Imagining the worst …

Try to imagine going through absolute hell on Earth. Then multiply it by any factor you wish and you get an idea of the misery experienced by those who lived through the Dust Bowl.

Ken Burns, the famed documentary filmmaker, has told a story that should be retold for as long as people live along the High Plains. The story will air Nov. 18-19 in a pair of two-hour segments on KACV-TV. It’s called simply, “The Dust Bowl” and it recounts the misery brought to High Plains by what’s been called the greatest manmade ecological disaster in American history.

Part One is called “The Great Plow Up,” and it tells the story of how indiscriminate plowing of native grassland at the turn of the 20th century ruined the eco-system and set the stage for what was to come, which would be the savage windstorms that blow literally hundreds of millions of pounds of dirt across many hundreds of miles.

It’s a story of what is called “heroic perseverance.” The heroes persevered through a catastrophe that took 40 to 50 years to develop.

“The Dust Bowl” story is told mostly by those who lived through it. They were young then, but are now elderly. The misery has been burned into the memory. And they tell the story with gripping and heart-wrenching detail.

Part Two is titled “Reaping the Whirlwind.” It provides a glimpse of what some fear could be a desert-like future in this vibrant ranch and farmland. It also presents some of the conservations efforts developed to help restore the devastated farm and ranchland.

Boise City, Okla., is called the epicenter of the Dust Bowl. So little rain fell in the mid-1930s, the documentary tells us, that the region known as “No Man’s Land” qualified as a desert.

Although the plowing that began during World War I as farmers sought to feed our troops fighting in Europe produced reforms in plowing techniques that preserved soil erosion. But by then so much of the damage had been done. Top soil blew away, turning once-rich farmland into hard pan. It choked livestock to death.

But worse, the constant dust in the air caused life-threatening “dust pneumonia” that preyed on the very old and the very young. Viewers will hear eyewitnesses tell of the deaths of young friends and siblings who died from inhaling the choking dust.

The federal government wised up, finally, to the misery experienced in the nation’s heartland. And viewers will see remarkable video of President Franklin Roosevelt trying to strengthen the morale of his fellow Americans out here on the High Plains.

“The Dust Bowl” tells a gripping story of raw courage, tragedy, heartache and, yes, triumph.

It airs at 7 p.m., and re-airs at 9 .m. both nights, Nov. 18 and 19. This one is worth your time.

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