Monday, July 13, 2009

Living in the Dust Storms

U.S. Gov't photo
This book, The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan, is quite remarkable!
by Charlie Leck

The very center of the famous dustbowl of the United States is in the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. From the south, it extends all the way from Lubbock, Texas north through Kansas and just touches southern Nebraska, southeastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico.

The people who lived in that geographic region during the great depression suffered the hard times twice over. They not only lived through the depression itself, but also through one of the worst droughts in human history and in the raging, blowing, constant dust.

"Not a tree, anywhere. Not a slice of shade. Not a river dancing away, life it its blood. Not a bump of high ground to break the horizon, give some perspective, spell the monotone of flatness."
Timothy Egan's remarkable story about a decade in the dustbowl is so very worth the time it takes to read. The book flows -- sometimes like a gentle stream and sometimes like a raging river -- and it is very difficult to put down. This is an historical and biographical account that reads like an intense novel.

Egan won a National Book Award for this remarkable book. It deserved that and more.

You've read Steinbeck. Once you read The Worst Hard Time, you'll understand Grapes of Wrath better and you'll realize you've read something just as solid as that famous novel; for this is the story of those who did not leave and barely survived.

Before they went to their graves, Egan gathered the stories of those who lived through some of the worst sand and dust storms imaginable -- storms that would leave their homes buried in sand that piled up like cement. These folks lived through hardships that would seem unimaginable to us until we hear their stories.

The nightmarish tale in this book also presents us with a warning about the power of nature and natural disasters. It takes us to task for the careless ways we seek to satisfy our lust for wealth and achievement; for the dust storms didn't need to happen if the grasslands of that prairie had been left alone and not turned down by the plow.

A friend in Colorado sent me this book several weeks ago. He raved about it and told me I would not believe how smoothly and beautifully it read. He was right-on and I so appreciate having gotten this book into my hands; for I never would have read it had it not been sent to me.

Try to imagine it! There comes the ceaseless pounding of sand, raging and tearing into everything including your heart and soul. That is how Willie Dawson described the blowing sand and dust in a letter to her son John, sent from Dalhart, Texas.

"Never in all the 31 years we lived in the West, have we seen the thing continued for three days and nights without a stretch, without one minute between violent gusts and lambasting dirt deluging us unceasingly."
You won't be sorry that you encountered the heart-wrenching story in this book.

Kansas State University Photo:
Goodwell, Oklahoma, 4 June 1937
Those are not hills behind these homes on the flatlands of the high prairies.

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