Dear Ken Burns, THIS is the Dust Bowl

This morning when Matt got up he said he was going to try to “beat the wind” to get some things done outside.   But we both know full well, there is no beating the wind here; the wind beats you.  Every time.   We are enduring the Dust Bowl of this century, trying to farm, ranch, and make a living in an environment that is not conducive to life.  The first year we owned our farm, 2012, we received 4 inches of total rainfall. We live on the moon.

The wheat fields behind our house.

Yesterday Matt came in from a 13-hour day with dirt lines on his face, beard full of the field he was working in, completely discouraged.  The wind does that. It washes your dreams of rain down the drain. It sinks your financial goal of staying afloat one more year.  It pounds your hope and optimism into tiny particles of dust that fill your eyes and ears and mouth and makes you spit them out yourself.

hay bales
There should be grass covering this brown dirt patch behind our yard…

Wind here gets into your bones. There is no escaping to a Starbucks or a strip mall or a park full of trees.  It sounds like we’re blowing to Oz outside, and lots of days I think we will. As Laurie described it last week, we reside in a sepia-toned photograph.  One reason I started this blog is so that one day, the next Ken Burns will find our journal through the dustbowl somewhere in cyberspace, and use our old tired photos for his documentary on how the Southwest turned into the Sahara.  When I saw the haboob approaching from the north this morning, I went out with my camera.  I came in with some photographs that don’t do the brown landscape justice, and teeth full of dirt.  This is not even close to the worst dust storm or wind we’ve had this month, but I try not to take too many photos.  No one wants to remember this.

tree line
The tree line guards our house from the coming dirt cloud.

This dust bowl is better than the last one, though. Better farming practices cause less dirt to blow.  We don’t plow a single field here, we strip-till if we have to and no-till if we can. Four-hundred-foot-deep water wells provide irrigation so that we can grow crops and have running water in our house. The people who planted the windbreak of pine trees around our yard years ago are my heroes.  I do not live in a dugout or a shanty.  I have high-speed Internet, a dumpster service, and satellite television.  I live like royalty inside the walls of our old stucco farmhouse.

Matt and Trevor looking at storm cloud
Waiting for rain in this New Mexican desert. Got this shot of Matt and Trevor last June when we saw the first clouds here.

But I sure would like to let my kids play in the yard one day.  It would be fun to grill on the back deck one evening.  I’d like to unload groceries from the car without the back door slamming off its hinges every time we try to go through.  It’d be great to take a walk outside.  And when the wind stops blowing, we will.  It will rain some time this year.  Last year, June 18 brought the first rain cloud.  We ended up with about 9 inches for 2013 and we enjoyed every last drop. That’s still three consecutive years of less than the rainfall averages of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.  But we will take it.


6 thoughts on “Dear Ken Burns, THIS is the Dust Bowl

  1. One year in Albuquerque when I was still teaching elementary music, the spring wind storms were particularly nasty. It coincided with the year that Easter was very late and spring break was still scheduled to coincide with the holiday. The kids couldn’t go outside for recess and were already pretty crazy because the break seemed like it would never come. And dust seeped in through the windows and coated my classroom.
    I don’t envy your husband’s outdoor work. But I do miss living in New Mexico.

  2. Michelle, your blog is great! Beautiful writing and I love the photos–also enjoyed hearing what you’re up to these days! I knew you were in New Mexico; I lived in New Mexico off and on and have some family there but further North, in the mountains. I have spent my life driving across those flat, desert miles! Here in El Paso, the wind makes me crazy and I too share the stay-at-home-mom plight, so your words were so very relevant to me. I’ve played around with the idea of starting a blog to sharpen up my writing a bit and I feel really inspired now 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words! I finally bit the bullet and started this, and I’m really enjoying it, much more than I thought I would! I just felt like everyone else already says everything I want to say, so why bother…but decided to do it as a record for our family and since I’m not a scrapbooker, a fun way to look back on these days. Start one! I’ll read it!

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