Tag Archives: High Plains

Dust is tough to mow

A word to the wise is in order as the Texas Panhandle recovers from this latest dirt/wind/mud-rain episode.

When you crank up the lawnmower, be sure you’re wearing some kind of mask.

I did precisely that — cranked up the mower — this morning and learned the lesson the hard way.

Every fourth pass I made with the mower across the lawn was downwind, meaning that the dirt that was embedded in the grass blew into my face. I should have known better than to try this chore without adequate protection.

I got the job done, then had to re-bathe to wash the dirt away.

All this is worth mentioning only to remind us all of how it used to be around here, many decades ago.

The Dust Bowl.

Its very name conjures up hideous memories among those old enough to recall when the sky filled with dirt from horizon to horizon. It blackened the sky. It blotted out the sun.

Those who didn’t flee to calmer locations, usually out west, stayed and fought their way through it. They were still standing when the dirt stopped flying. It took years for the weather to cycle its way back to something approaching “normal” around here. But it did.

When I think about that level of suffering, I don’t feel so bad about having to cope with a little dirt flying out of the grass as I cut it.

Still, a mask would have been nice.

Big wind conjures up grim images

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.