From Oasis to Atoll

 

More than a half-century ago, four members of a wedding headed west traversing four states, the Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers. At two in the morning, we lost our way in a desert of Iowa corn. We scrutinized our paper road map to no avail. Ahead and to our right, mercury-vapor lamps buzzed their sharp blue rays at an isolated house and barn. Being city-folks, we decided—perhaps irrationally— that we might find ourselves on the receiving end of buckshot if we approached the sleeping homestead, so we looked to the sky for guidance—prayers and celestial navigation.

For some reason, Iowa had more stars than we’d seen in our cities. Nevertheless, we found the Big Dipper and Polaris. Reoriented, we zigzagged along any westward trail we could find until we stumbled upon a paved road with highway signs. What a wonderful feeling to locate ourselves on the roadmap. In time, we connected with Route 20—a road that runs from Boston to Oregon. Twenty steered us through endless Iowa-cornfields, across Missouri, and into the endless Nebraska-cornfields. Eventually, Route 20 brought us to O’Neill Nebraska. Handwritten directions guided us to the bride’s family farm—an oasis of trees amid the endlessly dry and sand-colored rows of corn. In true oasis fashion, the family welcomed us as friends they’d never met, offering us food, and a place to sleep. The rehearsal, the wedding, the celebration, and the times in-between remain fuzzy but pleasant memories.

Our hosts explained that oasis trees were a luxury—something like pets or exotic plants. The plains were meant for grass, not trees. Trees may survive along river or stream banks, but on a farm they needed TLC, especially watering during dry-spells. In return, cottonwoods, oaks, and walnuts blocked some of the wind and cooled man and beast in summer.

My image of the oasis surrounded by Nebraska corn suffered a devastating jolt during the news coverage of this week’s bomb cyclone in the plains, including Nebraska.  Ariel images revealed fallow farmland flooded from horizon to horizon. Occasionally, rings or clusters of trees—like atolls—surrounded flooded houses, barns, and sheds. I’m not sure how O’Neill fared, but it has likely suffered crippling losses. Fortunately, my friends survived, although the floods swept away a local access road.

Meteorologists predict the worst is yet to come. As snow and ice melt upstream and the flooding swells rivers to the south. Destruction and misery will multiply downstream. The short and long-term consequences will challenge the skills and resources of emergency managers and stress the agricultural sector already suffering from tariffs.

As in Louisiana and California, levy-failures exacerbated property loss and environmental degradation. The USA has long ignored infrastructure. Supposedly, both Parties agree on this issue.

Nikita Khrushchev said, “We do not have to invade the United States. We will destroy you from within.” From the looks of our infrastructure, the USA is on its way to destruction. Thanks to Nikita and his ilk, our obsession with defense spending for tanks and aircraft that the Generals have rejected has shortchanged infrastructure. Neglect and misguided priorities have begun to process of destroying America from within.

 

 

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