Friday, April 22, 2011

What Is a Drought?

In my last post, I addressed the dry conditions and wild fires in West Texas. It is clear that the state is in the midst of a drought. Many people have a misconception of what a drought is, though. For them, a drought is a period of time of no rain. However, a drought is actually an extended period of time when a region has a deficiency in rain.

During a drought, there may be periods of rain, but this rain does little or nothing to relieve the existing dry conditions. In our modern urban society, many people are not even aware when drought conditions exist; however, those involved in agriculture certainly are aware of drought conditions.

The best way to learn about a drought is to read Elmer Kelton's The Time It Never Rained. Mr. Kelton, who passed away August 22, 2009, was a native of West Texas and spent the bulk of his years in San Angelo, Texas. He was considered by many, including me, to be the greatest Western writer of all time, and he won numerous awards throughout his dignified career.

The Time It Never Rained was set against the background of the 1950s drought, considered by many to be the worst drought in the last 70 or 80 years. Charlie Flagg, the central chracter, was one of a dying breed of men who worked the harsh West Texas land. Ever independent, Charlie refused government aid and suffered through the drought as best he could. It is this struggle that forms the basis of the novel, but the real focus of the novel is the character of Charlie Flagg. In many ways, he is a brother to Homer Bannon, the proud and moral character in Larry McMurtry's Horseman Pass By, which was later made into a movie called Hud, starring Melvyn Douglas and Paul Newman.

What separates the Western writings of Mr. Kelton from others, such as Louis L'Amour, is his emphasis on characterization and his dedication to historical accuracy. Mr. Kelton once said, "I can't write about heroes 7 feet tall and invincible. I write about people 5-foot-8 and nervous." If you want to learn about the Texas Revolution, then read After the Bugles or Massacre at Goliad. If you want to learn about the Texas Rangers, then read Ranger's Trail, Texas Vendetta, or The Way of the Coyote. If you want to learn about drought and its affects, then read The Time It Never Rained.

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