4/30 Progress

Mile and a bit walked, 3400 words despite various distractions and interruptions. Book probably a 3/8 done. Still a little dust in air, so the sky varies between faintly tan to Wedgwood blue.

Dust Up

And not in the sense of a small fight among congenial enemies, either. No, I’m looking at a full-bore, right out of the 1930s, 1950s, 1920s, 1910s, 1890s, 1860s, 1840s, dust storm. Oh, wait, not just the 1930s? Nope. Dust has always blown in the High Plains.

James P. Malin first pointed it out, in a set of articles for Kansas History in the 1940s. If you go back to the earliest newspapers and diaries from the settlers on the Great Plains, you will find reports of dust. Long before the plow broke the plains, the dust blew back and forth, north and south, east and west. We don’t know if the infamous Black Rollers of the 1930s and ’20s also occurred, because the Comanche and others didn’t keep records, but we know from archaeological reports that dust storms rolled across the plains since before the end of the Ice Age. No, the mammoth and giant ground sloths were not wheat farmers, nor did the Clovis and Folsom cultures have domesticated livestock that overgrazed anything. No internal combustion engines, no coal-fired power plants, no dust mulch left by dry-farming.

The current weather pattern matches that of the 1950s in many ways, including dust. Today’s batch is from Colorado and Kansas. Other days it tumbles in from New Mexico, or Texas, or the Oklahoma Panhandle. The soil is dry and the grass sparse after five years of below 30-year average rainfall. The wind picks up that dust, first a little, then more and more, and redistributes it. Today the sky has a reddish-brown tint, occasionally shifting to dark red-amber as thick batch of dirt blows through. Cold and dry means dust as much as does hot and dry.

And it filters into the house and cars via any little gap, just as it did in the Dirty ’30s and Filthy ’50s. I’ll be dusting like mad before bed, because I have terrible dust allergies. Yes, the windows are closed and latched. But one window, in the bathroom, stays cracked open for ventilation and the stuff comes in there, and every time I open a door.

Only one thing will settle the dust. As Ian Tyson sings, “Give me clear blue skies/ and Eighteen Inches of Rain.”

4/28 Progress

3300 words, hour at gym. Lovely day, except for the horde of starlings attacking the suet feeders. Am tempted to see if one can, indeed, bake four and twenty blackbirds into a pie.

Sunday Snippit

There are some people even Commander Rada Lord Ni Drako defers to . . .


“Claw One, abort, repeat abort.”

Damn and blast it, the Lord Defender swore silently. She pulled back on the stick and shifted thrust to the rear, banking and accelerating away from the spacecraft carrier. This made the third approach she’d been broken off from, and even she had her limits. The hard stars swung around her. Below the Night’s Claw, Drakon IV floated in the silence of space, cloud-marbled and serene. Unlike the mammal in the fighter’s cockpit.

She shifted thrust again once she’d cleared the carrier’s traffic flow and gravity well. Rada Ni Drako reached up and reset the checklist back to the “initial approach” line. She glanced at her fuel indicator and frowned. She had enough for one more approach. If that got waved off, she’d be better off returning to Drakon IV. Because the way her temper was building, if the damn landing signals officer couldn’t get his act together, she’d make her own landing bay in his “shed” using one of her torpedoes.

“Claw One, fourth for recovery, say bearing and velocity.”

Alarm bells started ringing in her mind. “Approach One, two zero by one eight four, forty-five, over.” Continue reading

Wonders of Weather

“Wonder if it’s ever going to rain.”

“You remember Noah’s flood?”

“Not personally, but I’ve read the story a few times.”

“We got two inches out of that deal.”

Climatologists and biologists classify the western Great Plains, or High Plains, (the region from eastern Montana to the Edwards Plateau, from the Rocky Mountain foothills east to the 100th Meridian,) as steppes with semi-arid climate. In English, that means the region has limited moisture, constant wind with high evaporation rates, and rainfall varies between “not all at once please” to “ahhhh, lovely” and “frikkin dust mutter mutter.” And blizzards. On the up side, major earthquakes are exceedingly rare and hurricanes tend to fizzle down to “tropical rains” by the time they stagger this far inland.

Between the variability and the agricultural foundations of the economy in this swath of North America, weather is always a safe topic of conversation. “Had a two-inch rain last night. Two inches between drops,” is not uncommon. “Nice sunset/sunrise.” “Think the wind’s going to blow?” (Meaning there’s 25 kt winds in progress, the birds are walking, and small children are not permitted outside unless tied to a 50 lb weight.) The causes of the weather are also discussed. I once heard that the reason ill-timed rains had arrived was “because those Lutherans were plowin’ on Sunday.” Why the Almighty would punish everyone else, or how Catholics, Church of Christ, and Mennonites were supposed to stop the Lutherans (MO Synod) remained undetermined before I had to leave the coffee shop.

I recall lovely summer nights spent sitting at various airports, cold soda-pop in hand, watching massive storm towers exploding into pillars of brilliant white, anvil tops sprawling east and north. As the sun set, they turned ivory, then rose and violet before fading into deep Wedgwood blue and disappearing into the twilight. And with them went any prayer of rain. Other times the air felt thick and wet, hanging heavy in the late afternoon. Shadow overspread the sky and the horizon turned dark. Overhead, the clouds developed the wavy undersides called mammalations, aka “do not fly there” because the churning rough air. When the air went still, and the sky turned a sickly green yellow, the hair on the back of the neck stood up. Time to duck for cover, as rain plummeted down. If luck remained, all that fell was rain or small hail. Otherwise the sirens wailed and the prayer went up from hundreds and thousands “please make it go away, please may no one get hurt.” And usually no one was.

Winter on the western plains is cold and windy, with horizontal snow. Or vertical snow, up to three feet deep that farmers love, ranchers growl at, and city kids frolic in, while the sheriff asks people to stay home. Sometimes the northern sky turns blue, but a different, deep low blue. Batten down the hatches, bring in the last of the tomatoes, and send the kids out with a jacket, because a Blue Norther is approaching. The temperature may drop 50 degrees Farenheit in an hour. But the clear, hard blue skies that follow, and the diamond hard glittering stars!

This leads to interesting metaphors and figures of speech. “Blowin’ like a son-of-a-gun,” is not uncommon. “Colder than a well-digger’s hip pocket,” “hotter than the hinges of Hades,” “so dry the trees are chasing the dogs,” “so hot I saw a dog chasin’ a cat and both were walkin’,” are not unheard of. During a lay-over in a small, central Plains town, I overheard a gent explaining that “Last night I heard strange noises down in the garden.”

“Oh?” another airport loafer inquired.

“Yup. Flipped on a light and saw that the racoons had formed a bucket brigade to water the sweet corn.”  Grins all around. I don’t doubt that this gent also has excused himself with “Gotta go and spray my catfish for ticks” or “It’s so dry, I’ve got four-year-old catfish that don’t know how to swim.”  Joking helps ease the pain of watching your crops, grass, and cattle shrivel under the water-sucking southwest winds and blistering sun.

I’m an Odd. I like living where you can see weather coming. Some people claim that the absence of trees makes people from the High Plains arrogant: we have nothing larger than ourselves. I think it goes the other way: we’re more inclined to humility because of the huge sky overhead and the enormous weather that passes through.