Sep 18, 2009

The Worst Hard Time

For thousands of years, the panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas were seas of firmly-set grass--able to withstand drought, fierce winds, the inferno of many Julys, and the icy cold of winter after winter. They fed bison, the ranchers' cattle and gave Native Americans their hunting grounds.

Millennia of beautiful stability gave way within just a few decades with the arrival of the farmer and the plow. Countless acres were ripped up and seeds planted in the dirt. For a time, it seemed as tho it would work. The new settlers were prosperous. The rains and the towns came, and the crops were rich and plentiful. But it wouldn't last. They had sown the seeds of disaster by exposing the dirt to the wind and to dry spells. The world literally fell down upon the farmers of the Great Plains. They had created a Dust Bowl.

I'd had this book on my overloaded bookshelves since 2006, when it came out in paperback. Heartbreaking and yet reaffirming of human resolve (or stubbornness), The Worst Hard Time gives a mesmerizing, chronological account of this era of human-engineered, environmental catastrophe. Notably, author Timothy Egan presents parts of the story through the words of diaries. Egan's descriptions of day-to-day life, the dust storms and the havoc they brought are vivid and unforgettable. You might wonder, like me, if we've learned all that we should from the experience.

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