Seasonal rounds are an intrinsic part of life on the prairie. They’re an experience shared by Ice Age animals and plants, by Native American hunters and farmers, and by homesteaders and people in agribusiness. But, 2020 has been different. COVID-19 is a life form that has impacted rural and urban populations all over our country and all over the world. And the pandemic has evolved as distinct cycles tied to the changing seasons. In addition to the familiar and normal attributes of each season, COVID-19 has added some distinctive and devastating patterns.
Winter is regarded as a time of dormancy and preparation in many cultural traditions. Plants and animals are waiting for warmth under the white snow. It’s a time of rest (unless there are early calves to take care of) and incubation, getting ready for the growth spurts that are coming later. During this year’s gestation period, the total precipitation on the Farm is almost an inch under the normal average. The past two years have had record rainfall, so the subsoil moisture is in good shape. But, that seasonal moisture deficit is an omen for difficulties to come.
Although the first COVID-19 death in Minnesota doesn’t happen until the last part of March, the first one in the US is in early February. Most of the initial impacts are on the East and West Coasts and in urban areas. It’s relatively quiet in our area, but the virus is silently spreading all over the country and world. Like the moisture deficit, the winter infections have big impacts over the next several seasons.
Spring is a busy time of riotous new life and rampant growth. Eventually, the green shows up, but at first there are still some snow banks in protected areas. The main channel of the Creek does run bankfull in spite of the continuing reduced rainfall. That’s probably due to groundwater seeping out to support the flow of surface water because we’re again about an inch below average for the season.
The first of the US pandemic peaks hit in mid-April. Although the daily rates of infections and deaths are smaller than in the peaks-to-come, there is fear bordering on panic. And, it’s warranted because there’s one death for about every 15 infections. That’s a much higher threat than in the peaks-to-come.
Summer is the time when the green and growing things began to mature into gold and brown. It’s also a time when there’s less rain than in the spring. This year, however, there’s much less rain. The green of the early summer is tempered by the later brown drought signal. We’re three inches below normal, so that makes us five inches under for the year. But, the drought is going to deepen even further.
And, COVID-19 peaks again in the US at the end of July. Daily infection rates are higher than in the spring, but there’s only one death for every 55 infections. It seems like things are improving, although the total numbers continue to increase and the stage is set for the climb to another peak in the fall.
Fall is when the rewards of the harvest are collected. The leaves have left the trees, but these photos are misleading. Everything looks brown on the first of November and December, but both months had significant snowfalls that had totally melted away by the time that the pictures were taken. The shortage of rain didn’t seem to impact harvest yields significantly. The rains must have come at just the right times and we probably are also making withdrawals from the groundwater storage. We’re still another two inches below average at the mid-December mark. Officially, the drought index says we’re in a moderate to severe drought. The year is ending on a lot different note than last year.
COVID-19 is killing record numbers of Americans. We personally know some people in our area who have died and several of our neighbors have tested positive. The national post-Thanksgiving ramp-up in death count amounts to the equivalent of one Nine-Eleven event every day! On December 17, there are almost 240,00 new cases and about 3,300 deaths. However, that’s only about one death for every 72 infections. The total numbers are staggering, but apparently health care procedures have been refined so that threat of death is less than in the spring and summer surges. And of coarse, there’s hope on the horizon because vaccines have now become available.
The precipitation and pandemic patterns carry some important “lessons from the Land”. In the jargon of the current generation and cultural heritage, those lessons sound like: trust the science; monitor and adjust; keep calm and carry on; don’t be afraid. And, “Keep your stick on the ice. We’re all in this together.” That last bit of wisdom is from an old prophet who lives up in the North Woods, rather than on the tall grass prairie. His name is Red Green and loosely translated from the Canadian hockey language, this advice would probably sound something like: “Don’t beat each other up. The team/family/society needs to work together.”
This post comes two days after the Winter Solstice and two days before Christmas. Both of these celebrations call us to give up the dread of darkness and cold and live up to the promise of light and warmth. And to add to the Holiday cheer, here’s the link to the just-released Holiday episode of the Prairie Podcast (Season 3, Episode 11). It’s one of the resources that helped to inspire the last few blog posts on changing environments, cultures, generations, and seasons on Lone Tree Farm. Some of the online sources for the information (especially the numbers) in this current post include the Minnesota Climatological Network, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the graphics posted by the Reuters COVID-19 Tracker. Happy Holidays!