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Drought: We Can Learn from Job

Out here on McDowell Creek there was a beautiful snowfall a few days ago, rain the next day, a cloudburst last night, and now fog today. While runoff is gathering in puddles, our hope is growing: Maybe it won't be a drought year after all.

"A drought has a long tail," my neighbor told me back in 2012, the summer without rainfall. "We're not out of it yet," he told me when the rains came that fall.

He was so right. Even though we had some good rains in 2013 and above average snows this February, we have also had, just about every day for at least three years now--wind.

In preparation for leasing our pastures to a cow-calf operation, we checked our ponds. We were shocked! Our black lab Deci walked right across pools that not too long ago we couldn't reach the bottom of, not even with a canoe paddle stretched straight down. Our prospective renters were people we wanted to work with, but we had to tell them no. Our ponds were just too low.

In fact, all of our water sources--seeps, springs, McDowell Creek itself--are looking puny. The likely culprit--that constant wind. It must be causing evaporation that's greater than whatever amount of precipitation we receive. Things just keep getting dryer and dryer.

So we might be in for it again this year. We dread the thought of lack of water--what it does to soils, plants, animals, and people.

But if it is another dry year we have to recognize that it's part of the package of living on the tall grass prairie.

You don't get the one without the other.

Roots of the n-word

While N-word dialogue has slackened following Saline County Commissioner Gile's use of it recently, the word still has great power. So, let's look inward at the N-word.

To reach a much deeper path to understanding, simply go to Ad Astra books, order Wendell Berry's book "The Hidden Wound," and read it. As Berry himself notes, it will be work. But you will be far better for it. In the interim, I offer my poor, feeble glimpse (inspired by Mr. Berry) into our "hidden wound."

Racism is not a racial problem. It is a cultural problem. An economic problem. An environmental problem. And most of all, a human problem.

The root of our "racism" is not racism. Rather, it is our desire to be superior to our condition. We whites brought Africans here for one reason: to exploit and dominate this New Earth. We discovered early on that living upon this sacred ground requires work. Hard work. Back-breaking work, at times.

Early on, we created a society which values 'beautiful people' who need not work. Picture old-time Plantation owners and Southern Belles. Fast forward to today. Whether buying vacation timeshares in order to make ourselves into leisure kings and queens once a year, or buying homes and cars we clearly cannot afford--or simply dreaming of it--we conjure a life vision devoid of drudgery. This remains the American Dream.

The back-side Janus-face of our forward-looking, hoped-for prosperity, however, is cast in a shadow of darkness. In our pride, we assigned hard work (deemed demeaning) to black Africans. We could only bring them here against their will, utilizing extreme force, by convincing ourselves they were inferior. By circular logic, they were inferior because they did the work--and they did the work because they were inferior. Thus did we become prisoners of our self-created fiction.

Separated from hard work and clear insight, we lost our connection to the land itself--a connection sustained by slaves we regarded as chattel. (Biblically, women were referred to as chattel. That status surfaces innumerably in tragedies such as the Bangladesh clothing factory collapse, death toll now nearing one thousand, where our "cheap, chic" clothes from Wal-mart and the Gap are made.)

Our lost earth-connections have caused us to create the term "nigger." A nigger was someone of inferior status, yet knowledgeable in the ways of the earthy world. Nigger street sense, however, escaped the effete sensibilities of masters in ivory towers. And it still creates a dynamic bond with fellow niggers, who get what the white mastuh has no clue about.

Thus a book well-read by the rebellious scholars of my generation was "The Student As Nigger." In an academic world controlled by administrative masters of various stripes, the metaphor was contagious and powerful. As a master text of 60's student movements, it challenged us to escape--or embrace--our niggerhood. We learned a lot about the world's realities in the process.

It approaches blasphemy to imply that those of us in the student movement encountered anything like the oppression visited upon our black brothers and sisters. But our awareness of nigger-ism, a sense of brotherhood with those "under the yoke," remains vital to this day. As the priorities of the powerful take ever-greater precedence over everyday citizens, we are now paying, and have perhaps always paid the price.

As blindingly stupid as it was for whites to enslave the black man, it took equal stupidity to fail the lessons of the indigenous about living in, on, and with this land. Our very structures, aimed at freedom, instead consigned us to our own prison. Elevating an assortment of minorities into a racially equitable distribution of college degrees and professional salaries has not elevated our understanding of the problem.

We could have kept our connection to the very ground we walk on.

But we did not.

Slavery came too easy, and we have been trying to shed its yoke ever since. If we completely accepted the black race's humanity, we would not accommodate an alien people--we would receive into ourselves a poignantly missing half of our own experience, vital and finally indispensable. We have so far denied that, at great cost to ourselves and everyone.

We are not able to 'set free' our red and black sisters and brothers, let alone any other fellow-creatures of whatever size, shape, or hue. Until we recognize in them their distinctive full strength and grace, we will not set anyone free--least of all ourselves.

Yes, the n-word holds power over us--but only because we have let it.

MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. The conflict currently raging in Logan County over the compulsory poisoning of prairie dogs and the reintroduction of the Black-footed Ferret has a rich context.

In the 1940s, Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac and one of the founders of the modern environmental movement, argued for a "land ethic" that would expand our definition of "community" to include soil, water, plants, and animals. Such an ethic, he wrote, would "change the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it." He knew as he wrote that he was up against an opposing view, as evidenced by the soil erosion, water pollution, and plant-and-animal extinctions that were increasing, not decreasing, in his day. Nevertheless, he did everything he could to replace human self-centeredness with a morality sensitive to the rights of non-human creatures to exist and (in some areas) to exist in their natural state.

Leopold's embattled view was nothing new. The newspapers from the early days of Kansas are full of protests on behalf of wildlife. In 1872, the Hutchinson News

Rev. Brownback's Pious Ogallala Rhetoric

sam-brownback.jpgBOGUE, Kan. - For three plus decades I've been following the mining of the historically, sadly over-appropriated Ogallala. For 18 years I wasted time serving conscientiously on the Solomon Basin Advisory Committee, one of few such BAC's in western Kansas not dominated by irrigation interests. Our recommendations went exactly nowhere. I heard enough pious rhetoric even then. Governor Brownback is offering more now.

I clipped for my pious rhetoric file an Aug. 24 front page story by Hays Daily News' Mike Corn, "Gov. pleads to conserve Ogallala." Soooo sweet of him to plead.

Brownback drools right-wingy political ambition. He thinks he deserves to be President. His preachery concern about the Ogallala is a self-serving part of that. Sounds heavenly, but ain't worth a poop, practically speaking. The mining continues and will until somebody grows some 'nads. Don't count on Sam.

It's Not Your Water, Mr. Irrigator

BOGUE, Kan. - Fellow Kansas Free Press contributor and an Ogallala irrigator and I have had an interesting exchange over whether reducing appropriated water "rights" would constitute a "taking" as per the U.S. Constitution 4th Amendment.

As I believe I have reported, then KS Attorney General Carla Stovall was asked about that as one part of a question carried on my behalf by then KS Sen. Stan Clark. In essence, Stovall declined to answer plainly, but said it would depend on the circumstances. In the Cheyenne Bottoms case, both junior and senior water rights were reduced by the DWR without awarding a taking to senior right holders. To summarize, it was a voluntary settlement that avoided the courts. That could--but almost assuredly won't--happen on the scale necessary to end the mining of the Ogallala. What then, can be done?

In March of 2003, John C. Peck, highly respected law professor at KU School of Law, presented a paper in Kyoto, Japan, to the 3rd World Water Forum entitled: Property Rights in Groundwater--Some Lessons from the Kansas Experience.


Ladies and gentlemen, I am enclosing a statement I made nearly 12 years ago to the assembled Kansas Water Authority and Kansas Water Office as chairperson of the Solomon River Basin Advisory Committee. I believe it was enough of an embarrassment at the time to cause then Governor Bill Graves to assemble a task force to try to deal with the issue. That, of course, failed -- as have other efforts. Governor Brownback's approach is standard fare, and will amount to the same "pious rhetoric," as I have learned to call it, with meager results. The current approach is more "local" control, which I have perhaps impolitely termed "the drunks running the liquor store." In effect, a tiny minority has been in control, even though they do live "locally." It is past time for a more honest effort. That will amount to establishing IGUCAs, reducing water appropriation rights over a realistic time frame without compensation for a "taking" since (1) nothing in a water appropriation right guarantees the initial amount of water permitted forever, (2) the statutes clearly say an appropriation right does not constitute ownership of water, and (3) the broad philosophy of Kansas water law is one of a public trust. It is long past time the "takings" argument has been challenged, even if that requires going to the courts.

If you agree, I encourage you to send the link to this article to your state senators and representatives -- and to any others you think would be interested. (The original full statement follows as presented in the year 2000)

The Disappearing Ogallala Aquifer, Part I

This set of articles is my extended, three-installment comment on Diane Wahto's earlier and elucidating remarks (Water Shortages, the High Plains Aquifer, and the Governor's Summit) about the hydrology and the overall scenario concerning a vital and disappearing resource: the Ogallala Aquifer. Much of what I will have to say comes from the days of my earlier, and more hopeful involvement at the lowest bureaucratic level of Kansas water governance -- the Basin Advisory Committee. Since one cannot reliably predict the future, logically speaking, we do not know where Governor Brownback's initiative will lead. In some sense, it will be like locking the barn door after too many of the horses have left. To put it bluntly, I see little in what the Governor has proposed so far that differs from the pious rhetoric of the past several decades by those who could have actually done something to bring genuine stewardship.

BOGUE, Kan. - The disappearing Ogallala Aquifer. Well, where to begin. For nearly 18 years, I served on the Solomon River Basin Advisory Committee (BAC), the last few years as chair.

In Kansas, and I suspect elsewhere, the Ogallala depletion problem is basically -- as un-politically correct as it may be to say it -- that 'the drunks are running the liquor store.'

tim-huelskamp.jpgBOGUE, Kan. - Rep. Huelskamp claimed in his column last week that he's not playing politics. I'm waiting for his "I caught this really, really, really big fish" story.

"We can all agree," he says, that the Obama stimulus "did not work."

Well, it didn't fix the train wreck of 2008 when the unregulated and mis-regulated "free market" banksters went home with multi-million dollar bonuses (thanks to taxpayers). It didn't save us from ridiculous tax cuts for the rich.

It didn't recover the ongoing cost of two wars and several covert military operations. It didn't stop the relocation of jobs abroad. That much we grant, but ...

MCDOWELL CREEK, Kan. - We burned pasture last Thursday. The breeze turned jumpy in the early afternoon. There were a few tense moments -- but in the end, the fire stayed where it was supposed to. There was even a gentle rain that evening that washed away the smoke. We felt so fortunate! Having lost our house to a prairie fire a few years back, we count our blessings when a burn goes well.

Yesterday we had snow, giving us an unusual sight -- blackened prairie covered with snow.

We watched the snow come down with a group of friends who had gathered in our living room to talk about books. Our friend Paul has started on a quest to read famous classic works that he missed in school. We and several others volunteered to keep him company on this journey, and yesterday was our first gathering.

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