In Wyoming, the weather always wins

Sep 22, 2019 Randy Tucker

The grass had that shimmer to it, with the longer blades taking on an almost silvery appearance. Yes, it's late summer in the foothills of the Rockies.

I was working a football game earlier this week at Fort Washakie between the host Eagles and the Arapahoe Falcons. It had been a couple of years since I'd been behind the newly constructed Fort Washakie School. The facilities there are impressive. They did it right.

I've always liked the country around Fort Washakie. Nestled at the base of the Wind River Mountains, with the Wind River flowing just to the north, it is one of the most-scenic areas of America's most-scenic state. Yes, my opinion, but one shared by many who've traveled across Wyoming and the nation as a whole.

The afternoon air had that familiar impending autumn feel to it. On Wednesday morning, friends living in the North Portal area reported their first frost of the season. Late summer and early fall are enjoyable seasons. The cold weather can wait a few more weeks.

It wasn't a bumper year for many crops. Alfalfa growers lamented the cold, wet spring and the blazing hot months of mid-summer. This year's first cutting was so thick with grass from the rains in April, May and June that the underlying alfalfa was difficult to find. If you wanted horse hay, this was the year for you.

My own battle (some in my family consider it a mania) with fruit trees and garden plants was another epic. People report having a good tomato crop this summer, but I'm not in that group. We've harvested a handful so far, and part of the low production doesn't involve the weather at all.

In July I had a few tennis-ball-sized tomatoes starting to turn red. My wife Sue weeded our largest garden plot one morning, and when I went out the next day to pick those prized tomatoes, they weren't there.

I asked her if she'd accidentally pulled up the plants, and she said she didn't think so. A closer investigation revealed piles of little black pellets about four feet from where the plants should have been.

Friendly visitors often frequent our haystacks at night as revealed by game cameras. This summer the deer acquired a taste for ripe tomatoes. The ones along the fence are still loaded as are the ones in the middle, but the fruit (yes, a tomato is a fruit) growing along the edge were ripped out, plant and all, and carried away.

Deer don't seem to enjoy peppers nearly as much, but the tops of the cabbage plants had tell-tale teeth marks from a bit of muley grazing.

The only bumper crop I've produced this summer is hornets. They've arrived in copious levels, in some buildings on the scale of biblical plagues. They're actual paper wasps, but the term hornet, wasp and yellow jacket often are used interchangeably, even though they officially represent different species.

Some readers won't like the scientific explanation, but the increase in these stinging devils is constant all over North America, Northern Europe and China, with insect experts citing increasing temperatures due to climate change as the culprit in the rise of these jerk cousins of the honeybee.

A favorite sign I've seen online, in nurseries and a few agricultural supply stores sets the difference between bees and wasps succinctly. Under a photograph of a drone honeybee reads, the hard-working bee, industrious, pollinates our fruits and vegetables, a friendly fellow that all life on Earth depends on. Next to it is a picture of a wasp."Just a jackass," it says.

Wasps have a purpose when it comes to controlling caterpillars and other insects, but that's hard to remember when you're reaching inside an engine to remove a cable and you get hit multiple times in the forehead, on the arms and the top of your ear. Their "beneficial" nature just doesn't seem that evident when you're swatting them away with your hat.

I've been stung a lot this year, on three occasions with seven total stings when they stormed out of the inside of pipe gates, twice with a couple of hits each time getting into the cab of a tractor, and single incidents inside barns, sheds and just walking outside.

People with strong allergic reactions to wasp stings probably shouldn't even go outside until a hard frost hits.

The striped devil bugs have had an big summer, but their industrious relatives were hard to find at times this year.

Honeybees were all over apricot and pear blossoms with good crops of both. They started to pollinate our apple trees, but bees don't fly as well as flowers do when they're ripped by 50- mph spring winds.

In the end, the Wyoming weather always wins. A dozen potted tomato and pepper plants are about to move inside the greenhouse for an extended growing season. The cabbage and Brussell's sprouts are the toughest plants in the garden and can fend for themselves until November.

Another summer is going.

Rather than lament its passing, I see the arrival of early autumn as the best time of the year. Sweatshirt in the morning, heater on in the truck, shorts in the afternoon, with the windows down.

Football begins, baseball hits its peak, hunting seasons open, the harvest takes place, and the fishing remains top notch. What else can you ask for?


Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired public school educator.

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