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

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Music of the Dust Bowl Era - Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl Blues

Nobody told the story of the Dirty Thirties in music better than Woody Guthrie. Give it a listen - it will take you back there.

-Steve Douglass

Into the great wide open ...

Click to enlarge:

When the winds come whipping through Texas and they happen upon a freshly plowed field - it will sometimes lift the topsoil straight up into the Panhandle sky - making for an amazing sight.

They call it a "haboob" a middle-eastern term, usually look like a rolling wall of dirt.

I caught this one as it was just beginning to lift into the atmosphere and before it began to roll.

Beautiful but not when you are enveloped by one.

Photo by Steve Douglass
All rights reserved.

Panhandle duster - from the air.

Click to enlarge:

A couple days ago we had a particularly bad dust storm. Great plumes of dirt were lifted into the sky by strong SW winds and deposited it on Amarillo and the surrounding plains.

An Amarilo NWS service employee shot the above image on his iphone - looking out the window on the duster below as he flew over the Texas Panhandle.

Somewhere below is yours truly - and several hundred thousand people - all swearing and wiping the grit from their watering eyes.

Photo courtesy Stephen Bilodeau NWS Amarillo - all rights reserved.

Flying on a dusty day ....

Click to enlarge.

Normally during our dusters - not much flies if it doesn't have to. I found this Red Tailed Hawk hunkered down on a telephone pole riding out the storm I could see through my telephoto lens his eyes were closed to keep out the grit - and as a result I was able to get very close.

Normally hawks fly away at the approach of my car- but not that day. The wind was so loud I'm sure he had trouble hearing me - or he just didn't care.

I set my camera at the sweet spot - carefully framing where I thought he would fly- and exposed for a silhouette - back-lit by the weak sun trying to pierce through the dust storm.

With one hand on the camera shutter and one on my car horn I triggered them both holding them down.

He bolted as I shot five quick frames.

This was the best.

Photo by (C) Steve Douglass
Requires permission for reproduction.

Red flags are flying ...

The Sun struggles to cut through the dirt - and all that can be seen is a vaporous halo where ol' Sol used to be.

Photographed just south of Amarillo, Texas, February 29, 2012.

Click to enlarge photo
(C) Steve Douglass

Another day in Amarillo, another duster forecast. Yes, we are used to the winds of February and March. The atmosphere here is almost always in motion.

Early settlers understood this and used the wind to pump life-giving moisture out of the aquifer.

Thousands of windmills dot the landscape from South Texas up into Canada. Today we are harnessing the wind and turning it into electricity as evident by the many wind- charger farms that are multiplying like Texas jackrabbits.

But since the drought began - about two years ago- and since the dying grasslands have no grip on the soil - whenever the winds get up, so does the earth. On days like these you can feel it on your teeth, your ears and especially your eyes.

It seeps into our cars, our homes and our lungs. It gets into everything and it is getting steadily worse.

A few days ago (overnight) we received some much needed rain. It came in the form of drizzle and by the morning we had received almost a quarter of an inch.

But by mid-morning the winds got their back up - soon gusting upwards to sixty miles an hour and in no time the moisture we needed so badly - had been stripped away.

By late afternoon it was like walking in a brown dream. Dust hung everywhere and settled over the city like a brown blizzard.

The highways quickly became accident-ways as brownouts caused by blowing soil made for multi-car pileups.

But still - with all the grit in the air - with all the mobile real estate which we all ingested in one way or another - it was nothing compared what Dust Bowl survivors endured.

Imagine not being able to see inside your own home - or having to breathe through a damp rag because to ingest the air was like trying to inhale inside a flour sack?

That's what happened on Black Sunday - April 14 1935.

Today the winds will gust, the dirt will fly and it will continue to strip away the soil until there's not much of it left.

Then again will come the true dusters - like that of Black Sunday.

Pray for rain.

-Steve Douglass

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