Prairie Tayles: Control Is An Illusion

Sep 15, 2017

Humans are funny creatures. Some imagine we control much that happens in our world. Because technological advances during the last two centuries eradicated small pox and put men on the moon, it’s easy to accept this idea. Believing we direct our lives makes us feel safer. However, anyone who lives in Kansas understands our species doesn’t control of much of anything but putting satellites in orbit and operating a remote that allows us to picture what weather might do. With that little button and functioning electricity, we can react to nature but we can’t regulate it. Recent storms made that abundantly clear.

Though memory tends to be short, few of us have forgotten the multi-year dry spell that parched ponds, streams, and rivers into dried mud, shriveled prairie grasses to sere curls, and decimated trees. Watching evening news programs offered no comfort. Grim-faced forecasters highlighted maps of nearly every Kansas county in bright colors that confirmed what we saw daily—we suffered extreme drought.

In reaction, town councils voted to restrict watering while individuals opted to place rain barrels and other systems in yards and fields to capture every bit of moisture available. Gardeners promoted drought- resistant plants and xeriscaping to manage a non-existent resource. Appliance and hardware stores marketed low-flow washers, toilets, faucets, and showerheads to conserve water.

Amazingly, in only a few months, the scenario changed. Instead of facing a water shortage, businesses advertise sump pumps and dehumidifiers to waiting customers. Home improvement departments that promoted fixing foundations weakened due to dry conditions now publicize efforts to prevent leaky basements. Ironically, area residents must figure out how to channel water away from properties rather than to them.

Our ancestors faced similar issues. Where do you build a town? Those who built along a creek, river, or stream in dry years, had easy access to drinking and household water. Heck, enterprising sorts built a mill to grind grain or produce electricity to light homes.

One wet season changes everything. Overnight, residents who prided themselves on wise planning and convenient services find raging torrents sweeping houses from foundations or eroding roadways. Such experiences have occurred far too often. More than one first responder team rescued folks from cars or houses.

Not only do storms that tint the radar in shades of red, pink, and purple dump deluges on saturated soil, plunging temperatures alter those molecules into baseball-size ice chunks. Heavy winds turn such projectiles into artillery that shatters glass, pulverizes siding, shreds crops, and convinces anyone living through the assault that Mother Nature can expertly wage war. Area residents stay busy repairing and rebuilding property long after weather events pass.

Through a season, Mother Nature reminds us life can change overnight. Ponds overflow, rivers surge over banks to wipe out roads or flood communities, and wind-driven hail shreds siding and splinters glass. Pressing a remote’s on button provides a preview of the show to come and sometimes offers time to prepare for the result. However, it doesn’t control what’s about to happen. Neither do we.