Last night, the wind woke me about 12:30. It whipped the cottonwoods and I lay there hoping to hear it mix with the eerie, welcome lashing of rain against the roof. It has been a good summer, but if we could just get another couple decent rains - just another inch or two while the days were still sweltering - there would be grass as the ranch moved into autumn. And, there would be excellent winter grazing for the buffalo with enough old grass next spring for the grouse to find safe nesting cover. Jill and Henry, our English Setter, were in bed with me and they moved when I spoke. “Just a little rain,” I whispered to the dark bedroom ceiling. I wasn’t praying for rain, just asking the rowdy northwest wind to give us what she could. “Just an inch.” Enough to ease the threat of prairie fires and give the wild flowers another couple weeks to die a natural death.
I’d spent most of the day talking to people all over the country on the telephone, and in each conversation the topic of rain had come up: Too much on the east coast, cold and gray; not enough in Texas, hot and dusty. Picnics had been spoiled and fans distributed to the guests at outdoor weddings. Everyone was concerned, but I wondered if anyone that I had talked to was laying in their bed talking to the ceiling and hoping that the wind was listening. At three o’clock there was still no rain but the wind continued to buffet the house and I thought I heard the rumble of thunder. But if it was thunder it was a very long way off.
By three o’clock I was wide awake and straining to hear raindrops or, at least a clap of thunder. I turned on the BBC. But when I suspected that the sound of the broadcasters was covering the patter of rain drops, I turned it off to listen. Nothing. But through my closed eyelids, I felt a very distant flash of lightning. I counted to twenty-four and thought I heard a rumble.
Photo: Lightning at the Wild Idea Buffalo Ranch
“Was that thunder?” Jill spoke from the darkness.
“Or Henry’s stomach,” I said.
“Is it raining?”
“Not yet,” I said.
We lay, breathless, in the dark. Between us, Henry rolled onto his back. The spring rains had come late but they had come. The grass had thrived and the land was mellow. But we were thinking of the year to come. Rain can be saved in the soil like money in a bank and the sounds that we strained to hear could not have been more important to us. It was three-thirty in the morning and all our senses were tuned to know if it would rain or not. We were not talking about a rained out picnic or an uncomfortable wedding. Last night nothing was more crucial than what the wind might whip up.
Another flash of lightning and a definite crashing of thunder.
“Closer,” Jill said.
“Hush. Is that mist against the window?”
Then there was lightning in all directions. We rose and went to the screen door to sniff at the thin smell of rain. We looked at our electronic weather station.
“Four one-hundredths of an inch,” Jill said.
“But it’s still coming,” I said as we went back to bed.
The house filled with white light and the thunder roared. One, two, three lightning strikes in a row. Tree limbs broke and the electronic rain gauge ticked up: five one hundredths – a tenth of an inch. More thunder and lightning. More wind and more rain in the gauge. Moving up to a quarter of an inch on its way to a half an inch before morning.
But we never looked at the rain gauge. We never heard the thunder. The sizzles in the cottonwood tops did not bother us. We slept through it all, feeling safe and secure, with Henry snoring between us and all four feet in the air.