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Commentary: The Tumbleweeds Are Back


Don’t let the recent rains fool you. We’re still in drought and commentator David Marquis says there’s no reason to get comfortable.

The tumbleweeds are back. That’s how he said it. In a quiet voice, low, knowing what it means.

Uncle Joe is 93 now, and he and Aunt Beth still live on the land 30 miles west of Lubbock.

He lived through the Dust Bowl of the 30’s, remembers the sky turning black so chocked with dirt as to block the sun, ruin wells, kill animals and people.  He remembers the drought of the 50’s, too, years without rain. Terrible dry, he says, terrible dry.

And now the tumble weeds are back. I knew what he meant the moment he said it. They’re stacked up against the houses and the fence lines. High school kids can make a few bucks after school driving the county roads, plucking tumble weeds off the fences and letting them blow across the fields where farmers can disc them with their tractors and turn them into dusty mulch.

I grew up out there, West Texas in the 50’s. We used to walk home backwards from school to keep the stinging sand out of our eyes.

I live in Dallas now, where we’re supposed to get 34 inches of rain a year. But we don’t. We know drought now, too. Grass fires, water restrictions.

There is an ease born of plenty. But there is a wisdom born of restraint, of discipline and priorities.

Delving into it on a recent Sunday afternoon, I visited the Dallas Museum of Art to see the stunning Alexander Houge exhibit, featuring his collection of paintings about the Dust Bowl.

The accompanying narrative properly detailed the environmental and economic issues that brought that dust upon America.

It’s a fine exhibit. I lingered there.

Then in sweet irony, when I left the museum I found the temperature had dropped and a light rain had begun. I didn’t hustle to my car. I did not turn my face from the rain, nor my back to it. Instead I turned my face to the sky and took the drops full on, for I remember.

I remember the sandstorms of my youth, and when I do, I think of my grandchildren. I remind myself of the value of every drop of water.

You see it all the time. Someone running their sprinkler system just after a rain, or even while it’s raining. Water, falling from the sky, while a sprinkler system goes full blast as the excess runs down the gutter.

There is hope.  Man-made wetlands can now filter waste water through native plants, letting nature remove the impurities. Ultra-filtration facilities can make municipal effluent cleaner than bottled water from the grocery store. Satellite technology can measure the humidity in a patch of ground and determine whether to turn on the sprinklers in the first place.

We need these new technologies, for we need to conserve and recycle this precious resource.  In the end, we must choose to use them. It is no longer enough to go our wasteful way while we look to the sky and hope for rain.

After all, the tumble weeds are back.

David Marquis is a playwright and actor from Dallas.