The New Normal

Rain is preferable to its alter ego, drought, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it

By Rob Breeding

I visited the Farmers Market the other day. It was a cool, wet Saturday morning. As I walked up, some young lad, all of 3 or so, sized me up, pointed, and said, “It’s a farmer guy.”

Since I’m a dude who likes to eat I’ve got nothing against farmers, especially farmers-market types. But I’ve got a message for parents with youngsters stalking the streets of the Flathead: educate your precocious toddlers. I’m not a farmer. Blue jeans, olive fleece, scraggly, skunk-striped beard and a trucker hat do not equal farmer. Try middle-aged hipster.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t wearing Wellies or the kid would have had me dead to rights.

Unfortunately, it’s been the kind of summer in the Northern Rockies that makes non-agrarian types wandering around college parking lots in rubber boots seem kind of normal. It’s rained so much I’ve barely worn my usual summer wardrobe of river sandals, shorts and Gink-stained trout T-shirts. As any Montanan knows, this is the costume of the unemployed fishing guide.

Rain is preferable to its alter ego, drought, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. We’re reaching the point where the rivers are usually rounding into shape, but this year it’s looking like mid to late July, assuming it doesn’t start raining again. We need some summer rain, of course. Otherwise, the hills will go brown and summer will climax with fires and smoke-filled skies. But this has been ridiculous.

Rain may be preferable to drought, but a normal water year is better still. Normal may not be the right word — a meteorologist I once interviewed got indignant when I asked him to compare the latest storm to “normal” conditions.

“What do you mean by normal?” he hissed. “There’s no such thing as normal.” I could almost hear him thinking, “Journalists are such simple-minded twits,” as he explained there’s no normal, only a range of expected conditions that are reflected in stats such as average high and low temperatures and rainfall.

So abnormal probably isn’t the meteorologically correct word to describe the weather the last month or so, but I’ll use it anyway: This has been an abnormal spring. Not outside the range of possible conditions — think flood of 1964 if you want an idea how wet it can get.

The biggest put off to all this rain is that it has kept the rivers too high for a halfway decent boatman such as myself to get on the water. And even if I was comfortable handling big water, the fishing is usually tough.

In the meantime, I suppose actual farmers are reaping the benefits of all this rain. I hope this year’s normal is working out just fine for them as I’m fond of a fully stocked farmers market.

Swan River update. The word is that the Rainbow Drive access site on the Swan River has reopened, just on weekends. Apparently the site is being watched carefully by Lake County officials to make sure folks aren’t illegally parking on the west side of Rainbow Drive, blocking access for emergency vehicles that need to reach homes to the south. That’s a step in the right direction. Permanent action will likely require more visible “No Parking” signs as well as some aggressive enforcement of violations.

River users have to be good citizens here so we can press to have the site reopened completely. That means parking where it’s safe and minimizing your impact on surrounding homes. In other words, turn the music down and limit other beer-related misbehaviors. Stream access is a right in Montana, but there’s no right to pee on  another’s shrubbery.

If you are thinking of using the access at South Ferndale Bridge to launch a boat, remember there’s no parking in front of the makeshift ramp. If you need to prep your boat before launch, park around the corner to do so. When ready, zip over, drop your boat, and then find a safe parking spot away from the bridge.

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