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.”


2 thoughts on “Dust Up

  1. But, but, it has to be the evil white agricultural* patriarchy that is causing the problem.

    *I find it interesting that it is the same group that contains the vast majority of vegans, that advocates the evils of agriculture.

    • The all-plants, all-the-time group has a dim grasp on what pure herbivory would require, at least those that I’ve met.

      The “capitalism did it” argument, much more elegantly expressed by Donald Worster in Dust Bowl has been heavily dented, if not 100% refuted, by Geoff Cunfer’s On the Great Plains. Worster is pleasant to read, but Cunfer’s got a lot more data (which is part of why his book isn’t exactly unputdownable.) I wish I wrote half as well as Worster, who happens also to be a very nice person.

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