I like to listen to the rhythmic tap, tap, tap of the sprinklers in the pasture and watch their spray break up and cover the forty foot orb each bird is responsible for. You’d think I’d hate sprinkler pipe. My first job at age twelve was moving three inch diameter hand lines in the fields of wheat, alfalfa, and beans. It was a very tough job, mentally and physically for a scrawny late bloomer. Some of those sets had to be moved every twelve hours. Each forty foot pipe had to be unlatched, picked up and moved forty feet to the next set. There were thirty-two pieces of pipe in a normal line…that’s a quarter mile long. The alfalfa would be above your knees right before each cutting and I was never so relieved when it was time to cut hay. That meant a break in the work.
But I love to see the rain birds doing what they do best out in the farm fields. I suppose it’s partly because it takes me back to a simple childhood that wasn’t always easy, but it was all good. That pipe has come to mean more to me than pieces of aluminum and steel. They are a means of conveyance. In the high desert valley of Idaho, the average annual rainfall is less than ten inches per year. Irrigation water is a pretty big deal. The meadows and some of the foothills just off the valley floor are a verdant and productive all summer long in a good water year. The open land around our house is now ideal habitat for countless fauna. Large ungulates, fox, coyote, raccoon, raptors, fly catchers, song birds and a wide range of meadow voles call this home. Irrigation water has created an incredible expansion in the riparian zone that earlier had only lined the rivers and creeks. I can see the Salmon River below, a good mile away. There is an array of green fields, fence rows, cottonwood trees, and a few hardwoods, ditch banks, and draws full of plants exhaling oxygen. This explosion of plant and animal life is a fantastic by-product of agriculture. The redistribution of water has made it possible with its conduit, the system of ditches and pipe.
I didn’t really understand what it all meant as a boy, but I was an important part of the systematic delivery of water to thirsty crops. The hardships I encountered would have been pulled into perspective if I’d have known to what extent I was serving others.
Now when I ride by a field of barley and see the plants flourishing under the rhythm of the rain birds and I’m happy just to see it. What I once viewed as a hard-edged obligation I now see as a gift. And I see water as a symbol of so many things, but more importantly for what it is and what it does. And I see water as a means of grace in a dry land.