The water got turned on on Saturday. This means that somewhere higher up in the mountains than I am, where ponderosas shadow the forest floor, a valve was opened and water began leaving its manmade holding pen and rushing through cement channels and dug ditches toward, could it think, something like freedom. Twice on Saturday I checked my ditch–dry as summer before the monsoons hit. Lon had come up to help me prepare for the coming water, and we cleaned the headgate and found keys to valves and he showed me the hoses and pipes he’d put away last year, and reminded me of what I had forgotten.
The day peaked at 67 degrees. Sleeveless, I replaced the three-part little plastic gates in the gated pipe, the special tool clumsy in my hands, Lon on the tractor cleaning out a nearby stock tank, dust rising to the heavens. Lon left the ranch in the fall. Winter had been dry, too.
When he left on Saturday, the water still had not reached the ranch. I went to bed listening–the soft snores of dogs and cat the only sounds. I wouldn’t have heard the water come, anyway, as I had left the headgate closed, wanting the water to pass me by for a few hours, carrying seasoned debris on down the line. Waking in the morning, I forgot to feel joy, hit instead with the awareness of a nearly sixty-year-old woman about to face a big, daunting task alone. I stayed in bed longer, until the knowledge of gnawing hunger in horses’ bellies, and the dogs’ insistence, forced me up.
Outside, all traces of Saturday’s warmth and Lon’s reassurance had vanished. Clouds hung heavy over Sleeping Ute Mountain to the west, the San Juans to the east. In the vortex of storm, I drove to the headgate three miles away. There it was: water! Now it was fear I forgot as the water flowed fast along the ditch, heading toward the ranch, spring, green grass, horses, cows, riding again in the twilight evenings of summer. I cranked the headgate open, and raced the water home. When the storm hit I barely noticed, wet already to the knees, mud tracks on my butt from slipping and falling, shovels of clinging mud heavy to my back. But then, standing, stretching, I saw it: the white sheen of hail riding on water spreading out across a field.