Friday Five (Vol. 38) – Rainmaking edition

— 1 —

The temperature while driving into work the past two mornings in a row has been below 65 and since I can’t recall the last time we’ve had temperatures below 70 its cause for celebration. Now if we could just get some rain…

Life is drainin’ from the fields
Hope is runnin’ dry
A million dollars cannot buy one drop
The clouds I see are only a lie

— 2 —

Back to the rain in a minute. I can think of no story like the one below that for me illustrates the state of modern thinking today. Pick almost any topic, any one at all. Whether you choose to argue the pro or con side of that argument, you are likely to be met by the attitude of the child in this story. It is both frustrating and disheartening. I’ve written too often already about this modern tendency so I won’t do it again here. But it is just one of the many reasons why I look to make an annual retreat in between the quiet moments I try to steal from each day. I had thought of making my retreat in Illinois this year at Marytown, an hour north of Chicago. But I recently became aware of a secluded retreat area much closer offering Ignatian silent retreats and am making plans to attend and, as The Writing Sisters wrote this morning, to experience “when the stirring becomes quiet.”


A child once noticed how the thorns in a quickset hedge tore the wool of the sheep. In his ignorance he want to his father and begged him to cut down the hedge that did the mischief. But his father was not so hasty and impetuous; he bade the child sit down on the hill near the hedge and watch the little birds. He did so, and before long he saw the feathered songsters come and carry off the wool to line their nests. Then the boy’s father said to him: “Do you see how useful this wool is to keep the poor little unfledged nestlings warm? The sheep do not feel the loss of a few bits of wool. Now would you have me cut down the hedge?” The child begged that he would not do so. That is the way with many people; they draw conclusions hastily, without due reflection, and therefore they fail to appreciate the wisdom that directs the world. (From Anecdotes and Examples for the Catechism, by Rev. Francis Spirago.)

— 3 —

While we here on the prairie are parched and dry we’re not quite to this point…yet.

From the Flint Hills the land was cracked and dried
Thirsty streets in misery
I took the sign down that said medicine man
Put one up that said rainmaker – that was me
So the townspeople gave me money up front
To light a fire – pray, and dance around
Tell them it’d rain so they’d all go to bed
And I’d make my break clean out of town

What could go wrong?

Lest you think I’ve buried my tongue firmly in my cheek, think again. Pluviculture was quite the thing back in the day.

Click to enlarge

From the Nebraska State Historical Society:

“Years ago pioneers believed that rain followed the plow; the evaporation from land surfaces and the conservation of run-off water caused a proportionate increase in the rainfall. After the cycle of wet years had passed, the dry nineties brought ruin to farmers in semi-arid regions. Another theory held that the source of Nebraska’s rainfall was largely in local evaporation, and not from the Gulf of Mexico. This was soon abandoned. Then, in the nineties, came the “rain doctors,” who set off explosions on high hills to jar loose the moisture they believed was in the air. This was also a failure. The only thing left was to pray for rain. And even the practice of holding prayer meetings for rain was not always successful.”

An Ode to Pluviculture, or The Rhyme of the Rain Machine

There are some interesting characters to be found in the annals of plains history. Infamous rainmakers of the day were Charles Hatfield, Frank Melbourne and William Swisher.

See also the image source.

— 4 —

Swisher actually sued my fair city in 1893 when he had been refused the payment of $500 after “causing” a small sized squall. From the legal proceedings comes the following description of his device:

Swisher did set up his apparatus in the courtroom. The Journal noted, “The most striking pieces are two stone churns, one about six gallon and the other about four. On each is an inverted funnel, surmounted by a joined tin tube with an elbow at the top. Seven other sections of pipe and two extra elbows are provided. There is also an extra funnel. An oblong box of galvanized iron with hinged cover is carefully wrapped in gunny sacking. A good sized electric battery with which a couple of feet of insulated wire seems on friendly terms, stands on the table. The minor accessories consist of a pair of old balances, a wash basin, a glass funnel, two bottles, a glass dish, a small pitcher and a quart tin cup. Among the weights of the scale is a rattlesnake’s rattle. All this stuff had been packed in straw in a trunk.”

It sounds to me like the still that Hawkeye, Trapper and BJ kept in The Swamp on M*A*S*H.

Does it make rain, too?

— 5 —

A good summer rain comes with a certain smell. It precedes the coming showers, seems to disappear during the outpouring of Heaven, and then returns strong and fresh once the clouds cease to cry.

I don’t recall where I read this quote, but it fits with a conversation I had this week with a long time friend as we talked about rain. And lest I forget:

O God, in Whom we live and move, and have our being, grant us rain, in due abundance, that, being sufficiently helped with temporal, we may the more confidently seek after eternal gifts. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Prayer Source: Novena in Honor of St. Isidore: Patron of Farmers by National Catholic Rural Life Conference, National Catholic Rural Life Conference

Because I bet ol’ St. Isidore loved a rainy night (or day), too.

Well, I love a rainy night
It’s such a beautiful sight
I love to feel the rain
On my face
Taste the rain on my lips
In the moonlight shadow



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