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The Dust Bowl
Dec. 3, 2012
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by Jenni Sebora

I fell asleep the other night watching a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) show about the Dust Bowl (or bowls) in the 1930s. I was really intrigued by the circumstances of this time in history. The Dust Bowl is considered to be one of the worst – if not the worst – environmental catastrophes.

The dust bowls were brought about by the droughts of the Great Plains. Oklahoma was considered to be the heart of the Dust Bowl. However, this catastrophe spread across the states and affected most – if not all – of the US.

Everything, outside and inside, was covered in dust. In fact, survivors describe the time as literally eating, drinking, and breathing dirt. Cattle died from suffocation; their nostrils filled with mud.

Not only did cattle die, but vegetation didn’t have a chance. What green there was left was eaten by jackrabbits that invaded the vegetation. People had earlier killed off the coyotes, which were natural predators of the rabbits. Folks actually formed hunting parties to kill off the rabbits that were dominating the area. This was hard on the children who watched the adults decimate the rabbits.

Of course, adults were greatly affected by this catastrophe. People lost their crops and their freedom to go outside. Women especially lost their dispositions as they could not keep up their homes. Dust and dirt invaded the homes and literally took over.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president. He traveled to North Dakota to observe and survey the conditions. New Deal programs, such as surplus commodities, were implemented to help relieve some of the turmoil.

I felt such a sense of awe and humility as I watched this historical documentary. Listening to the words of people who lived through this time humbled me.

Today, we continue to experience catastrophes, such as super storm Sandy. People’s lives and futures are affected forever.

It means a world of difference to people who experience these losses to have people realize their hardships and lend helping hands in whatever capacity they can. Acknowledgement of their loss, fear, and sadness is important.

It is important that our children are taught about such times, when it is appropriate for them to hear it. Our children need to know that hardships are experienced, and we must, as humankind, respond in some capacity, if not only by listening to stories and affirming feelings.

When I listened to these survivors of the Dust Bowl, I felt that, although it was decades later, as they publicly told their stories, a sense of strength, yet vulnerability, was conveyed in their stories.

It is important we learn about history, about our ancestors and their experiences. We can learn from them, from their experiences, and from their vulnerabilities and their strengths.


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