Monday, March 5, 2007

The Worst Hard Time


TITLE:"The Worst Hard Time"
AUTHOR: Timothy Egan
PUBLISHER: Houghton Mifflin
RELEASED: 2005
REVIEW SUBMITTED BY: Neil Thomas

This book covers a period between 1930-1940 in America's Midwest--the dust-bowl days. The book is a National Book Award Winner. I heard about the dust bowl and the wind-related soils erosion growing up, but this story told by Timothy Egan is nothing I could have ever imagined.

"That was Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, day of the worst duster of them all. The storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal. The canal took seven years to dig; the storm lasted a single afternoon. More than 300,000 tons of Great Plains topsoil was airborne that day. For weeks afterward, eight-year-old Jeanne Clark could not stop coughing. She was taken to the hospital, where dozens of other children, as well as many elderly patients, were spitting up fine particles. The doctor diagnosed Jeanne with dust pneumonia, the brown plague, and said she might not live for long. Jeanne's mother had trouble believing the doctor's words. She had come here for the air, and now her little girl was dying of it."

North Carolina and Asheville already have a history in the development of the US Forest Service and the first school of forestry. Continuing in this vain, a North Carolinian, Hugh Hammond Bennett, began the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) in 1937, under President Roosevelt's administration. The SCS was created primarily to address the dust bowl conditions. Bennett was from Anson County, North Carolina.

"After more than 65 years, some of the land is still sterile and drifting. But in the heart of the Dust Bowl now are three national grasslands run by the Forest Service."

How many more years of water are left below the ground before another dust bowl occurs? The consequences of a dry aquifer in the future may prove much more catastrophic than the dust bowl impacts of the 1930's. After you read the book, you may wonder how anything can be worse until you consider the current populations depending on the Ogallala aquifer for water.

In the epilog Egan explains, "So cotton growers, siphoning from the Ogallala, get three billion dollars a year in tax-payer money for fiber that is shipped to China, where it is used to make cheap clothing sold back to American chain retail stores like Wal-Mart. The aquifer is declining at a rate of 1.1 million acre-feet a day-that is, a million acres, filled to a depth of 1 foot with water."

I used Google Earth to find many of the place names described in the book. A lot of crop irrigation circles showed up on the map. I emailed Egan to see if he may have used Google Earth or some of the other current technology in the development of his book. If I get a reply I will post his response to the Blog.

WEB LINKS:
Houghton Mifflin
http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/catalog/titledetail.cfm?titleNumber=688507
National Book Awards
http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2006_nf_egan.html
NPR interview with Timothy Eagan about this book. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5128581

Google Earth Links:
http://www.resourcedata.net/Projects/GoogleEarthKMZ/WorstHardTimes.kmz

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