DOTT, PA. -- Less than half a mile to the west of the farm is a high ridge, distant enough to be imposing yet near enough to abet the sense of coziness here, and it is on this ridge that the farmer's eye is riveted each day.
The farm's fields dip and roll, sometimes precipitously, but there is no point from which the ridge cannot be seen. The ridge dominates physically, but it now also has become a psychological fixture.
On hot summer afternoons, when the sky darkens many miles beyond the ridge and when the faint boom of thunder can be heard, the farmer studies this huge natural barrier more intensely and even talks to it.
The issue always is whether the storms will be strong enough to push over the ridge and bring merciful rain to the parched beds in the truckpatch. Or, conversely, whether the ridge will be generous enough to allow the rain to move on through.
Precious little rain made it past the barricade in June and the farmer has taken to blaming the ridge.
On more days than not, the heavy black clouds would gather behind the ridge and then simply disperse. The farmer could look far to the south and see the sheets of rain driving down. He could look far to the north and see a similar picture.
So the farmer sometimes imagines that his ridge is an enormous dam, placed strategically to hold back the water that might come with the thunderstorms that seem to fall everywhere but here.
Other times, the farmer imbues the ridge with human qualities, imagining that it somehow has become a judge and disciplinarian, holding back the rain clouds as punishment for some miscreancy.
Some nights, deep in his sleep, the farmer dreams about rain and floods. He sees withering plants resuscitating from torrents of water and he sees browning fields turn green again.
These are games that the mind plays when the need for moisture is desperate. It shouldn't be this way, but the farmer never quite comes to terms with the obvious fact that he is powerless to change the weather. He never quite understands that he has no recourse but to accept his lot.
Not that the mind is acting alone.
The farmer relies on the federal government's weather radio to guide his daily routine. He listens closely for the "thunderstorm potential statement," as the "weathercrats" like to call it, and his hopes rise and fall accordingly.
Through much of June, the radio was predicting the afternoon showers that were needed so badly. But they did not come. The farmer blamed the weather service first and then he blamed the ridge. He sometimes sensed a conspiracy. He even came to believe the local consensus that an unidentified government agency manipulates the weather in order to drive farmers off the land.
The truth is -- and the farmer's journals reflect this -- that June and July more often than not are dry months here and nothing can be done about it except to turn on irrigation lines that reach only a portion of the farm. To the untrained eye the appearance of green around the truckpatch might suggest that all is well. In fact, however, the prolonged dryness affects the tender vegetable plants at a critical time for maturing.
Going through the journals as July came, always with one eye cocked toward the ridge, it dawned on the farmer that almost without realizing it he had entered into the annual dry season and that his year was half over.
The farmer equates this time to baseball's All-Star break, the midway point at which the players pause, catch their collective breath and gird themselves for the final hard drive for the pennant.
It is similar on the farm.
Imperceptibly, the spring crops have come and gone. The lettuce had flourished from decent early rain but was petering out with the heat -- as always. The broccoli, which did well, had been cut and the fall crop of seedlings was growing apace in the greenhouse. The snap peas were finished and the green beans were in full flower, although desperate for water.
Almost without noticing, the farmer already had undergone the excitement of searching out and eating the first of his June-ripened tomatoes, tastier from the heat of the field, and he had thrilled at the sight of peppers and eggplants forming on the bushes.
Almost without notice, squash and melons -- at least those that had survived the cutworms and the seed-robbing crows -- were pushing out into the rows. The pumpkins were doing passably well; the potatoes were forming nicely in their hilled rows.
All of these were signs of the farming year having reached the halfway stage and, truth be told, it hadn't been all that bad so far. It had gone so quickly that the farmer was caught unawares.
The thought occurred that perhaps he had been paying too much attention to the ridge, affixing too much blame to its perfidy, and perhaps he was paying not enough attention to the business at hand.
If the journals prove accurate, the farmer knew that July and August would be dry and difficult months and there wouldn't be much, if anything, that he could do about it.
All of this he knew, yet this morning, with the first light of dawn, the first thing the farmer did was look up at the ridge to see if it was still there and to search for a rain cloud.
The mind games began again and it was easy to forget that this was July and nothing would change that. The ridge was still there, not a cloud could be seen and not much else was new.
Ward Sinclair is a former Washington Post agriculture reporter who now farms a Pennsylvania truckpatch.