Friday, April 08, 2011

The flowers that bloom - in Oklahoma

Whine enough, and perhaps someone will send you flowers --- as a friend did yesterday: This photo of a hybrid iris in full bloom in his garden way down there in southwest Oklahoma. It will be mid- to late May before we see such things here. But I'm glad to see that the flowers are blooming somewhere.

However, it also is extremely dry in that particular elsewhere and I hear from friends farther south, in Texas, that the situation is similar there, too --- highs in the 90s, no rain and "red flag" warnings, signaling the potential for wildfires.

I wish we could share a little of our moisture --- a long slow rain moved in here at suppertime yesterday and continuied until after I went to bed.

Not that Iowa is immune to drought. Getting ready for the April 18 historical society annual meeting, where the program will focus on the Midwest farm crisis of the 1980s, I gave myself a refresher course this week on among other things the haylift of 1988 when good neighbors in Idaho invited some 75 drought-stricken southern Iowa farmers to come make hay in the Palouse. The result was many tons of western hay that kept Midwest livestock alive.

I wish I could put my finger on the year --- sometime during the 1950s --- when similar conditions existed here. At that time, before the advent of Rathbun reservoir and the vast rural water system it now supplies, we relied on wells. A spring-fed well and a cistern served the house and a well in the valley to the north, topped by a windmill, served the livestock. My job was to run down the hill at least once a day, release the lever that allowed the mill head to turn into the wind and do its job --- filling stock tanks in east and west barn lots at the top of the hill --- then run back down later to turn it off as the tanks started to overflow.

But that year the north well failed and the house well wasn't strong enough to water livestock. So my dad remembered a well in the south valley, so old that it had been swallowed by the root system of a vast  maple tree. He uncapped the well, cleaned it out, repaired the brickwork and spent a good deal of time during that long hot summer (with help from my grandfather) filling with rope and buckets stock tanks on skids that  were deployed to water the cattle and sheep.

Farming, especially when it involves livestock,  is just plain hard work --- sometimes backbreaking, more so when the weather doesn't cooperate, and I'm not sure how many are aware of that nowadays.

I've also been working off and on on a display of Civil War artifacts that will be part of the museum's Civil War sesquicentennial observance --- and that's encouraged another refresher course.

Next Tuesday, April 12, will be the 150th anniversary of the attack by Confederate forces on a U.S. military installation at Fort Sumter, South Carolina --- generally recognized as the official start of the four-year war that ended on April 9, 1865, with the surrender by Gen. Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. 

It's still not clear to me how this four-year observance is going to work or if we've got the guts to transcend mythology and recognize it for what it was --- a horrible, bloody family fight that grew out of our collective shame, slavery.

More than 700 young men from Lucas County served during the Civil War and more than 150 of them died, the majority of disease. Few families were spared. Their bodies lie scattered like leaves near battlefields across the South. Many have been forgotten.

Iowa was young then, and 76,200 of our men out of a total population of 675,000 men, women and children served. Of the total, 13,000 died. When fighting finally ceased, it was estimated that 618,000 had died, Union and Confederate.

Although the wickedness of slavery was eradicated, the wickedness of racism wasn't --- and it's still with us, evident North and South. That's almost as much a shame as the institution of slavery itself.

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