Dust Bowl Era Disaster

 My friend and neighbor, Joe McDonnell, and I take yearly three day trips ‘west’ as part of an autumn regimen, traveling only the blue two-lane highways and as many miles of gravel roads as was necessary to get to our destinations. We are of the mind, that it’s the ‘journey’ not the destination that intrigues us, when most travelers these days just want to get there as soon as possible or, as a tour bus coordinator cousin of mine laments, of passengers on the bus concentrating on their smartphone screens rather than looking out the window at the area they're traveling through. Often our trips begin before sunrise here in Roseau County, Minnesota so that when we cross into North Dakota at Drayton, the sun is just becoming bright in the rearview mirror. The miles west from there are flatland miles, more of them denuded every year, erasing the definition of fencelines, horizon and sky. Miles-long windrows of bulldozed windbreaks, their roots wrenched from the soil they were planted to protect 60-70 years ago, lay end to end, their stately crowns meshed together like handfuls of broken twigs awaiting an ignited match.     
     Something I learned quite recently in my Christmas-gift book from Joe: Best of Dee Brown’s West: An Anthology” is knowledge of the Timber Culture Act of 1873. During the height of the Great Plains land rush, a provision was made that enabled settlers to acquire an additional 160 acres by planting specified acres of trees and cultivating them for a period of 8 to ten years. Many small groves of oak, maple, walnut and others still found on the plains had their origins in this act. Maybe we see them yet . . .

     As philosopher George Santayana is quoted to have said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I have to wonder what has gotten into -- or, what was left out of--the heads of these contemporary ignorant, arrogant individuals.


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