(I wrote this in April of this year and did not publish it for some reason. As I reviewed the piece I thought it still might have some relevance and so submit it for your reading. Comments are always welcome. Sjh)
This time of year Peg and I are usually out on the road looking forward to the places we will visit and getting comfortable with being on the move. This year we find ourselves tending to Scout and sorting out the new reality created by Covid-19. We both watch a lot of TV; however, circumstances have increased the time in front of the TV. Which has lead me to search out programs that are, well maybe not mainstream (according to Peg). For example, for the second time in my life I have binge watched Breaking Bad. Of course, on the other side of the coin is my strange affinity for Travels by Narrowboat. And thank God there are all those WWII documentaries, Clint Eastwood films and other stuff like Ken Burns movies.
Ken Burns has a unique style of presenting American history. His Civil War series is of note, as well as, just about everything else he has done. Browsing through Amazon Prime I came upon his series on the dust bowl of the 1930’s. This is a story of hope, despair, tragedy, greed, defeat and victory. Everything you would want in a fine drama. The story begins in the early 1900’s. The Federal Government and railroads encouraged the settlement of the Oklahoma Panhandle and the lands surrounding it in Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado, offering cheap or free land. Millions of acres covered with Buffalo grass, fertile, easy to plow under were converted to farms and ranches. From the early 1900’s to the late 1920’s farmers came, fertile soil and the opportunity to create a prosperous life for their families kept them coming. It worked that way when the wheat market soared during WWI and on into the 20’s as more and more land was plowed under. There was enough profit in wheat that there existed “City farmers” who bought land and hired folks to plow it. They would visit on the weekends.
The market crash of 1929 was a distant event and those in Oklahoma were little impacted at first. The troubles got real in 1930 with a bumper crop and the onset of drought. The drought came and lasted for 10 years. The bumper crop rotted in piles along side the roads leading to the grain elevators because no one had any money to buy it. The drought dried out the land causing bumper crops to be a distant dream. The misery was a constant fact of life for over 10 years. The details these events are well recorded by Mr. Burns and I encourage you to watch the series.
Frankly, reflecting on terrible times in the past may not seem relevant to the tough times we face today; however, consider this. Hard times, natural catastrophes, wars and pandemics impact all of us and change us. What we thought was foundational, the fixed framework of our lives is suddenly thrown up in the air. Human nature is a constant when facing the unknown. How people acted in the 1930’s is much like what we see us doing today. It is instructive to take a look at how the people of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico behaved in the Dust Bowl years. There are parallels to be seen between then and now.
An image from this time just sticks in my mind. It is an image of a wall cloud bearing down on a town, a very dark black cloud. In fact a wall of dirt about to bury this small town in dust that was measured in feet not inches. Imagine standing in front of your house staring at a dark cloud, something you have never seen before, coming at you. Nothing you can do to stop it, not knowing what it means. Not knowing what is going to happen. Not knowing whether to run or hide. Not sure that what you are looking at is even real. This is where a lot of us are today with Covid-19. Staring at a dark cloud about to over run us, not knowing what it means. Not even certain we are looking at something real. Confusion, fear, dread, rumors and disinformation abound leaving us in limbo staring at the dark cloud waiting for the storm to pass. Hoping for the best.
For the farmers in the Oklahoma Panhandle, it was the end of life as they had known it, there were no crops, the banks repossessed the farm equipment, then the farms. The horses and cows were sold off, starved to death, or simply slaughtered. The dust storms kept coming for years. The storms brought unimaginable destruction and death. For us Covid-19 is a dark cloud. Some of us are already buried in death and disease, something unimaginable just a couple of months ago. Some of us are still staring at the wall cloud trying to decide how to react waiting for our turn. Some not even sure this virus thing is real. Life as we know it changed in February 2020 as it did in 1930.
The people of Oklahoma were hardy, resilient, optimistic people, as we are today. “Next year will be better,” “we will get through this,” hope trumped the facts they could see in front of them. “Next year the rain will come.” Still the dust came. Covid-19 is out there. Some of us have been touched by it and many watch the growing tally of cases and deaths with trepidation. We hear statements like “summer will make it go away,” “It’s just the flu,” “Hydroxychloroquine is a cure, try it. What harm can it cause?” “We must open up the economy.” “Everything will be alright once we get back to work.” Much like the folks of the early 30’s we are looking to “next year”. We know that “next year” in Oklahoma was worse than last year. We don’t know what our future will be; however, there are clues and it may be a dark future.
The scientists and medical experts are telling us that Covid-19 will be back in the fall. Perhaps stronger and more deadly than today. They warn that hundreds of thousands of us will die from this disease unless we take steps to protect ourselves. It looks likely that Covid-19 will be with us for another 12 months or so until there is a vaccine or we reach herd immunity. We have to learn to adapt and we have to adopt change to survive. The dark dust clouds over Oklahoma were conquered. We are Americans, inventive, innovative, resourceful and strong with technical resources almost beyond imagination. Doctors and scientists with incredible skills are working on treatments and vaccines that will eventually conquer Covid-19. They will help us conquer our dark cloud. It is up to us to do our part to ensure we make it to a better place. We must put our best foot forward. Wear face masks, practice social distancing and look to the scientists for the path to follow to better days.
We need to accept the fact that we are facing a highly infectious, easily transmitted and deadly disease. We should practice new behaviors like using face masks, not shaking hands. We should support the people and businesses that are adapting and avoid those that are not. Hope for miracle cures, short cuts, or simply ignoring reality will not get us to a better place. Like the Dust Bowl people, we will make it through to better times, too. Many of us will be working in a new way or a new place. Many of us will remain in a state somewhere between today and tomorrow. Sadly, many will perish, something we should be prepared for. The majority of us will find ourselves in a new reality.
Like those folks in Oklahoma, we face dark clouds and dark times which may get much darker before the skies clear. We are facing a tough enemy in Covid-19; however, it is a temporary condition, just like the dust storms. Our response to this pandemic should be a collective one aimed doing the most good for the most people. I don’t think this virus much cares if you are a Republican, Democrat, catholic, protestant, jew, muslim, black, white, male or female, it is coming for you. If we stick together, if we adapt and accept change, if we show our stuff as Americans we will be victorious over Covid-19. Let us be strong and unified in fighting this disease.
Join us in a different type of journey this summer. A journey that will be determined by the situation day to day and governed by following the best advice from doctors and scientists.