On 4th of July, I felt my first rain drops in 65 days.
Boise City, OK made the New York Times in May because they hadn’t had any rain in 222 days. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/us/04dust.html?_r=1&hp To date, they have had 1.18 inches of rain this year… I’ve been walking through the “Dust Bowl” (grasslands of New Mexico, Oklahoma panhandle and southwestern Kansas) during the worst drought in 100 years. It’s worse than during those Dirty 30’s, when all the top soil dried up and blew away in huge clouds of dust hundreds of feet tall that swallowed up houses, caused fatal dust pneumonia, sent most people packing and drove many mad.
There is a book by Timothy Egan called, “The Worst Hard Time” about the people who stayed through the Dirty 30s, about why they came and how and why they stayed. I have been privileged to get to know some of their descendants, many of whom farm the same land with a quiet stoicism and acceptance of this year’s hard time.
It is simple, with no rain, there are no crops except those that are heavily irrigated from local wells. There is no grass this year in New Mexico’s Kiowa National Grasslands. No grass. Not a blade of green in the hundred miles of high desert I slowly walked through, just bare earth with brown tired grass leftover from last year. Every rancher has to buy hay… but there is no hay except for irrigated plots. I asked my host in Abbott, NM (population 2) where they got the huge new truckload of hay that her son had just arrived with, and she said, “It’s last years hay from someone’s barn.” When I asked her how they are getting by, she replied simply, “I have the best neighbors.”
After spending the night in the Baptist church, I was in a tiny cafe/diner in Keyes, OK. There were a few ranchers having their breakfast before starting the day. We talked about them selling off most of their herds because of the drought. They also said there’d been 4 fires the night before from lightening strikes, one of which had burned down a few buildings of a local rancher. This is a common story along my route, fire, fire, fire, dry heat and wind.
I can believe that this wind could drive someone crazy, back in the thirties or now. Day after day, for months, with very few breaks, I’ve walked with the wind whistling in my ears. Sometimes the wind has been strong enough to blow me off the road, and walking into a headwind makes 15 miles feel like 30. I end the day with wobbly legs, red pinched skin and sand everywhere… I remember seeing a 1928 silent film called “The Wind”( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BVjGloLEB4&feature=related ), set in west Texas, about a woman who goes mad from the constant wind. I now relate this on a personal level.
The wind is like a soap-opera character in the story of my journey, sometimes a good friend gently pushing me forward and cooling my heated skin. Then plotting against me the very next day, foiling my progress and howling in my ears for hours. Or abandoning me entirely to the hot midday sun on a 105 degree day. It is practice in patience and perseverance to know the wind so intimately. This is something the farmers and ranchers learn when they take their first steps in this landscape.