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Journal Sheds Light on North Fork of Yesteryear

Paonia resident Amber Kleinman has been reading through the daily journals of William Beezley, an orchardist and farmer who lived up Steven’s Gulch in the first half of the 20th century. Recording selected entries for thealmanac.org and comparing them to current weather and conditions, Kleinman – a small-acreage farmer who keeps a journal herself -- has gained a new perspective.

“I started working on the 1930s,” she says “which we knew were the dust bowl era, or some of it. So when I was reading the journal and comparing it to what we just experienced in 2012, it was fascinating to know that it was not that unusual, that this has happened before, and it was actually probably worse in 1934 than it was in 2012.”

What she's talking about in 2012 was the incredible drying, particularly in March, just the drying up of every bit of moisture we had, and we didn’t have that much.“Yeah, and the lack of snow,” says Kleinman. “Getting rain when you expect to get snow in the actual winter months – the same things happened in 1934. Also that it warmed up really early. Apricots started to go into flower March 12, were in full flower by March 24 in 1934.”

When asked if it changed her ideas about global climate change at all, Kleinman says, “No, I really think weather today is more drastic than it has been. But because we have records like this we can look back and realize that things do fluctuate, and it’s not like it never happened before.”I asked her how she had changed by reading his journals. Does she note things differently, maybe, or note different things? “Yeah, I do actually,” she replies. “I guess when I enter my journals I get a little wordy. And I realize that maybe looking back it’s more important to note the temperature, note the weather, what you do. So when you look back or other people look back at what you’ve written, it’s useful.”

“He has different names for different amounts of storms, for instance. On the lower end of the scale you have a dab, a little bit more is a skift of rain, which I actually had to look up because my spell check didn’t recognize it, but it’s actually a real word, it’s a light rain. And then there’s a splat of rain, which is more than that. And then there’s a dandy rain, which is a really good rain. And then there’s the rain like hell, which was like, it’s really raining. So I love that he uses these words over and over to note how much rain actually fell. It didn’t just rain. There’s all different kinds of rain,” says Kleinman. “April 13, 1934 he says, harrowed and marked alfalfa most of the day, warm like summer. Rained a shower before noon. Fixed ditches in the hayfield in the PM and it rained again, quite a little shower.”

I tell her that’s a new category, “quite a little shower.”“Yeah,” she says “how does that come in between splat and skift? On April 18th, he harrowed and planted some potatoes, warmed trees and planted a little corn. It’s really early. This is the year I was talking about that started warming up really early. He planted corn – you have to wait until the ground is warm to really start doing that. On April 20, 1934, he says he set water on alfalfa for the first, so he started irrigating. Delicious apples in about full bloom.”

Reading the three- to five-line journal entries, you get the feel for a different time. “All the notes about how much people helped him, and how he helped other people. He constantly had people coming over to help him prune,” says Kleinman, “to help him butcher, and then he would go to their house and help them butcher, help them prune, and haul hay, and haul rock. And you can kind of see life as it was back then, very simple. We wake up in the AM, this is what we do. A very simple life.”

Marty Durlin contributes freelance news features, including coverage of Delta County Commissioner's meetings and local governmental issues.