Monthly Archives: July 2011

Dust Bowl book a great read, especially this summer

I just read “The Worst Hard Time” again.

No, I understood it perfectly well the first time about three years ago. It just seemed much more relevant this summer with our on-going drought.

In the early 2000s Timothy Egan was wise enough to research and interview some who had survived the Dust Bowl. His book chronicles several families, beginning with what brought them to the area where Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado met and almost died together in the 1930s.

The book begins with the euphoria of getting free land in one of the last areas to be opened to homesteading in America in the early 1900s, then covers the combination of unusually high amounts of rain and record wheat prices.

The bulk of Egan’s book details what followed as the combination of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression settled over the area. Here just a few tidbits from the book -

- In 1935 850 million tons of topsoil blew from the southern plains. That was about 8 million tons were every U.S. resident.

-Through the Dust Bowl farmers lost about 480 tons of soil per acre.

-The resulting dust storms caused by farmed lands being open and a serious drought caused some dust storms to be up to 10,000 feet high and 200 miles wide.

-Some of the biggest storms blew far enough east to coat New York and the White House in thick layers of dust. Ships 200 miles out in the Atlantic reported being enveloped in the storms.

-The dust was so bad many animals suffocated or had their digestive tracts blocked by mud from dust they’d inhaled mixing with body liquids.

-The storms were so ferocious the sand blew hard enough to permanently blind people caught outdoors. Some storms so blocked the sun and were so thick people literally couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces in the middle of the day.

-Static electricity was often so bad people shaking hands would both be knocked to the ground. Cars often shorted-out from the electricity in the air.

-The toll on humans was horrendous. Many people died of what was called dust pneumonia. Some actually starved while others resorted to eating road-kills and canned tumbleweeds.

The Worst Hard Time focuses on the people who gutted it out from start to stop. First-hand accounts from people interviewed tell how hard things were and how hard so many worked to simply survive.

The book also details how then controversial conservation programs worked to help right the longtime wrong man in that region brought upon themselves by poor farming practices.

To me, at least, this was all more relevant because that region is currently in a drought the rivals the one of the 1930s.

CLICK HERE TO READ A RECENT STORY WRITTEN ABOUT THIS YEAR’S DROUGHT BY THE EAGLE’S BECCY TANNER. Be sure to check out her photos in the photo gallery with the article.

Egan’s idea to research the book before the last of the Dust Bowl survivors had passed was excellent and his writing is very good.

The Worst Hard Time is published by Houghton Mifflin. Sorry, I can’t give you a page length because I read it on a Kindle. It’s a sizable book but I’d loved for it to have been even longer.

Hard copies go for about $18.50. Soft copies and Kindle versions are about $8.75.

I’ll be heading out to buy some paperback versions. I can’t wait to share it with some friends.

Wild flowers a hint of things to come

I’ve seen some beautiful flowers in my time. None, though, brought smiles like those Kathy, Jerrod and I walked amid Monday afternoon.

Gaillardia is one of several wild flowers doing well on the re-established prairie project.

The five or six kinds of wildflowers were solid proof our efforts at our farm near Lawrence to convert last year’s brome and fescue pasture back to prairie are working.

To benefit wildlife and our hunting we’d killed about six acres of sterile pasture and put down the seeds of 13 wild flowers¬† and six or seven kinds of native grass. Hundreds of flowers scattered about told us the program was working.

Walking around I saw many clumps of what I assume, and hope, are native grass. Unfortunately I can’t tell big bluestem from Indian grass or any other plant until they’ve reached a sizable height.

As well as fun for human eyes the assorted wildflowers, their seeds and the insects they attract will better serve a wide variety of birds and small mammals. The tall grass will be bedding areas for deer, cottontails and other animals.

The project is far from complete. Experts say it’ll take about five years for all of the grasses to show themselves. The new prairie will require work in the way of burning. We’re hoping to burn 1/3 of the grasslands annually so we leave plenty of habitat for critters using the grass and forbs.

And animals seem to be responding to this project and others on our farm. Last year we saw our first cottontail and woodchuck in many years. Last fall Jerrod saw the most deer and the most turkeys he’d ever seen on our place…his first trip to a treestand.

This spring butterflies rose in clouds from a blooming clover patch as I crossed.

We’re off to a good start.

Duck news great, Zebe news not

The feds and several waterfowl organizations just announced  great news for breeding ducks numbers in the northern U.S. and Canada.

The state has just announced two more lakes are infested with zebra mussels.

The first of three major things needed for a great waterfowl season in Kansas has happened. There's a record number of ducks nesting up north. Now we need good brood survival for great fall flights and good habitat in Kansas to attract and hold migrating birds.

U.S. and Canadian wildlife officials yesterday announced the annual breeding duck survey showed a record 45.6 million ducks up on their traditional breeding grounds. As the folks in North Dakota can tell you, there’s now shortage of habitat for them to raise ducklings in, either.

Mallard numbers are up 9% over last year and 22% over the long-term average.

Pintails are up 26% over 2010 and 10% over the long-term average.

Blue-winged teal are up 41%  and 91% and redheads are up 27% and 106%.

The only major species to show marked declines over last year are green-winged teal at -17% and wigeon at -14%.


Zebra mussels were recently detected in Council Grove and Melvern Lakes. The Council Grove zebes probably washed in from nearby Council Grove City Lake. The Melvern mussels probably hiked a ride on a boat not properly cleaned and cared for to prevent the spread of the invasive species that will cause more than $1 billion in damages across the U.S. this year.


Come on, people, we don’t need to let these things take over all of our Kansas waters. Since first found in Kansas at El Dorado Lake in 2003 their spread across the state has been one of the worst in the nation.