Dust in the wind

  • The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl

    Timothy Egan, 320 pgs, hardcover: $28. Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006
 

On Sept. 14, 1930, a strange dirt cloud swirled out of Kansas into the Texas Panhandle. Weathermen dismissed it as an oddity, but it marked the beginning of the worst long-term environmental disaster the United States has ever known — the Dust Bowl. That bleak period is chronicled in The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan’s absorbing account of the people who struggled to survive on the southern Great Plains during the 1930s.

For generations today who may imagine the Dust Bowl was just another drought, Egan’s book hammers home the staggering magnitude of the disaster and, most importantly, the fact that it was triggered by acts of man, not nature.

Rarely have the consequences of plundering the environment for short-term economic gain been spelled out as starkly as then, on the vast grasslands from southern Nebraska to northern Texas. Between 1910 and 1915, wheat prices doubled and homesteaders rushed to plant grain. Cowboys warned of the soil, "The best side is up." But eager farmers ignored that advice — and paid a terrible price. In a few years, their plows had ravaged the hardy turf. Drought descended, and countless tons of topsoil went airborne in storms that suffocated cattle and buried buildings.

In interviews with survivors, Egan hammers home the human toll: people driven mad, children dead of "dust pneumonia," families subsisting on ground-up, pickled tumbleweeds.

Eventually, the Dust Bowl led to soil-conservation districts and better farming practices, but Egan is not optimistic about the future. Even now, he notes, pumps suck water from the Ogallala Aquifer beneath the Great Plains eight times faster than nature can replace it. Clearly, the lessons of history often go unlearned.

 

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    North Cascades Institute seeks their next Executive Director to lead the organization, manage $4 million operating budget, and oversee 60 staff. Send resume/cover letter to...
  • DISTRICT MANAGER
    The San Juan Islands Conservation District is seeking applicants for the District Manager position. The position is open until filled and application plus cover letter...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Time Arts, a Bozeman-based nonprofit, is seeking an Executive Director. MTA advocates for and produces public artworks that advance social & environmental justice in...
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.