Monday, December 31, 2007

The Worst Hard Time

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan, (Paperback) Mariner Books (September 1, 2006).

I've had this book a while. I've had an awful time returning to my reading.

Is reading a hobby I wonder? If it is then it is one of my few. I doubt most people consider it a hobby. Reading has always been more than that for me. And since that time when I was only a very young child and my grandparents taught me to read the Sunday comics I have always had a book or two or three "in process" so to speak.

Some books capture my attention and those demand that I finish them. Others are more leisurely consumed. And a few just get glanced. Or that's the way it used to be. But sometime during the last few years my reading became less frequent. I don't really know why. But my gifts of books stayed about the same, especially from my son. So I have a small library that is unread.

Yesterday I picked up The Worst Hard Time again and determined to get my delight in reading back.

It is an excellent book. But I understand now that it was not a very good choice for me when I first began reading it.

There are two points I want to make about this book. I'm going to write them now in case anyone else is reading this and wants to stop without going all the way to the end. And I don't know where the end is at this point.

  1. Caregiving for an Alzheimer's patient has a lot in common with living in the dust bowl.
  2. Anyone interested in Global Warming should read this book.
I'll discuss them in reverse order though because it is faster and I need to get off my ass and go to work.

The government of the United States encouraged the westward migration and settlement of the great plains. The folks who came did what they knew to do which was farm. They worked individually and tore the soil with plows and discs and harrows and chisels. And the great social experiment seemed to work at first and that encouraged even greater numbers of settlers to come and seek their own fortunes.

But the great plains were subject to drought and human history and technology was pitifully ignorant. And so the drought years came again. And the great bison herds were gone and the prairie grass was gone and the land had been disturbed. So the dry dirt was carried into the atmosphere. Little by little at first. But it changed the weather and soon the great black "dusters" formed. And every living thing in the entire area was threatened with extinction.

In Washington D. C. the political leaders were pretty insulated from this calamity but eventually even the skies there turned dark with dirt from the plains. Still there were conflicting voices of the science types. Some blamed the people who had settled in the plains. Those people were just too stupid. Some others said the entire weather pattern had changed and the entire great plains should be left alone and those remaining people should be resettled. Others said it was a largely man made disaster and it could be mitigated by further human action.

President Roosevelt was conflicted. He believed in using the resources of the government to help people. It was a bitter pill to think that it was government intervention in the first place that caused the catastrophe. And he wanted to believe the government could help. So of course the government crafted opposing programs.

People left. Land was left fallow. 222 Million trees were planted by the government but nearly all of them died. Towns died. People died. Animals died. Cattle starved to death because their stomachs were full of dirt. People had rabbit hunts were tens of thousands of rabbits were clubbed to death.

Eventually it rained and a kind of balance was restored.

As I read about the political debate and the differing opinions being articulated it made me think of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring so many years ago and the more current arguments over Global Warming.

Anyone interested in these topics should read Egan's book.

As for how living in the dust bowl was like caregiving for an Alzheimer's patient let me explain. I think this was why it was so hard for me to really read this book.

In Dalhart, Texas a man named John McCarty formed a club he called the "Last Man Club." He printed enrollment cards that carried the following:
"Barring Acts of God or unforeseen personal tragedy or family illness, I pledge myself to be the Last Man to leave this country, to always be loyal to it, and to do my best to cooperate with other members of the Last Man Club in the year ahead."

McCarty was a newspaper man and eventually left for a better job in Amarillo.

But many others, whether members of the Last Man Club or not, refused to give up. Too many of them died. But a bunch of them survived and I don't really understand how they did it even now.

They lived in conditions that were indescribably bad. They somehow tolerated the intolerable. They held on when there was nothing to hold on to. And it did not last days or weeks or months. It lasted years. They just refused to give up.

I could not help but think how like caregiving this was. It was pointless to try to describe how they lived to people who did not also live the same way. There were signs on the way to California that advertised that Okies were unwelcome except the words weren't that friendly. I thought that's a lot like how caregivers are treated, too.

It also occurred to me that when we learn more about Alzheimer's we might find out that it is a largely human caused disease just like the dust bowl. I don't know that but I've wondered about it.

I'm going to try to read another book this week. And I'm going to try to read the Bible through again this coming year.

In case I don't have anything to say tomorrow Happy New Year to everyone. Actually I have a post for tomorrow already started. But Happy New Year anyway.


Lori1955 said...

What a great analogy between the dust bowl and caregiving. I too often wonder if mankind is responsible for creating this disease and all disease for that matter.

~Betsy said...

I agree with Lori - great analogy. I think many diseases are the result of mankind and even moreso, I think there are cures available but they never make it to market. If they did, can you imagine how many people would be out of work?

I have recently made time for reading, too. For me at least, reading is a wonderful escape. When I was caregiving, there just wasn't time for it. If there was time, then I felt guilty for taking the time. It's a vicious circle.

Happy New Year to you, too. I wish you all the best.

flintysooner said...

I should have also added that the book has some very unflattering accounts of the governor of Oklahoma at the time who was an avowed racist. There are other racist episodes by lots of people that are terribly upsetting as well. And anti-immigrant. Not exactly the best view of human nature one would care to read but unfortunately all too true.

nancy said...

i agree as well, great analogy.

i too have always loved to read but once i became a caregiver it almost became nonexistent. i think i was so physically and emotionally tired that i just couldn't focus and concentrate. even the first few months after russ died i had no desire to read. it's amazing the impact of stress and depression.

i too am planning on trying to do more reading in 2008. i look forward to hearing more suggestions from you. Happy New Year Terry!

steflovesnonna said...

I just wanted to stop in and say Happy New year. You have been a good friend this year, and I truly hope we will never loose sight of each other. Even if the world drags us apart, we will always have The Lion King. ;-)

rilera said...

Happy New Year Terry! I too am having trouble with reading. When I have the time, I just can get into it. As always though, your posts are so thought provoking and insightful. Take care my friend.

Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Great analogy between the dustbowl and caregiving. I can relate to you cutting back on your reading. Like Betsy, my reading nearly stopped because I didn't have time. When I did, I was too tired. Glad you're picking up the books again. There's nothing more relaxing than a good book. ((hugs))