Packing two centuries into 40 years

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout
giving seed to the sowers and bread to the eater,
—Isaiah 55:10

As it is wont to do in the hills, the rain has been coming down for the past week, making the grass in my lawn very tall and in need of mowing, but more importantly providing subsoil moisture for the trees, we’ve entered into our version of monsoon season here. It isn’t very dramatic, to tell the truth. We get showers many afternoons and some of them pack a punch with lots of lightning and thunder, a bit of wind and some pretty impressive downfalls. When the rain comes hard there is a lot of runoff. The hills are prone to flash flooding. You can see that just by looking at the terrain. Combine the ups and downs of the hills with storms that drop an inch or more in a short amount of time and there can be impressive runoff.

I read that last Friday’s rain, in which about 1.5 inches fell in less than an hour in downtown Rapid City after more having fallen upstream, was a 100 year flood event. Considering that we’ve had at least two 100 years flood events in the 23 years that I’ve lived in Rapid City, it could explain why some mornings when I get up I feel a bit tired. Having lived through two century events must mean that I’ve got a couple of hundred years under my belt.

It is a place where living on a hill is quite nice. We don’t worry about flooding where we live.

Having lived in both North and South Dakota, I can attest that one of the part of our culture is our penchant for talking about the weather. Each of the seven years I lived in North Dakota was in some aspect unusual for the state. I don’t know how many times I heard, “It isn’t usually like this.” The words were applied to a period of very warm weather in the summer, to extremely cold winters, to stretches of drought and to a spring that was so muddy that stuck tractors became spectator sports for the locals. “This is really unusual. It usually isn’t like this.”

I don’t hear those words quite as much here in South Dakota. Here we like to talk about other years by mentioning conditions that are even more severe. A good spring blizzard will bring about conversations about blizzards that were even worse and the snow was piled even deeper. A gully washer of a downpour will bring out tales of the 1972 flood. A chilly June will spark stories of years when the snow appeared after school got out for the year. Our attitude around here seems to include, “If you think this is bad, you should have ben here when . . .”

I’m not sure how many years you have to have lived in South Dakota to be able to claim the ability to tell stories about how extreme the weather was in the good old days, but I do know that being a senior citizen helps even if you haven’t lived here all that long. We used to say that you had to live in North Dakota for three generations before you were considered a native. I’m not sure that it is quite the same thing here in South Dakota.

Yesterday a young woman was cleaning my teeth in the dentist’s office. She is new to our dentist and it was the first time I’d met her. Making small talk, which is always a bit of a challenge for me when someone else has their hands in your mouth, she asked what work I did. When I told here I was a minister, she asked how long I’d been doing that. I answered, “40 years” since I’ve been earning my living as a minister and have been ordained since 1978. “Wow!” she said. I don’t think she could imagine what 40 years would feel like at all. She then asked me if I was getting ready to retire. I still don’t know exactly how to answer that question. I mumbled something about not quite yet. Mumbling is accepted in the dentist’s chair. It is a bit like getting my har cut. The person who is receiving the service doesn’t really have to talk. The other person will go on with the conversation even if you sit in silence. She did a good job of cleaning my teeth, which is what I came for.

I’m pretty sure that had the topic turned to the weather, I could have regaled her with stories of rainfall, flooded streets and other severe weather events that I have witnessed. After all, I’ve been in town for two 100-year flood events.

What I like about spring in the hills most, however, is that between the rain showers we have truly lovely days. It was beautiful outside for most of the day yesterday. Each time I had to go out, I felt like lingering outside. The temperature was just perfect - not too hot and hot too cold. I’d roll down all the windows in the car as I drove around town, just enjoying the fresh smell and good felling of the breeze cooling the car. I commented to several people about how much I was enjoying just being able to go outside. It occurred to me that if my profession were a job that made you stay inside all day long, like the dental technician, I probably would find the prospect of 40 years at the job to be daunting. As it is, I get a lot of variation in my work. I do a lot of work inside, but I do it in many different places. I go from the hospital to a nursing home to a private home to the church to many other places in town.

And after 40 years and two century events, I’ve got a few stories to tell as I make my way around the town.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!