In case you hadn’t noticed, we haven’t had any rain for a while.
A little field runoff stream where I like to go to shoot frogs and dragonflies (with my camera, of course) was flowing and green with duckweed a month ago. Frogs sitting at stream’s edge were easy shots with a telephoto lens, but would dive under the water when apparently dangerous me tried to get closer.
As time has passed and rain has stayed far away, that lush haven has slowly and relentlessly disappeared. Duckweed floating on the surface became a green carpet layered on mud as the shallows became a trickle, then disappeared. As of Sunday, save for a meager duckweed-clogged pool in the shade of a bridge, the entire stream bed was brown and and barren.
And what of the frogs? Once hard to spy nestled among overhanging grasses and plants, they were out in the open, nestled close together in barely moist depressions next to what little water was left. What’s more, they stayed hunkered down in spite of the large creature standing directly over them on the bridge above. Not one moved.
Curious, and hoping for new angles, I scrambled down into the dry streambed and slowly I approached, sitting down a mere four feet away from a trio of them. Still, they didn’t move. Only when I tried to edge a little closer did they hop, but not far. Tolerating a dangerous creature was better than leaving a spot where they’d found a meager bit of respite.
One of the plagues of being a journalist is that stories and issues invade your mind at the oddest times, surfacing without warning.
Such was the case Sunday. Sitting there in a dried streambed with a bunch of frogs, I was struck by how it reminded me of how our county has reached its present state.
Once upon a time we were a flourishing haven for settlers and entrepreneurs. The county teemed with more than 22,000 people and all the shops and services they needed. We had more than 800 farms with families. The county was thriving.
But the flow of people and resources into the county slowed. The pool of prosperity started evaporating, imperceptibly at first, just like the runoff-fed stream.
Today we’re more than 10,000 fewer and nearly 400 family farms smaller, though those that are left are more productive than ever. But those my age who grew up here remember better days, and wouldn’t mind at all seeing things more like they were when we were kids.
There’s something about those frogs, though. Stressed though they might be, nestled in hoof prints for what little moisture they could find, their greens were as vibrant as ever, stark contrasts to the brown around them.
That’s just like the great number of true believers we have in our communities, people who know that whatever came before, we still have something special. We hold on to the values of life in small town, rural America, and we do what we can to be sure those remain vibrant in spite of the drought.
They’re people like those who’ve been working for months as volunteers to stage this weekend’s art events that are the largest single-day draw of outsiders to our communities, and they’ll do their very best to see that, as once was often said in our community news columns, “a good time was had by all.”
They’re the people who’ve decided not to wait for some future rain to fill the stream again, but instead are turning up the pumps to fill it with economic vigor and all that’s needed to have that. We haven’t a clue what sort of success they might have, and it’s not been all smooth sailing, but action is far preferable to sitting so still that danger can reach out and grab you.
Those vibrant greens are everyone who does something that makes us what we are, a county that wants to preserve the good things we have while striving to get better.
It’s easy to get lost in quibbling over whys and hows, it’s hard to not be daunted at times with all that needs to be done.
Sometimes, though, we just need to sit still and appreciate just how good we have it, warts and all, compared to so many other people and places. There’s much we want, but to get it, we can’t lose sight of what we have. That’s the life-giving stream that won’t dry out any time soon.
— david colburn
Last modified Sept. 13, 2017