Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A glimpse of the dirty 30s

Here lately we have had some days of very high winds sustaining at about 30 mph with gusts up to 60 or so. Because of this we have had a brief glimpse into what was so much worse in the dirty 30s. The Dust Bowl. Last Thursday the dirt was so dense that there were accidents on highways with fatalities, numerous road closures and a brown sky. You could actually taste the dirt in the air, feel it sting your face, and leave a layer of the finer bits for cleaning up on car dashboards, shelves, computer monitors, any surface that will hold the dirt.

Thank goodness for years of farming practices making advances in new practices for soil conservation and land management. Because of these simple tools the farmer uses today we were not engulfed in a rolling cloud of dust throughout the entire region. It was localized to areas that had bare fields or dry pastures that had been overgrazed. But what they did not have in the 30s were the cattle trucks and grain trucks trying to drive down the road to deliver their load or get to the next pickup location.

The wind is still a powerful force and out here on the prairie there is nothing to break it or slow it down. It is relentless. It picks up anything not hunkered down and tosses it across fields, over roads, and piles those items where ever it can find a barrier. The most prominent thing we see getting pushed around by the wind are the tumbleweeds. They are ripe for the picking. They break from their root hold and scatter their seeds where ever the wind takes them. They get tangled up in the fences, in alcoves of buildings, in the wind breaks, anywhere something can grab them and hold them.

We have built houses with better construction techniques to keep much of the dirt out so we don't have to do the wet towels on the window sills. We may still have to dust, but we won't be needing the shop vac to suck up large quantities of dirt from the floors. The cars we drive still get a fine film in them, but more so because we have to open the doors to get in and out than from just dirt sneaking in around cracks and crevices.

What would have made these wind events less dust would have been a nice layer of snow. Yes the snow would blow around and cause blizzards but where it lands it tends to eventually melt and provide the much needed moisture to hold the dirt in place and give the fields planted with hopeful wheat a much needed drink. It would also anchor more of that fine topsoil where it is and not rearrange it such that it fills the air and makes driving hazardous or breathing difficult.

So if you are blessed with snow, please know that there are those of us who would gladly take some of that for our fields, gardens, yards, and roads to just settle the dust - so to speak.