Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan

Sunday afternoon, Melinda's

This book describes the history of the dust bowl, it's origins and the folks that survived or didn't survive. We generally agreed that our understanding of this time in American history was woefully inadequate, and were astounded to learn that the dust bowl could have been completely avoided had our arrogance not exceeded our common sense.

After the American's moved the Native American's to the plains they discovered there was money to be made and moved them right back off. Seas of native grass were plowed to make way for wheat. Wheat was considered the savior crop and was shipped to Russia as fast as it could be harvested.

The collapse of the stock market in '29, the end of the Russian demand for wheat dramatically lowered the price of wheat. So, to make ends meet the farmers actually increased their growing capacity to sell more wheat at the lower price. (Golly... that sounds a lot like how the corn farmers are working these days.) Once the market totally collapsed many farmers left and headed elsewhere to make the next big dollar. These folks left behind thousands and thousands of acres of unplanted land. Then, as if things weren't just awful enough, a draught began. All that dry, unplanted soil was ripe for the blowing in the great plains winds.

Some of us were put off by the pacing of the book, but others didn't mind (or notice) the jumping from character to character. We agreed that it was a little hard to get through the first few chapters, but once we were in it was compelling.

After reading this it became clear why President Roosevelt was seen as such a savior to the common man, although the plan to plant trees from Canada to Mexico seems a little misguided, but who are we to judge? We are expecting to see more written on the New Deal in the near future due to the popularity of this book.

It appears that perhaps we've learned nothing from our past, as the region now is largely watered from the underground Ogallala Aquifer, which according to Egan "is the nation's biggest source of underground freshwater" and that today's agribusiness is "drawing the water down eight times faster than nature can refill it. In parts of the Texas Panhandle, hydrologists say, the water will be gone by 2010."