An Amarillo photographer's personal journey through the Dust Bowl- with past and present eyes.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Another week - another dust storm - Amarillo April 29, 2014

The dust storms are becoming more frequent here in Amarillo and more intense. Yesterday was the worst yet.

What started out as a beautiful spring day gave way to a wall of dirt that came in on leading edge of a cold front.

It was a nasty day, high winds and grit. You could feel it on your teeth and in your nose. My aching lungs feel like they've been sandblasted.

Once the front past, the dirt hung in the air for hours, coating everything. I spent over an hour sweeping my back porch this morning and will spend many more dusting the inside of the house - everything is coated.

Praying for rain to wash the dirt off of everything, but none is forecast.

-Steve Douglass

(C) Steve Douglass 

(C)Steve Douglass 

(C) Steve Douglass 

(C) Steve Douglass 

(C) Steve Douglass 

(C) Steve Douglass 

Steve Douglass

(C) Steve Douglass 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The "Golden Spread" Texas Panhandle from the air.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge 
On a recent trip from here to there I had a great window seat and took a few photos of "The Golden Spread" which is the Texas Panhandle - AKA the Texas High Plains a large natural grassland in northwest Texas.

Here is where a large part of the Dust Bowl occurred - an almost treeless area now dominated by wheat production.


-Steve Douglass 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ken Burn's Dust Bowl to reprise tonight nationwide!

He was blunt. The doctor had looked inside an otherwise healthy farm hand, a man in his early twenties and told him what he saw.

"You are filled with dirt." the doctor said. The young man died within the day.

The Dust Bowl re-airs in two parts tonight and tomorrow night on PBS stations nationwide. Check your local listings. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Yet another day in the new Dust Bowl

February is our driest month and whenever a front blows in it brings dirt - lot's of dirt. Here are a few photos of today's mobile real estate in Amarillo. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dust Bowl tourism?

CONNECT AMARILLO - The Oklahoma and Texas panhandles expect an uptick in tourism following a two-part television series on the Dust Bowl, what many call the nation's worst man-made disaster.

PBS' series on "The Dust Bowl" concluded Monday night. The film by Ken Burns featured interviews with a number of Panhandle residents who lived through a decade's worth of drought and wind storms.

The executive director of the Guymon Chamber of Commerce, Jada Breeden, expects interest in the area to pick up due to the series.
Nick Olson, director of the XIT Museum in Dalhart, Texas, said the series and books about the period will bring people to the region. Olson says many people who visit think the area still has sand dunes. He says the dunes exist but are now grass-covered.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Great review for: The Dust Bowl

By Ned Martel, Published: November 16

This past April, there was no Pulitzer for fiction. Judges and prize administrators struggled to find the right work for right now, and then they gave up. One aftermath assessment: Novels have gotten twee.

In televised nonfiction, on the other hand, Ken Burns has no problem with the big picture. His documentaries for PBS are never not epic. He knows how to make chapters of America’s past seem urgent, whether he’s obsessing over a sport (baseball) or a musical genre (jazz). He’s unafraid of going wider, too, having assembled sagas on World War II and, most famously, the Civil War.

Like good novelists, Burns finds quiet awakenings amid everyday travails, no matter the time period. There’s no real problem with doing this, except the PBS impresario tends to exhaust interest in an epoch as if he’s conducting an honors seminar in the history department. Halfway through, while we’re all furrowing in airless archives, a question often arises: Can this be taken pass-fail?

With “The Dust Bowl,” Burns keeps himself to four concise hours and ably sifts the story out of the dirt. As the filmmaker chronicles farmers in the southern Plains during the Depression years, he looks more carefully at fewer people and distills deeper meaning.

Over 10 years, farmers tore up grasslands to plant more and more wheat, which soon was worth less and less. Next, winds blew away good soil and then more winds brought bad soil to the surface. In towns called Follett and Enid, the filmmaker has found important things to discuss about ecosystems and economies and how they collapse.

More important, Burns also presents novel-worthy characters against an apocalyptic backdrop.

One Job-like figure in the desertified Oklahoma Panhandle is a farm wife who describes endless chores in her elegant magazine dispatches.

Caroline Henderson, a homesteader with a Mount Holyoke degree, is perhaps Burns’s most apt protagonist. She sounds like Laura Ingalls Wilder with an adult awareness; imagine her as the first mommy blogger.

The land changes under Henderson’s feet. Amber waves become arid dunes. Morning in America leads to darkness by noon. She keeps somber vigil as Manifest Destiny comes to a screeching halt.

Not every viewer will be in the mood for a glimpse of the moment when thousands of poor Americans confronted what looked like end times. It’s unsettling, in the season of the “fiscal cliff,” to delve into four hours recounting some previous battered economy, when recovery stretched from wait-till-next-year to wait-till-next-decade.

Somehow, Burns takes care of viewer and character alike. For sure, the pain of infanticidal winds addles the brains of both farm marms and PBS viewers. Hack coughs lead to “dust pneumonia,” which claimed one family’s youngest girl and eldest matriarch in the same week. On the day of their double funeral, a massive storm engulfed mourners, compounding the pain.

That Palm Sunday devastation, in 1935, blew Plains dust all the way to Franklin Roosevelt’s desktop in the Oval Office, and the viewer can practically feel some film of inescapable particles settling, even after the documentary’s gusts have waned. As narrator Peter Coyote pulls back to a wider world, the discussion takes a needed break, turning to Washington players such as Henry Wallace and Harold Ickes, New Deal Cabinet members who debated whether to plow anew or abandon for good, respectively.

As ever, the screen scans historic images — strong, clear, artful ones. Photographer Dorothea Lange trains her lens on wind-whipped faces. Burns knows by now how to pull emotion out of first-person documents and underscores the testimony with piano chords and violin whines. Woody Guthrie finds his voice. And one of many older survivors recalls her mama’s hymn that hoped for “higher ground.”

Obviously, there are American themes of endurance and pluck, but also hype and hubris. In on-camera testimonies, unsparing eco-historians such as Timothy Egan make sense of the sadness, with ample narrative skill. A viewer will understand arcana about soil conservation and grassland water retention, plus how the government came to pay farmers not to farm, a policy that endures.

Wheat prices soar and sink, and fields of dreams become nightmare landscapes. When survivors finally overcome starvation and disease, many pack up and head to California. There, real-life Tom Joads look as hearty and humble as Henry Ford but get mocked as unwashed and defeated Okies.

“The Dust Bowl” is worthwhile not merely as it documents past perseverance but also as it informs future struggles. Leave it to Burns, our mop-topped maestro of American fact, to find the heroine, Caroline Henderson, who can speak for herself and also bring it all home: “Behind the characteristic American nonchalance, one detects a growing anxiety, especially about the coming winter.”

The Dust Bowl

(two hours each night) Sunday and Monday
at 8 p.m. on PBSa

Watching The Dust Bowl ...

Our little premier of The Dust Bowl last night was a big success. I was happy and very proud to share with my good friends my small part in this wonderful documentary and although I had previewed over an hour of the series - I was still blown away of how outstanding and how much emotional depth Part I had.

During some scenes - when they showed the emotional and physical toll the storms took on Dust Bowl survivors - some of us - had to fight back tears. It truly made me (and others) grateful we didn't live through such tragic times and (at the same time) proud we came from such strong American stock.

It kind of makes bitching that gas prices are high and who is president seem so trivial.

For the last three years I had immersed myself in the history of the Dust Bowl and still find myself stopping to take photos of "echoes" that exist to this day.

It was a wonderful project to be even peripherally involved with, brought me closer to the land I call home and is one I will carry with me in my heart for a long time to come.

I hope you'll tune in and watch Part II tonight.
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