Of childhood vacations on my grandparents’ North Dakota farms, hot, dry winds blow through my memories of our summer visits. Days are long in that northern state; to escape the worst of the prairie heat, we’d run errands in town in the cooler mornings and spend afternoons in the farmhouse reading or playing games and drinking tall glass of iced tea. Most nights, we lay as still as possible in our stifling beds as the sound of the fan whirring in the living room held hope of catching any small breeze through the open window until the northern sun finally set hours past our bedtime.
Summer in Colorado is hot, too, although the worst heat doesn’t usually break until July and August, and hot days are broken by monsoon rains in the afternoons. But this year, May and June have been the hottest on record, with consecutive days breaking unheard of temperatures of 100 degrees, turning June into July with few clouds to shield us from the sun’s battering heat and bringing worries of drought to the state.
Every morning we check our irrigation ditch for water. We’ve received no official notice of an impending shut-down on our senior rights ditch, but rumors have us wondering how long we’ll be able to water the fields. The first thing John does in the morning and the last thing at night is set the pump, watering as much of the day as he can without wasting water to evaporation in the afternoon heat.
With little rain this spring, new grasses and plants in the foothills and mountains have not grown quickly enough to cover last year’s dry thatch, creating quick tinder for lightning strikes that spread through pine-beetle killed timber. Started by such a strike on mountain property owned by friends, the High Park fire has been burning for two weeks north of Ft Collins, destroying 8200 acres of beautiful forest land so far, with less than half of the fire contained. We can see the plume from our farm and smell the smoke, a daily reminder to use precaution in all we do.
Then this morning we woke up to thicker smoke hanging in the air and we knew the fire we’d heard about yesterday in Estes Park had worsened. This fire started in a housing subdivision near the southern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, close enough to threaten western parts of the town. 4300 people, including patrons at our favorite Estes restaurant, The Rock Inn, were evacuated last night; horses from nearby stables were relocated to the fairgrounds. Throughout the morning, the smoke seemed to shield us from the intense heat of the sun as the temperature neared 100. Thankfully, the fire was out by late afternoon, leaving 20 houses burned to the ground.
Now, as the sun begins to set, we can hear thunder and a few small raindrops have fallen. John and I went outside to soak in the cooler air as the wind picked up around us. Without a real rain to soak the earth, the storm may be a mixed blessing. The wind may whip the fire north of us; lightning may ignite a new blaze in the tindered land. Still, the cooldown means we’ll sleep better tonight and that will be welcome. With a week left in June of temperatures forecast in the high 90s, we have another long, hot week before us to meet with caution and care.