are getting their first crop of hay in earlier than usual this year. Most years June is one of our wettest months. Not this one. It’s been dry and warm so far. Farmers are irrigating already, which will draw the Lake  (Wallowa Lake) down early.

The mountains are key to agriculture here. Their snow pack provides the water to farm, what would otherwise be an arid region, with less than 10″ of rain a year. Usually hay farmers do two hay crops in a summer, three in a good year. Alfalfa or Timothy hay. Not sure how this year will go, with rainfall down and heat up. Wallowa County hay is some of the world’s best, which means high in nutrients. It is shipped to various places in North America and the Middle East for racehorses, and to Japan for the cattle that become Kobe beef.

I did an early bike ride in the valley this morning, to get ahead of the heat. One of the common sights here, which I always get a kick out of, is a farmer zipping along  on his four-wheeler, a dog on his lap. The dog’s front paws on the handlebars or steering wheel. This picture isn’t quite that, but close. You can also see a part of “ditch” system of irrigation in this picture.

That is a working dog, a cow dog. It’s amazing to watch one or several of these dogs moving a herd of cattle. They nip at the heels of these half-ton beasts keeping them moving and out of trouble and getting them where they need to go.

The mother quail are bringing their chicks out now. I don’t know if they are also early this year or about on schedule. Their broods seem to range from eight to thirteen in number, quite a little crowd (half dozen more got cropped out of this photo). There are also new foals in the horse pastures these days, but I haven’t yet seen any fawns as yet. In fact, the deer have been kind of scarce, maybe because the does are getting ready to give birth and lying low.

I’m worrying about the unseasonable heat along with the heightened potential for wildfires. It seems like climate change is shouting at us, but our hearing isn’t very good. I’m not giving up hope. Some things definitely are happening and many people are trying to do their part. Meanwhile, the sight of new quail chicks, foals and fawns is some reassurance in the face of climate worries.

I got in the lake yesterday, more a dip than a swim. Usually my first swim happens two or three weeks later, the snow-melt fed water staying damn cold until mid or late July. Not this year. Oh, it was brisk, but I’ve felt it a whole lot colder weeks later in most summers.

The warmest days of the current heat wave are supposed to come in the next several days. Summer heat is why we have this cabin. My grandparents lived in Enterprise, 12 miles away, in an apartment above the funeral home. My grandad being an “undertaker,” (a term I find fascinating). I guess it got pretty hot in that apartment. Hence the cabin. A thousand feet higher, nestled in the sun-shielding mountains and surrounded by trees throwing shade, it is always at least 10 degrees cooler here than in town. We’ll need it this week.

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Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.

1 COMMENT

  1. A lovely, refreshing view of the over-the -mountains region. Thank you, Tony. Reminded of my occasional summers in Northwestern Wyoming. When the heat got too intense, we kids would cool off with a dip in the irrigation canal.

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