Tag Archives: High Plains

Facing a topic quandary for this blog

A relocation might be approaching more quickly than my wife and I thought. More on that at a later date.

As we prepare to detach ourselves eventually from the Texas Panhandle and relocate to the Metroplex region of North Texas, I am facing a bit of a quandary: how to transition from commenting on local matters that pertain to the Panhandle to our new surroundings.

High Plains Blogger will retain its title even after we relocate. I have made that “command decision.” I like the name. I’m comfortable with it. The blog title does pay a sort of tribute to one of my favorite actors, Clint Eastwood.

It comments heavily on national political matters. I also like commenting on local issues. Even though my wife and I departed the Golden Triangle more than two decades ago, I am even prone to offering a word or two about life in our former digs. along the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Our time in the Panhandle, though, is more than double than what we spent in what I affectionately call The Swamp. Thus, I likely will continue to keep an eye on goings-on in Amarillo and the Panhandle even after we depart for points southeast of here.

I do intend to familiarize myself with issues unique to the area north of Dallas where we’ll end up. I cannot pretend to know all the nuances that go into every issue. Heck, I am quite willing to acknowledge that I don’t know all there is to know about everything that happens in a community I called home for more than 23 years.

But … my Panhandle knowledge base is a good bit more informed than it will be when we relocate to the Dallas ‘burbs.

Oh well. It might be that I’ll refocus my attention on matters relating to national politics, government, public policy and, oh yes, a bit of life experience thrown in from time to time.

Heaven knows the president is keeping my quiver full of arrows.

Quite sure ‘Dust Bowl’ won’t return

One of the things I learned about the Dust Bowl was it was manly caused by human fallibility and ignorance.

I also learned that the Dust Bowl was centered right here on the High Plains of Texas and Oklahoma.

As dry as it has been in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles since this past autumn, I will rely on the knowledge that we have learned how to prevent a recurrence of the hideous tragedy that befell the region in the 1930s.

Ken Burns’ fabulous documentary film, “The Dust Bowl,” which aired on PBS in 2015, reminded us that the event was the worst “manmade ecological disaster” in U.S. history. How did it occur?

Human beings settled on the High Plains and began plowing up natural grassland, turning it into cultivated farm land. Many farmers relied on rainfall to irrigate their crops; they were “dry land farmers.”

They plowed up hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland, which Mother Nature put there to act as protection against wind erosion. The grass held the soil together, preventing it from blowing away in the stiff wind that howls frequently across the High Plains.

Well, then something drastic happened. It stopped raining. The region became gripped by a killer drought. Then the wind blew as it always does. What happened next has become the stuff of legend throughout the High Plains.

The dirt blew in sinister, black clouds across the vast landscape. People breathed in the dirt. They contracted “dust pneumonia.” Many of them died; the most vulnerable were the very old and the very young; obviously, the very sickly also fell victim. Many others who didn’t die vacated their farms and ranches.

Other survivors, though, stayed and powered through the misery.

The nation learned a lot from that terrible time. One of the lessons dealt with tilling the land. Farmers started by letting the grass grow back where Mother Nature intended for it to grow. They improved their tilling techniques to minimize wind erosion.

The rain would return eventually. The High Plains would rebuild. The dust settled.

We’re now gripped by another drought. The U.S. and Texas departments of agriculture consider the region to be in “severe drought” mode.

Here’s a glimmer of hope: No one really believes we are going to experience a chapter-and-verse repeat of what occurred on the High Plains more than eight decades ago. The region’s ignorance about Mother Nature’s way has long gone.

However, we’ve got those damn fires with which we must contend.

Looking more like Dust Bowl

Happy Trails, Part 85

I’ve heard it hundreds of times in my life from friends: Autumn is their favorite season of the year.

You won’t hear that from me. We are now entering my favorite season. Spring portends a season of hope. Of renewal. We are coming out of the type of darkness that winter has blanketed over us.

It’s a season of change. This year particularly brings immense change for my wife and me.

Winter in the Texas Panhandle has been a challenge, to be sure. It’s been the driest winter we’ve ever experienced here. We’ve been through 22 winters on the High Plains and none of them has been as tinder dry as the one we’ve just endured.

From what I hear the dryness is expected to continue for the foreseeable future as well. But the coming warmth is going to awaken the dormant grass and assorted flora around here.

This post, though, isn’t really about coming out of the barren and dry winter. It’s about the change that we have initiated.

A big move awaits. It likely will occur soon. We have sold our house. We have moved completely into our recreational vehicle. The roof over our heads is perched on four wheels, which we tow behind a muscular pickup.

Our destination is somewhere in North Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex,, near our granddaughter. We have no definite plan lined out just yet, but one is coming into a little sharper focus as we ponder the next big step in our life together.

We won’t sever our ties to Amarillo. We intend to remain highly mobile, even after we resettle in North Texas. We intend to be frequent visitors to the city we’ve called home for 23-plus years.

The spring of 2018 will be unlike any season we’ve ever experienced. Of that I am absolutely certain, although the winter of 1996 was a beaut as well. We took possession of the house we had built in southwest Amarillo the day after the Winter Solstice and had a delightful Christmas opening boxes and rediscovering possessions we had stored away for nearly two years.

That was then. The next season of big change is at hand. It’s my favorite time of the year.

Decision made on name of blog

I have made a command decision I want to share with you.

Some time back I mused out loud on this blog that I might change its name when we relocated to North Texas. The name “High Plains Blogger” has served two purposes. One was to salute our location on the High Plains of Texas; the other was to salute one of my favorite actors, Clint Eastwood, who starred in “High Plains Drifter” a few decades ago.

Well, our move is fast approaching and I’ve decided — drum roll! — to keep the name of this blog.

We intend to remain semi-mobile even after we relocate to North Texas. We have family matters to consider that will bring us back to Amarillo periodically. Thus, I won’t sever my ties to this city we’ve called “home” for 23 years.

I doubt I’ll be able to continue to comment with as much regularity on local matters as I’ve been able to do. My local-content musings have diminished considerably since I quit my daily print journalism job at the Amarillo Globe-News on Aug. 31, 2012.

I’ve remained somewhat connected through various media about goings-on in Amarillo and the Panhandle, enabling me to offer commentary on issues as they’ve presented themselves.

I won’t be disconnected completely even after we depart for points southeast of the Panhandle. The blog, though, is likely to concentrate more on state, national and international issues — along with the occasional stories about our beloved puppy, Toby, and musings about the retired life with which my wife and I have become quite comfortable.

Those retirement segments hopefully will include some travel tales as we embark on journeys across this continent of ours.

High Plains Blogger has developed an identity. I like being associated with it.

Now, I could change my mind and come up with a new name. If I do, you’ll be the first to know.

Meanwhile, thanks for reading and sharing. I am having the time of my life.

Enjoying a front-row seat of progress

Our new “home” across the way from Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport and the Bell Helicopter aircraft assembly plant has given me a front-row seat to an amazing display of engineering and economic progress.

My wife and I have been living at an RV park within spittin’ distance of AMA and Bell. From our living room we are able to watch jets fly in and out of the airport while also witnessing test flights of a state-of-the-art combat aircraft that is put together right here on the High Plains.

I refer, of course, to the V-22 Osprey, the notable tilt-rotor aircraft that’s seen plenty of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan over the years. The Marine Corps has been using the bird to ferry troops and supplies on and off battlefields in both countries for, oh, about the past decade.

The Osprey hasn’t been without controversy. Many of us recall the terrible crash in Arizona that killed nearly 20 Marines on a test flight.

The Osprey, though, has been re-engineered since that crash. It has been improved. It has been modified to some degree. Today, from what I have heard, it has performed its mission well. The aircraft gives American fighting personnel quicker entrance and exit from the battlefield.

Amarillo used an interesting — and occasionally mocked — economic tool to lure Bell/Textron to the High Plains in the late 1990s. The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation offered a lot of money that it collects from sales tax revenue to Bell/Textron, which ended up receiving about $45 million in various inducements, including tax abatements and free land next to AMA.

Bell returned to Amarillo, where it once repaired and maintained Huey helicopters during the Vietnam War.

AEDC hit a home run when it lured Bell/Textron to the region. We have seen it grow over the years, expanding its mission.

I think of all this on occasion as I watch the Osprey take off and land. I recall the ridicule we heard from the Fort Worth area that lost the Bell operation, thanks to Amarillo’s aggressive and creative marketing campaign.

I also look with some pride at what this community has been able to accomplish for its local economic health as well as contributing to the nation’s vaunted military establishment.

I spoke once with a Marine pilot who was stationed in Amarillo to test-fly the Osprey earlier in its development. He mentioned to me how this aircraft was so hard to learn to fly, but once he got the hang of it, the Osprey has turned out to be a lot of fun to fly.

On occasion I think of that Marine as I watch the Osprey glide through its paces above us, and I wonder how much fun they’re having overhead.

Happy Trails, Part 73

The question comes to me almost weekly.

I’ll run into longtime friends or acquaintances and they inevitably ask: How do you like retirement?

My answer is usually the same: If I were doing any better I’d be twins.

One former colleague who now lives in Houston asked me that very question about a year ago. I gave him the answer. His response? “I’ve never met a retired person who doesn’t love being retired.”

There you have it. My friend has said I fit the mold of your standard, run-of-the-mill retired guy.

What my friend also understands is that my journey toward retired contentment — and, yes, the joy it brings — didn’t start out that way. My retirement journey began unhappily. I wasn’t yet ready to call it quits when I did. I resigned my last newspaper job — at the Amarillo Globe-News — in a fit of emotional pain.

The truth is that it didn’t take me long to realize that my former employer actually did me a favor. I sent myself out to pasture. The pain that I felt on my last day of employment dissipated quickly.

I’ve known many people over the years who have gone through circumstances quite similar to what I encountered. They had been reorganized out of jobs, too.

Here is what I rediscovered about myself. I am a highly adaptable creature. I discovered by adaptability when my family and I moved from Oregon to Texas in the spring of 1984 and exposed ourselves to a serious culture shock. We adapted. My wife and I went through another form of culture shock when we moved from Beaumont to Amarillo in January 1995. We adapted to that change yet again.

My wife and I are going to embark on one more big challenge as we prepare to relocate once more, from the High Plains to North Texas.

My adaptability skills will come into play once again.

The only part of my new life that won’t change — ever! — is a return to the working world. I’ve done my time there.

Retirement really is so very good.

A national weather story is brewing right here

I’ve written before about how the national media report with added fervor on those storms that pound New York and Washington.

Why? It’s a local story to them. They are affected by the rain, the snow, the ice, the cold. In the summer, it’s the heat, man!

Local news goes national

It occurs to me, though, that we have a national story brewing out here in Flyover Country, a good distance from either coast.

We are getting seriously parched on the High Plains of Texas, of Oklahoma and eastern New Mexico. We’re about to set a record for number of consecutive days without measurable precipitation.

We’ve got farmers and ranchers in these parts who rely on rainfall and snowfall to irrigate their land. It’s not coming any time soon. What is going to happen to their crops, meaning the food they supply to the rest of the nation?

I get that we aren’t in the midst of the media conglomerates that cover the weather with intensity when it affects those regions.

However, it’s important nonetheless to the rest of the country if we don’t get some moisture. Immediately!

Here is an example of drought severity

You almost have to squint your eyes to see the water in this picture.

I snapped this shot this morning at MediPark Lake in far west Amarillo. The last time we visited this site — about four months ago — that large expanse of rocky terrain was under about six feet of water.

Not now!

I guess I wanted to share this view just to illustrate a concern I have about the lack of surface water in Amarillo. I believe we’re at the 108-day mark with zero measurable precipitation. The all-time record is approaching quickly and according to my trusty Weather Channel app on my “smart phone,” it looks we’ll break that record in less than a week.

Oh, did I mention that the dry-spell record was set in 1902? There. I just did.

It’s not fun watching the surface water disappear before our eyes. Oh, Medi Park is still full of ducks and Canada geese. Indeed, this morning we witnessed large flights of geese take off and return to what’s left of the lake. I do enjoy watching those birds take flight.

I have no particular point to make with this blog post, other than to alert my Texas Panhandle friends and fellow travelers what they already know: We need to be careful with our water use.

Drought has returned with a vengeance

I guess we can say with supreme confidence that the Texas Panhandle drought has returned.

In a big way!

The TV weather forecasters remind us that we’ve gone 102 days without measurable precipitation. They bemoan the low humidity, the low dew points. They remind us to avoid doing anything stupid that would torch the landscape.

However, the Amarillo Fire Department today did something I consider to be a bit strange. It conducted a “prescribed burn.” Why strange? The wind was howling! It’s going to howl again — with even more vigor — on Thursday. It was the first such controlled burn in decades.

AFD warns us about the danger of lighting fires in dry conditions. The wind has this way of blowing red-hot embers to places far away. Doesn’t the wind do the same thing to fire departments, too?

Well, no harm today. The burn in southeast Amarillo went off without any serious problem.

The drought is something for us to ponder. We also need to act on it. Don’t waste water. Don’t cause any wildfires. Don’t put your family, friends and neighbors at risk.

The return of the drought demonstrates this fundamental truth: Human beings — no matter our technological advances — are powerless against the forces of nature.

Hey, wasn’t it just a few weeks ago when we completed a year with greater-than-normal precipitation? I guess what’s true in politics is true as it regards Mother Nature: A month is an eternity.

Does this heavy wind equal climate change?

Climate change has become a sort of synonym for “global warming.”

When climatologists talk about the warming of Planet Earth, they drop the term “climate change,” as if the conditions are interchangeable.

I’ve been thinking just a bit about that. I am not so sure we can bind them together.

Out here on the High Plains of Texas, we’ve been battered over the course of several days by high wind. It’s been dry, too.

I bring this up because for the past 23 years my wife and I have called the Texas Panhandle home, we have welcomed those reliable “March winds.” This year, March arrived about, oh, two months early.

For much of January we have been battling the wind that is supposed to arrive just in time for spring. The wind brings with it those threatening clouds, the downpours, the occasional hail storms.

This year it’s just the wind. Fifty mph gusts have followed sustained wind of about 20 to 30 mph.

Is it mere coincidence that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reported that 2017 was the second-warmest year on record? Has the worldwide warming produced some of the windblown consequence we’re experiencing in early 2018 out here on what I call the Texas Tundra?

And is climate change generally synonymous with global warming? Does one event mean the existence of the other?

I believe the climate is changing. I also believe the planet is getting warmer. I am not yet willing to link the two conditions together.

Your thoughts?