Along with the moisture we’ve enjoyed over the late winter and early spring it seems like we’ve been blessed with fewer windy days than normal.
After this past week a newcomer to the area might shake their head and think I’m crazy for saying we’ve had fewer windy days. No doubt about it, we’ve had some high winds this past week or so, but often we see those days begin in February instead of late March.
Thursday was one of those days when the wind blows so strong and for so long that the sky turns brown everywhere, not just in the vicinity of a blowing field. Growing up here amid all the red blow sand in the 1960s and ‘70s those brown days were a lot more common. Farmers knew they had a problem when they saw their topsoil lifting off their land and heading for Texas. They just didn’t know exactly how to correct the problem.
Houses weren’t built as tight in those days and before and it was customary to have a towel, sometimes dampened along the bottom of a door to keep the sand out. The same thing applied to poorly glazed window panes. It was common after an all night sandstorm to wake up to sand drifted into the house from underneath the door if you didn’t have something to stop it. If your bed was near a west window often you had to shake the sand off the covers before climbing in.
These days cover crops, and minimum tillage has brought about a big change in the way farmers handle their land and the way our sky looks in the evening. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has also taken marginal land out of production and helped to hold our prairie soils closer to Mother Earth.
I was shocked after not visiting Oasis State Park for decades when I returned to the area a few years ago and found the sand dunes I had played on as a child had become overgrown with grass and brush to the point that it didn’t even look like the same place.
As a child when we were going to the park we always said we were “going to the sandhills” because that was the main attraction. The sand on a Sunday afternoon in August could be scorching hot for barefeet just an hour before sundown and cool as a flowerbed an hour after sunset. We rolled, surfed and dragged ourselves up and down the dunes, buried friends in the cool sand up to the waist and had a blast.
It always took an adult with a lantern or flashlight to get us off the hills and into a vehicle bound for home with our shoes and pockets filled with sand.
It was a little hard to accept the change I saw in a childhood playground but I guessed that man had gotten his act together and nature had reclaimed the soil. Without plowed up sandy fields blowing to the west and with fewer people seeking the simple weekend entertainment of playing on a sand dune, the vegetation had finally won out.
I think the wind in eastern New Mexico and West Texas is more than capable of putting many hurricanes to shame, that hasn’t changed and never will I suspect. I do believe, however that when we have one of these wet El Niño winters we get fewer windy days.
I miss the sand dunes, but if fewer brown sky days is the result maybe it’s alright.
Karl Terry writes for Freedom New Mexico. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org