Thursday, March 31, 2005

A December to Remember

The weather was exceptionally beautiful today. The wind and the rain have cleared the normally grayish-brown air out of the valley and there was clear view of all three mountain ranges surrounding the city. Every now and then when the weather is good we get a good view of the mountains, but today stood out due to the snow still clinging to the summit after all the recent rain. I’ve lived here all my life, and I don’t recall seeing the nearby mountains as clearly as I did today.

While watching the news tonight, the comment was made that the Santa Ana winds were responsible for the spectacular view. If you’ve ever lived in California you know what the words “Santa Ana” winds mean. As I sat on my sofa thinking about it, I suddenly remembered “The Great Dust Storm of 1977.”

It was December, which in Bakersfield normally means cold, foggy, and gray skies. I was in the fourth grade at the time, but I can still remember clearly the sudden strange shift in the air. The temperature was warm and a strange wind began to blow. When I got up to go to school one day, shortly before Christmas vacation, I looked outside and saw a sky that had turned an ugly, violent orange.

My family and I peered through the windows anxiously. The wind was howling and dust filled the air. After listening to the news, it was decided that we would not be going to school that day. Instead my mother, my sister and I began to wet towels and stuff them along the window seals. At one point I recall the air became so thick with dust, we tied damp handkerchiefs across our faces as we continued to scramble around fighting the encroaching sand.

Within an hour or two, the orange sky turned dark and empty and I remember thinking as I peered out in the blackness that the world was coming to an end. I was scared. And I could tell my mom was scared too, which scared me even more. The rest of the day and night was spent scurrying about like frightened rabbits trying to save our home from the fierce dust storm and privately wondering if anything would ever be the same again.

By the middle of the next day the storm had passed. People began to creep out from under their barricades to survey the damage. Glued to the T.V. I saw images of cars completely buried beneath the sand, uprooted trees, and street signs with the paint blasted off down to the metal. To this day, I have to say I have never experienced any thing so surreal. (Except maybe that spider monkey attack thing.)

Looking back, it’s ironic to me that so many Bakersfield residents, who were obliviously children of the “Dust Bowl” and had experienced a very similar phenomenon, would be subjected to such an ordeal again. According to "Bakersfield: A Centennial Portrait" by John Maynard, the winds that day blew at 189 mph and 25 million cubic feet of topsoil was lost from surrounding farm land.

As vivid as my memory is of that day, the thing that stands out the most is opening my Christmas presents shortly thereafter. Every package, which had previously been wrapped and taped shut, was full of dirt.

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