Commentary: Wishing for rain as fall approaches

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GRAND FORKS — Several years ago, a friend and I crossed the border at Rainy River, Ont., for a few days of lake trout fishing and received pamphlets warning us of extreme fire danger and the burning restrictions that were in place for the province.

We'd barely crossed the border, it seemed, when the skies opened up, and the rain started to fall. We spent at least one day inside the camper that was our temporary residence listening to torrential rain pounding the roof.

Fishing in rain is one thing, but that was more than we cared to handle.

So much for the fire danger.

More recently, we started building a bunkhouse at the family getaway in northern Minnesota in late September 2012 amid conditions that were extremely dry. The grass was brown, and leveling the site where the bunkhouse would stand was like chiseling into concrete because the ground was so hard from lack of precipitation.

We got the floor built and insulated and erected the walls that weekend, but we ran out of time for putting up the roof. A makeshift "roof" of blue plastic tarp stretched above the walls was the only thing protecting the insulated floor from the elements. But since rain hadn't fallen in weeks anyway, we figured that would more than suffice.

Days later, an early October blizzard dumped 14 inches of wet, heavy snow that had me panicking from afar about the fate of the blue tarp I could do nothing about more than 100 miles away. If it collapsed, I knew, we probably would have to tear the floor apart and remove what surely would be waterlogged insulation.

Fortunately, a neighbor stopped by and pushed the snow off the tarp at least once during the storm and its aftermath. The tarp miraculously held until we could resume construction and finish the roof several days later.

The snow melted, but the rest of the fall was extremely wet. The drought basically ended with the pounding of the first nail.

I've thought about both of those incidents the past couple of weeks as we find ourselves "immersed" in a drought across northwest Minnesota and parts of northeast North Dakota.

In northwest Minnesota, the DNR on Thursday, Aug. 23, classified fire danger as "extreme." Under such conditions, fire danger is "explosive," the DNR said, "and can result in extensive property damage."

Northeast North Dakota either is abnormally dry or in moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor website. Much of northwest Minnesota is in moderate drought.

The dry conditions already have soybean producers and other farmers worried. If the conditions persist, they no doubt will have an impact on fall outdoor recreation, as well. Stretches of the Red River downstream from Riverside Dam in Grand Forks already are too low to safely navigate. One of my favorite fishing holes in northwest Minnesota looks absolutely sick because water levels are so low.

All but the largest wetlands are nearly dry, as well, which certainly will play into duck hunters' plans if something doesn't change between now and the opening of the regular waterfowl season in late September.

I don't recall it looking this bad since the drought years of the late 1980s.

On the upside, I haven't had to mow in three weeks, and mosquitoes are all but nonexistent, although I did hear one last weekend.

One has to be careful what they wish for — conditions can change from dry to wet in a hurry — but getting stuck inside while rain pounds the roof for a day or two wouldn't bother me in the least right now. If we don't get some rain pretty soon, the impressive campfires friends and I enjoy during our annual October fall grouse hunting rendezvous will have to be small, if we dare have them at all.

Somehow, getting our campfire fix by watching one of those "yule log" videos just wouldn't be the same.

We need rain. Badly.