OPINION — If last week’s snow felt like the final blast of winter, this week felt like the height of summer.  With temperatures reaching nearly 100ºF for several days in a row, my newly planted garden wilted and the seeds sown in raised beds languished, too dry to germinate. The fruit trees we’d planted earlier in the spring nodded their newly unfurled leaves with exhaustion and regret. “You picked a terrible year to start a front yard orchard,” they intoned. Even the potted flowers on the patio, protected by the trees that arch greenly overhead, are having a hard time coping with the heat. Nobody’s roots are ready for this!

Not everyone is suffering. The sheep, cattle, horses, and even the bum lambs are all out on green grass now, thankful to escape the dusty corral and the black clouds of flies that emerged overnight. The flies follow the flock and the herd, but at least the breezes of the open fields, and long, flicking tails, or fleecy coats are available to help preserve the sanity of livestock who must spend their days outdoors.

For our part, we hustle through morning chores to beat the heat. Our house doesn’t have central air, so we close windows and draw curtains every morning to capture the cool, quiet air of the previous night. The result is a semi-darkness that lends itself to slow, sleepy afternoons. The kids have pulled out the board games and stacks of picture books that were in circulation all winter.  

“We escape our houses after the cold passes, only to be driven back to them by the heat!” A friend laments, and she’s not wrong.

It’s hard to enjoy weather this hot, however, summer in western Dakota is short, and we can’t afford to waste any of these precious days. With another week of high temperatures predicted, I decided drastic measures needed to be taken. Enter the ‘cowboy pool.’

Last year, community pools closed across the country, one of summer’s hottest trends was the cowboy pool. Familiar to farm and ranch kids everywhere, the cowboy pool used to be a humorous name for a stock tank. For my kids anyway, it’s always been a quick and easy way to cool off on a hot day while checking on the herd or flock with dad.

Until recently that is, when urban parents, perhaps encouraged by the popularity of farmhouse chic and cottagecore, started buying up stock tanks from farm supply stores, installing pumps, adding chlorine filters, and putting them in their backyards. The cowboy pool was suddenly just a pool, no cows or cowboys required.

At 4 and 1/2 and almost 6 years old respectively, my kids are too big for kiddie pools to provide much entertainment anymore. A stock tank pool, on the other hand, is about the perfect depth and diameter for them to practice paddling. And unlike the trendsetting urbanites of last summer, we have stock that will definitely be happy to use the tank when the kids are done with it. There was no doubt in my mind, we needed a cowboy pool of our very own.  

Consequently, we now have a shiny metal pool, minus the filter and chlorine, stationed beneath the aforementioned arching green trees. The kids splash and shout while I work nearby, marveling at how this pool kind of changes everything. Instead of brutally hot, the weather feels perfect for cooling off in our watery oasis, and the fact that the heat arrived early just gives us more time to enjoy it.

And all those wilting flowers and sad fruit trees? Instead of hauling water from the hydrant, I now have a water source close to the house, which makes the required daily watering a much quicker, easier chore. That in turn means a little more time to sit poolside, the summer gathering greenly around us, the glowing light of early evening as precious as gold.

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