It’s a good thing that winter is coming on. Maybe the Colemans will know what to pray for again. Prayers in southern Idaho are real straightforward in winter. We pray for snow. Simple as that. We always need it, we know things aren’t going to be pretty if we don’t get it and we seldom (though sometimes) get more than we know what to do with.

Coleman michele
Michele and her husband, Dave, live in southern Idaho where they boast an extensive collection of...

Our prayers around the dinner table always round off with the same request: “Please bless us that we will receive the moisture we need,” or “Thank you for the moisture you’ve sent, and we won’t complain if you’d like to send some more.” We take our praying responsibilities seriously – they have to cover a large geographical area. We’re happy for snow on the ground here on the farm, of course, but that isn’t going to do us any good come July. So all winter, David watches the snowpack reports for Milner Dam like a hawk, and we pray accordingly. We also need a good snowpack in the South Hills so there’ll be adequate feed at the ranch. And of course, we don’t want to forget the needs of the people straight north of us, though admittedly our charity for them isn’t purely charitable. My kids are praying for skiing snow.

I figure all snow is good snow unless my kids are alone out on the freeway driving in it. I think that everyone that farms understands that water is what winter is all about or, in the bad years, not about. Water is everything to southern Idaho. It’s funny how life in a desert affects even our small talk. Weather should be a relatively safe topic, but maybe not so much for a farmer. When we haven’t had enough moisture, and then something liquid starts to fall from the sky, I’m just gobsmacked when people gripe about it. I’ll be in the checkout lane in the grocery store, and the people in front of me will start saying how the rain that I’ve been fretting about and worrying for is ruining their day or their weekend plans, and I’ll just have to zip, sew and padlock my mouth shut or I’ll say something old and cranky like, “Do you know where your food comes from, young man?”

No one around here gets a free pass to complain about water. Now wind, wind is a different story. Wind is what God gave us to complain about, and in Idaho, He has been more than generous. Philosophically, though, I can’t answer the great question: When we get wind and rain mixed together (and to be honest, when do we not?) are we truly grateful or do we just know that we should be?

This past spring, though, our prayers became a whole lot more complicated. Not to complain, but things this year were just too darn good. It’s hard on us – prosperity. We’re not used to it. Southern Idaho farming feels most comfortable when we are barely scraping by, not when we have received the snowpack of the century. Not to say we aren’t grateful. Colemans have given lots of prayers of gratitude because, wow! All that snow. And rain. And snow. David watched the snow pile up on the online cameras like our cat watches sparrows: intense, never blinking, totally captivated. The ski resort reports were like Christmas every day.


But then the rain kept coming. And coming. Through April and then on into May and June. Our prayers became problematic. Is a prayer sincere if it starts with, “We are so thankful for the moisture we have received, and we know we need every drop of it, and we are not complaining, but maybe in passing you might want to know that we can’t get into the field to do any fieldwork, so uhhh ... just mentioning it in case it affects your eternal plans. Amen.”

The nature of farming is embedded in the fact that not all prayers can be answered at once. If you receive one blessing it means you just denied yourself another. Colemans want hay prices to be high if we are selling and low if we run out of feed. We want cool weather for the wheat and warm weather for the corn. We want our kids to be independent, but we want them to do what we ask them to when we ask them to do it. We know we can’t have it all, but all the same we try to work the inevitable farming dichotomies into our requests. “Thank you, Lord, for giving us enough snow so the cattle will have plenty to eat at the ranch, provided we can ever get them up there to eat it. If you could turn off the tap just long enough to make the road passable, we’d be eternally grateful. Before August, if possible. Amen.” I know we are unreasonable supplicants, but if we could just work the system both ways, farming would be so much easier.

Since we can’t have it all, I guess a farmer’s curse is to never trust prosperity completely. We are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, or the other crop to fail. We also know from experience that sometimes the rain doesn’t come, and sometimes it comes when the hay is down – OK, usually it comes when the hay is down, and sometimes it comes just for the wind to blow it all away. Our prayers tend to request solutions for our short-term problems, but in the face of hardship, we honestly try for faith that is long term – faith that, no matter what happens over the next 10 to 100 years, the Lord has a handle on it.

The saving grace for southern Idaho farmers is that every blessing comes with its own set of problems, and thank goodness for that. I just don’t think we would do well under conditions of endless bliss. For us to feel at home, heaven had better have a section for farmers that runs to the tune of, “It’s looking like we just might be able to squeeze out another year of eternal joy, but things aren’t looking so good for next year.”