This was our world last weekend as Pops, Little Sister and I rode through our fields and pastures. It was a beautiful nearly 60 degree day, the sun was shining and the scent of damp leaves filled the air as they crunched under the hooves of our horses. On days like these I convince myself the sky will stay blue forever.
But this morning I woke to a chill in the air that left frost on our windshields and a dusting of snow on the ground. The sky is gray and soon our world will turn white.
And I’m reminded how fast some things change.
I mean, wasn’t it just yesterday that Little Man was working on growing hair?
Now look at the guy. He’s growing up, honing his farming skills, learning to drive, and really getting the hang of that hair-growing thing.
Little Man turned 2 last weekend. His two-years-of-life celebration was another reminder that time changes things–just as it grows tomatoes it grows little boys…and sometimes I can’t tell which ripens faster.
But this week I was also reminded that not all change comes quickly. Some milestones are their own kind of miraculous.
See, on Wednesday this ranch was officially hooked into a rural water system that provides safe and clean drinking water to residents living along gravel roads miles away from the nearest city sidewalk. It’s a monumental event for those of us who depend on wells and springs to supply our family and farms with water for laundry, livestock, noodle cooking and baby feeding.
Out here among the gumbo hills that freeze solid in the winter and often dry up with the heat in the summer, the availability of a reliable water source has determined the fate of many farms and ranches, being the one non-negotiable variable when it came to the location of the house, the barn and the livestock pens.
When we determined the site for the new house last winter we were aware that we had the option of purchasing rural water, an option available to us that was not available to my parents or those who made their homes out here first. We made in a deposit and waited patiently as the system was put into place, a project that started with a vision and has taken over three years to come to fruition. For the three months that we’ve been living in this new home Husband has filled a giant tank in the back of his pickup with water from town, hauled it 40 miles down bumpy highways and gravel roads and hooked it up to this house so that we can take a shower, clean our dishes and fill the dog dish.
Without the rural water option, we could not have built our house here under my favorite hill tucked back in the oak trees–the same spot where the little ranch house was located when my father was a young boy. He and my aunt remember the day the family decided to move their home over the hill, back to the original Veeder homestead where a spring watered the livestock. The decision was a result of a losing battle with a well that continued to sand in. Both my aunt and Pops have mentioned how disappointed they were to abandon their little oak grove to the treeless farmyard just over the hill, so much so that the 7 or 8 year-old Pops took to the hills with a bucket and a shovel and proceeded to transplant a series of native trees from the coulees to his new yard in an attempt to recreate his preferred surroundings.
Some of those transplanted trees still remain in that barnyard, the spindly but proud result of a little boy hauling water in buckets from the spring to encourage them to grow tall in the hard gumbo soil, to provide him shade and leaves to rake.
“A yard should have trees,” Pops declares whenever the moment is right, an opinion that determined the fate of my own childhood growing up in a house tucked alongside a creek-bed that winds through a thick mass of trees.
As a child I would take off my shoes, tie the laces together and swing them over my shoulder so I could walk in the water, following the creek as it bent and bubbled in the most secret places on the ranch. It was never a question to me what was here first–the water or the trees. I knew that if I were an oak I would take root next to the water.
I suppose trees aren’t that much different from people in that respect, only I don’t imagine trees have much to do with the politics involved in such a precious natural resource. They take what they need to grow and leave the rest in the ground for the next living thing that comes in for a drink.
Humans make it complicated. And the road to come up with a way to pipe and manage this fresh, clean and paid-for water that is now flowing out of the faucets and into the kitchen sinks and bathtubs of my neighbors miles away has not been without its politics, fights and complications.
But this morning I woke up to fill our coffeepot, just like I had done the morning before, and the morning before. But it meant something different today as I lifted the glass pitcher up to the window. Husband shuffled in behind me and we stood there for a moment, taking in the monumental fact that this water that will brew our coffee traveled for miles in a pipe from the big lake where we swim and fish, has been purified and pressurized and cleaned up nice and fresh to ensure our white clothes stay white and our ice-cubes crystal clear, this water in our coffeepot is ours. Reliably, clearly and without much worry.
When we lived in the old house last winter there were times when we came home, turned on the faucet and had no results. This would send Husband pulling on his snow boots, wool cap, gloves and coveralls to investigate the situation. It might have been wiring, or a bad pump, a short or something I never really understood, but either way, it was our responsibility to figure it out.
Our quality of life out here in the middle of rural America depended on it.
Today we don’t have to worry about such things.
Today if we wake to find we don’t have water, we can make a phone call and someone on the other end can help us find an answer.
Today I can’t help but think of my grandparents who built a house in their favorite spot, our spot, only to have to literally pick it up and move it to the water.
Today I think of the homesteaders out here on the prairie in the heat of summer or the cold of winter worrying about water. Worrying if there would be enough. Finding solutions to get it to their homes and livestock. Making tough decisions based on the source.
On Saturday my parents will get their rural water. My mom will no longer have to take her white clothes to town to be washed, a chore she’s been performing for years to avoid rust streaks on light clothing from the discolored water that comes from her spring. My Pops will no longer experience the worry of sleepless nights when the faucet is dry and he doesn’t know why.
The day the water comes my parents will celebrate a monumental occasion, a long-awaited change, that, for as long as we are living, will not be taken for granted.