Editor’s Note: The Quackers are three awesome ducks from the canals of Venice who are on a mission to educate the community about the dangers of global warming and the importance of practicing sustainability, all while surfing the most gnarly waves possible.
The air was heavy and still. It felt like we were wading in water as we moved through it. It was so hot. The beach was the only place we could escape the heat.
It was late when we dragged home from our surfing session. I grabbed the mail from the box and thumbed through it. Buried between the magazines and advertisements was the letter from Guymon, Okla. I had been hoping for.
While researching the family tree I ran across a Quacker in the Oklahoma panhandle area I was not familiar with and had dashed off a letter to see if we were related.
I tore open the envelope to find we were related through my Great Grandpa Quacker. Our “new” relative was James Joseph Quacker III. He said everyone called him Jimmy Joe and he was anxious to meet us.
We left the next day. Our only regret was that he did not live some place cooler, like Alaska.
Jimmy Joe’s ranch was located far from the edge of Guymon. Never had we seen such an enormous expanse of totally flat land. A herd of cattle and some trees were all that relieved the wide open space. We saw a corn field ringed with trees. It was the line of trees encircling the house that helped us find it. Jimmy Joe greeted us warmly from the shaded porch.
After dinner Jimmy Joe dug out the family photo albums. The sun slipped away as we sat on the porch looking at past generations of Quackers as they farmed the land and tended their livestock. One old photo made us all laugh. It showed a scared young duck being chased by a big, angry bull. It was great grandpa Quacker!
In the early photos we noticed there were no trees on the ranch. Now there were many and they were placed in a way we had not seen before. We asked Jimmy Joe about it.
He said the trees were planted that way for protection. They were called “windbreaks” or “shelterbelts.” He said Big Daddy, as he called his grandpa, planted most of them years ago after the big disaster in the 1930’s called the Dust Bowl.
We became spellbound as he explained. “The Dust Bowl happened before I was born but I can tell you what Big Daddy told us,” Jimmy Joe said. “He said we should never forget how it came about. Big Daddy said that for decades farmers in the area deep plowed killing the natural grasses. These grasses had kept the soil in place, trapped moisture and provided protection from high winds even in periods of drought. The farmers didn’t rotate their crops. Never did they fallow the fields to rest them. Cover crops would have brought organic matter and nutrients back to the soil, but they did not plant them. They overgrazed the land with their livestock. This abuse of the land coupled with a long and severe drought in the 1930’s brought about an ecological disaster affecting millions.
“Big Daddy said during the drought in the 1930’s crops failed and fields were left empty. The natural anchors to keep the soil in place were gone. The soil dried up, turned to dust and blew away eastward and southward in large dark clouds. So thick and dark were these clouds they turned day into night. The storms blew as far as New York and much of the soil ended up in the Atlantic Ocean. Enormous dust clouds filled the air preventing any hope for rainfall. Bare and dry soil made the winds worse and more soil was carried away. Big Daddy said that in 1934 the dust storms were so severe that red snow actually fell in New England that winter.
“Millions of acres of farmland became useless forcing hundreds of thousands to leave their homes.”
Jimmy Joe said when Big Daddy talked of leaving the ranch his voice would choke up and he could not continue the story for a while.
Big Daddy and the family had been forced to live on the banks of the Beaver River where they barely survived.
Jimmy Joe continued, “Starting in 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried his best to reverse an ecological disaster. He planted 200 million trees from Canada to Abilene, Texas hoping they would help break the wind, hold water in the soil and keep it in place. In 1938 the trees reduced blowing soil by 65 percent. Finally in 1939 the rains came.
“Thankful to survive and return to his ranch, Big Daddy, just like the President, planted many of the trees you see now. He studied soil conservation and cared for the land. He taught his children and grandchildren to do the same.”
After hearing Big Daddy’s story we are convinced that treating the Earth gently and planting trees is critical no matter where you live, especially now.
Phyllis and the Quackers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org