Whenever the wind blows hard across the Texas Panhandle — as it is doing today — a new set of images pops into my mind.
I think of the Dust Bowl. These are images that didn’t enter my mind until we moved here 19 years ago.
Some of my friends here actually remember the Dust Bowl. It occurred over the span of about eight years starting around 1933. It’s been called history’s worst manmade disaster. It was a beaut.
Two things happened simultaneously during that time: The wind started to blow and the rain stopped falling. It produced a condition across several states that was worsened by some of the most incredibly bad farming practices known to man. Humans settled here and decided to plow up native grasslands to plant crops, such as wheat and corn.
I guess no one told them back then about the reason God put the grass here in the first place: It was to keep the dirt in place while the wind blew. Without the grass roots dug deep into the dirt, the top soil would blow away.
Then the wind came — and seemingly never left. It blew and blew. And the rain? Well, it didn’t come in amounts sufficient to dampen the soil to keep it from blowing away.
Eventually, state and federal agriculture experts would introduce plowing techniques that would minimize the top soil loss. Those grasslands would be restored, never to be upset again by people who learned a terrible lesson in land management.
It all happened right here in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, in Kansas, eastern New Mexico and eastern Colorado, as well as in Nebraska.
The suffering among the residents was unfathomable. “Dust pneumonia” killed the very young and the very old. People’s livelihoods literally were blown into the next state. Livestock starved to death. Farmers and ranchers who couldn’t make a living packed up everything they owned and moved out as quickly as they could.
Those who stayed became living testaments to raw courage.
Many of them have remained. They are old now. Some might have some short-term memory issues, but I’m quite certain many of them recall vividly how it was to grow up in the hell that came over this land.
I wonder how they must feel whenever they see the wind blow as it is today. Do they shrug? Do they laugh it off? Do they cringe at the horrible memory of what happened in the old days?
Whatever their reaction, I am humbled to live among them today.