Tag Archives: Texas Panhandle

Rain is no longer an annoyance

There once was a time when I hated the rain.

I lived in a city, Portland, Ore., where it rains constantly. I grew up there. I detested the endless drizzle.

Then I got married and moved eventually to Texas. We lived first in Beaumont, along the Gulf Coast, where it rains a lot, too. There, though, the rain comes in furious bursts. Then the sun would come out. So would the humidity. Ugghh!

After a while we moved to the Texas Panhandle, where it rains a lot less. Of late, the Panhandle has received even less than that, which is to say it’s been tinder-dry here. We’ve had one day of measurable rain since October 2017.

Today, though, we received another healthy dose of measurable precipitation. More is on the way, along with some thunder and lightning, or so we are being told by the TV weather forecasters. Hey, they got this one right. I’ll accept their projections for the next day or so.

The rain we’re getting through the night and into the next day won’t do a thing to break the drought we’ve endured for the past six months. It’s a bit strange to recall that a year ago at this time the Panhandle was being drenched. The playas were filling up. Farmers were grinning from ear to ear; so were the ranchers who watched their cattle fatten up with the rich harvest of grass and grain the rain produced.

Then it stopped. We finished 2017 with nary a drop of precipitation, even though the first half of the year enabled us to nearly double our annual average rate of rain and snowfall.

Here we are today. The rain is falling. It’s coming in fits and starts.

I no longer hate the rain. It brings a sense of comfort.

Weird, eh?

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

Praying for sun gives way to praying for rain

There once was a time — long ago! — when rain drove me nuts. It made me stir-crazy. I suffered cabin fever because it rained constantly in my hometown of Portland, Ore.

I took a couple of years away from home to serve in the U.S. Army; my hitch took me to Vietnam, where it also rains a good bit of the time.

I got married not long after I returned home. My wife, sons and I eventually moved to Texas; our first stop was in Beaumont, which also gets a good bit of rain. Then my wife and I moved to Amarillo, where, um, it doesn’t rain so much.

We are now in the midst of a drought. It’s been months on end since we had any measurable moisture.

I no longer pray for sunshine. I now pray for rain. I am doing so this evening. The weather forecasters are telling us we can expect some rain tomorrow.

I hope they’re right. Oh, brother, I want them to be correct.

I’ve written on this subject before.

This isn't the Dust Bowl, but …

Forgive me if I’m repeating myself. Still, it bears repeating. The Texas Panhandle doesn’t get a lot of rain annually, only about 20 inches — give or take. This year we’ve got to go some if we’re going to reach our annual average.

The region is quite dependent on agriculture, which quite naturally requires water. Those dry land farmers who don’t pump groundwater to irrigate their crops rely exclusively on the sky to bring rainfall to them. Five-plus months of no measurable “precip” has deprived them of their income — and their ability to produce food that ends up on our dinner tables.

My outlook about rain has changed dramatically since my boyhood. I griped so much about the rain I drove my parents — chiefly my dad — to near madness.

With all of that said, I think I’ll wait — and hope — that the Texas Panhandle gets wet.

Planning for an education on Texas history

We’re heading downstate soon for a two-week tour and we’ve made a tentative decision on one of the sights we intend to take in: the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

I regret I have not yet toured this place.

It’s not far from the State Capitol and it carries the name of one of the state’s more legendary political figures: former lieutenant governor and Texas comptroller Bob Bullock.

Bullock died some years ago of cancer. He was an irascible, often grouchy politician. He was a crusty, traditional Texas Democrat; by that I mean he wasn’t what you’d call a squishy liberal. I met him once while I was working in print journalism; it was near the end of his life and, to be candid, he looked like death warmed over. Lt. Gov. Bullock did not take good care of himself.

But, oh man, this man — who died in June 1999 — loved Texas. He was fond of finishing his public speeches with that gravely “God bless Texas” salutation. His political descendants from both parties have adopted that blessing as their own.

The museum in his memory opened in 2001 and it tells the story of Texas history like no other such display.

Now, I offer that view with no disrespect at all to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on the campus at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, just down the highway a bit from Amarillo. I’ve been to the PPHM many times and have seen the flyers proclaiming it to be the “finest historical museum” in Texas. It’s a wonderful exhibit and I see something new every time I visit it.

Our RV travels are going to take us downstate for a tour of the Hill Country and later to the Golden Triangle, where we lived for nearly 11 years before moving in early 1995 to the Texas Panhandle. We’ll finish our jaunt in the Metroplex before heading back to Amarillo.

I am so looking forward to touring what I have heard for many years is a beautiful exhibit in Texas’s capital city.

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.

Will this young man enter the speaker’s race?

The Texas Tribune has listed five state legislators who either have announced plans to run for Texas House speaker or are interested in joining the fray.

I looked the list over and was expecting to see a name from Amarillo. He wasn’t among the five of them.

So, with that I’ll offer this on-the-record request for state Rep. Four Price, the Republican representative from House District 87: Go for it, young man! Join the field of legislators who want to be the next Man of the House!

Price will see this blog post. He already knows that I have great personal regard for him. I am acknowledging my bias, OK?

Rep. Price brings some political muscle to this contest, were he to run for speaker.

First of all, Texas Monthly rated him among the state’s “Ten Best Legislators” in 2017. TM’s editors like his commitment to mental health issues.

Second of all, Price beat back a challenge from a guy who had some serious financial backing from Empower Texans, the far-right-wing political action group that had targeted a number of incumbent legislators. Price rolled up 79 percent of the vote in the March 6 Republican Party primary race. The way I see it, a victory margin of that size has purchased Price a good bit of political capital that he can spend while campaigning for speaker.

Third of all, Price would give the Texas Panhandle an important — and loud — voice in the Legislature at a time when it is experiencing a diminishing level of clout in Austin. It’s part of the state’s shifting population trend, with Central and North Texas growing at a much more rapid rate than the vast reaches of West Texas.

Price told me some months ago that he was part of current Speaker Joe Straus’s legislative team in the House. He endorsed the leadership that Speaker Straus brought to the lower legislative chamber. It follows, then, that a Speaker Price would follow the lead established by Straus, who’s not running for re-election.

I say all this knowing that this decision rests exclusively with Four Price and his family. Were he to run for speaker and then be selected by his House colleagues, he would be elevated immediately from a part-time citizen-legislator to a full-time political leader — even though the job won’t pay him accordingly.

It’s a sacrifice to run for speaker and to subject oneself to the abuse that goes with the territory.

Still, I hope Four Price goes for it.

Nature: Mother of all that is fickle

Can there possibly be another force that is more fickle than Mother Nature?

Consider what has transpired in just the past six months.

We began 2017 enduring a virtual deluge of rain and, yes, some snow. The Texas Panhandle set records for moisture accumulation during the first half of the year. Amarillo reached its annual precipitation level before the summer had expired.

The playas were full. The grass was green and lush. Our livestock were well fed. Dryland farmers were beside themselves.

Life was good, man. Remember?

Then came October. Or thereabouts. It all stopped. Virtually nothing has fallen from the sky since.

The playas aren’t so full these days. The grass that goes dormant in the winter isn’t likely to bounce back with its traditional gusto. Those dryland farmers, the folks who depend on Mother Nature to irrigate their land, enabling them to grow their crops, providing harvests that fill our pantries with food and their pockets with cash? They’re still beside themselves — but for vastly different reasons.

The weather forecasters now are sounding borderline panicky as they report on the extreme fire danger that exists. The wind that usually arrives in these parts in March are howling. The grass that should be somewhat moist from those spring thundershowers are susceptible to being torched by the tiniest of sparks.

What are our remedies? We cannot tell Mother Nature to do our bidding. She doesn’t jump when we tell her to jump.

When he was governor of Texas, Rick Perry took some ridicule when he suggested Texans pray for rain in the middle of an earlier drought. His view was that if we sought divine help, then perhaps we could rely on our collective faith that our fortunes would turn for the better.

They did. The rain came. We were left to wonder whether our prayers made the difference. Who can say categorically that they didn’t?

That time is at hand once again. Mother Nature’s fickleness is causing plenty of angst across our parched landscape. Given that we cannot force her to adhere to our demands, maybe we can go over her head and talk directly to God.

We need help from wherever it’s available.

Wind: a curse and a blessing

I wrote this tweet earlier today: It’s official. I have grown weary of this incessant Texas Panhandle wind. Enough … already!

Truth be told, I view the legendary Panhandle wind in two contexts.

Yes, it’s a curse. The dirt that flies gets in my eyes. It coats everything. Our recreational vehicle that now shelters us full time is constantly dusty, which drives my wife crazy; me, too, actually.

Our RV rocks and rolls as the wind buffets it. Hey, it’s March! We’re supposed to be this windy on the High Plains of Texas. I get it, man!

That’s the curse part of it.

The blessing? It provides “fuel” to turn those thousands of wind turbines one sees on our expansive landscape. When I hear the wind howl outside, when I see the trees bend and the tall grass wave I think of the benefit that the wind brings.

It provides evidence of the wisdom in Texas’s heavy investment in wind energy. I’ve noted already on this blog how Texas and California have more in common than one might think.

Both states have developed sophisticated wind energy economies. I cannot remember at this moment which of these states is No. 1 in the nation; something tells me it’s California. Texas, though, is a strong No. 2 if it hasn’t overtaken California already in the amount of energy produced by wind.

I happen to be a big proponent of alternatives to fossil fuels. I am chagrined in the extreme by Donald John Trump’s continued emphasis on drilling for oil and for the development of what he keeps referring to as “clean coal,” whatever the hell that means.

The wind that annoys the daylights out of folks like me also has contributed to the surplus of fossil fuel that has helped — more or less — keep a lid on the price of oil and natural gas.

As I keep reminding anyone who’ll listen, wind is infinite and clean. There’s no need to call it “clean wind.”

OK, so it blows a lot here. I might be officially sick and tired of it, I also recognize the long-term benefit it brings.

Puppy Tales, Part 47

I’m kicking myself at this very moment. Toby the Puppy and I went for a walk on this wind-whipped Texas Panhandle day across the RV park where we’re holed up for the time being.

We walked to our east toward a wire fence. We saw a horse grazing near the fence. I thought, “Oh, let’s go see the horse.” I said something out loud to Toby, whose ears perked up and he started looking for the equine critters.

He spotted the horse, a young gelding, near the fence line.

Toby pulled real hard on his leash, wanting to rush toward the beast.

We approached the horse. I reached across the fence. The horse inched toward my outstretched hand. I began stroking his snout.

I had picked up Toby at this point, trying to settle him down just a bit.

Then I looked a little bit away and noticed a younger horse sauntering toward us. He came up close … as in real close.

Then came the moment that makes me want to kick myself. I didn’t have a camera in my hand to record Toby and his latest young best friend going nose to nose for a brief get-acquainted encounter.

For just a brief moment, I thought Toby — who fancies himself to be much larger than he really is — was just a bit skittish at this much-larger critter sticking his face close to the puppy’s face.

Toby got over his nerves. He extended his nose toward the horse. They got along just fine.

Then we walked away.

I am hoping for a return meeting. I also hope when it occurs I’ll be prepared to record it for the rest of the world to see.

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.