The Dust Bowl, Photographically

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Over 80 years ago, fierce winds and sky-high clouds of dirt assaulted the Great Plains in a decade-long disaster known as the Dust Bowl. Texas’ Panhandle was not spared, as the stark reality of these photos from the Southwest Collection prove.

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Caused by a combination of overfarming in the 1920s and severe droughts throughout the 1930s, the Dust Storms blacked out the sky and covered whole towns in dirt. News accounts and oral histories conducted with survivors claim that oftentimes the air was so thick with dust that nothing was visible five feet away. There were even accounts of people choking to death on the dust.

12Some consider Black Sunday one of the worst events of the Dust Bowl. On April 14, 1935, over a dozen storms—called by some survivors “black blizzards”—scoured the Great Plains from the Dakotas to Texas. Its dust traveled as far as New York and Washington, D.C., where lawmakers were attempting to juggle Dust Bowl relief solutions alongside numerous other New Deal programs. John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) told the tale of this intersection of nature, the economy, politics, and the realities of those who fled the storms—in this case, the Okies that traveled to California en masse to find work in a land that wasn’t actively trying to kill them.03

Over one hundred million acres of land in Oklahoma, Texas, and several nearby states were affected by the Dust Bowl over the course of the 1930s. This included towns and cities, of course, but farmlands were the primary victim. It would be many years before the Great Plains recovered. The land values and agricultural production of the 1920s would not return for decades.

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Sowell Conference 2016 – and the Orion Society Collection!

fox

As we do every year around this time, the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library will host the Sowell Collection Conference, which will take place this year from Thursday, April 21st to Saturday the 23rd. Created through the generous support of James Sowell, the Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community, and the Natural World contains the personal papers of some of the country’s most prominent writers who are dedicated to documenting the ways in which we interact with our world, and creating new ways of examining our world and our place within it. The list of authors whose papers we preserve is far too long to list here in its entirety, but some of the most prominent include Rick Bass, William Kittredge, Barry Lopez, Doug Peacock, Pattiann Rogers, and Annick Smith. These authors have provided published books, correspondence, research notebooks, diaries, calendars, photographs, computer files, film, and a host of other materials for our researchers to use. This year, the Collection was also fortunate to receive the records of the Orion Society!

winter field w distant trees

A group of writers, environmentalists, and activists, the Orion Society believes that “humans are morally responsible for the world in which we live, and that the individual comes to sense this responsibility as he or she develops a personal bond with nature.”  The Orion Society focuses on teaching how nature and communities might be healed.  Their publication, Orion, is a respected journal which highlights global efforts to achieve sustainable communities. And it has incredible cover photos, as you can see throughout this blog.

water reed device

The Myrin Institute began publishing Orion Nature Quarterly (now simply Orion) in 1982. Ten years later, Myrin established the Orion Society to conduct writing workshops, secondary education initiatives, and grassroots networking. But at its core, the Society focuses on teaching how nature and communities might be healed. Many writers whose papers are housed in the Sowell Collection have been regular contributors to the journal–including Barry Lopez, Priscilla Ybarra, Lisa Couturier, and Robert Michael Pyle who will be hosting an Orion panel at this year’s Sowell Conference.

artsy cover

An important event in the Society’s history, which our Orion Society Collection thoroughly documents, is the Forgotten Language Tours. Held from 1992-2003, they facilitated events in communities across the U.S. in which writers and poets offered readings, workshops, and discussions that attempted to strengthen the local community’s understanding of the natural world and human community as well as to promote nature literacy.

fish flock

The Fire & Grit and Watershed conferences were similarly prominent events. The former was held in 1999 at the National Conservation Training Center, the largest gathering ever to take place there. The Watershed: Writers, Nature and Community conference, cosponsored by the Library of Congress, took place in Washington, D.C., April 15-20, 1996, with over three thousand people in attendance.

buffalo snow

Finally, the society presents The John Hay Award for Nature Writing annually to writers whose work is vital in reconnecting people to the natural world. Award winners include John Hay, Ann Zwinger, Wendell Berry, Homero Aridjis, Peter Matthiessen and Jane Goodall. In 2004 and 2010 Orion won the Utne Independent Press Award for General Excellence. The magazine was a finalist for a National Magazine Award in the Essay category.

indian face

The Orion Society published two anthologies of writing from Orion: Finding Home (1992) and The Future of Nature (2007); and two educational series: The Nature Literacy Series and the New Patriotism Series. But the collection holds more than just issues of Orion and these other publications. Correspondence and manuscripts are present, as are audio/visual materials and photographs. The Orion Society Notebook published from 1995 through 1997 (sometimes under other titles) is also available for your reading pleasure.

rock pile

So make plans to attend 2016’s Sowell Conference if you can. But if you can’t, don’t hesitate to view the Orion Society’s records in our Holden Reading Room, where our ever-attentive Reference staff would be happy to get them into your hands.

“Celebrating the National Parks: The Photography by Ro Wauer” – An Exhibit at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library

Alaska Katmai-18x14Katmai National Park, Alaska

“The national parks of the United States possess the best examples of the continent’s natural heritage, complete with the grandest scenery and most stable plant and animal communities still in existence. North America’s national parks represent a microcosm of our last remaining wildlands.” – Roland Wauer

In 2016 the National Park Service (NPS) will be celebrating 100 years of preserving the wild places of the United States. To commemorate that at the Southwest Collection, we are installing an exhibit entitled “Celebrating the National Parks: The Photography of Ro Wauer.” It consists primarily of photographs taken by Roland “Ro” Wauer, a thirty-two year veteran of the NPS. The exhibit runs from mid-January until mid-summer, and if you’re of a mind to do so, also take a look at his extensive library, manuscript collection, and photographs reside at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library.

My Wild Life

Wauer had a varied career. He began his NPS stint as a seasonal ranger, ultimately leading him to serve at eight national parks, the NPS regional office in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and finally as Chief of the Division of Natural Resources in Washington, D.C. Until his retirement in 1989 (and, of course, for years afterward) he saw a little bit of everything that nature had to offer. He visited California and Alaska, traveled south into Mexico, and even journeyed to farther locations such as the Virgin Islands and other U.S. affiliates. One of his passions was the study of birds and butterflies, leading to a large portion of his twenty-five books and 200 articles on those subjects (and several others.) His autobiography, “My Wild Life,” formed the core of the content in this exhibit.

Big Bend Bear-14x18Black bear at Sam Nail Ranch, Big Bend National Park, Texas

“My Wild Life” is an interesting read; a trek through many of the parks in which he worked, and the extensive time he spent observing and interacting with the birds and animals therein. Although he is more modest about his accomplishments, there is no question that his study of bird populations and their habitats was significant and widely recognized. Similar acclaim could be accorded to his studies, often through large research projects, of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and a host of other species. Seriously, he details encounters with bighorn sheep and large falcons; poisonous snakes and mountain lions; and of course, owls, swallows, and, honestly, an Audobon guide’s worth of birds.

Badlands-18x14Badlands National Park, South Dakota

So if you want to see some more of these excellent photos of the flora, fauna, and grandeur of the United States’ national parks, stop on by this spring or summer and take a look at our exhibit. And of course, if you’d like to peruse the papers of Ro Wauer, our Reference Staff is always happy to arrange that for you.