Giving Thanks for the Earth

By Sr. Margaret Hoffman, SND

As I walked down to the Province Center this morning, I looked at the varied greens and autumn colors of our beautiful property here on the NDNU campus. We have had rain these last several days. The world seemed refreshed and the air clear. I thanked God for the beauty of this earth.

By contrast I watched the Ron Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl the last two evenings. As a young child I remember seeing people in Redwood City whom my mother called “Oakies” who seemed poor and gaunt. Never in my wildest imagining could I have imagined what these people endured during ten years in the Midwest—on a huge swath of land from stretching from the Dakotas into Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and parts of Colorado into Northern Texas.

The Dust Bowl was a part of the depression years memorialized by the compelling photos of Dorothea Lange and others. Until now I had never known of the extent of the terrible dust and sand storms that ravaged the plains. Vast prairie lands that had been converted to golden grain and lush kitchen gardens were destroyed by the black storms that engulfed the land. Prairie ranges for cattle became desolate waterless landscapes where few cattle survived. Over a decade the land was hit by huge black dust and wind storms that could last for days. They destroyed crops, killed cattle, led to plagues of rabbits and cockroaches not unlike the plagues of Egypt, and ultimately to the deaths of some children and the physically fragile by choking. In its last stages it was described by those who survived as Armagedden, the end of the world.

Miraculously, this land which seemed lost has been largely restored and the grasses which with their deep roots held water and kept the land in place, have come back. People who managed to stay have learned new respect for the land and water that sustain it. Is this not a cautionary tale for us faced as we certainly are with climate change and new perils to our beloved earth?

Let us at this time of Thanksgiving give deep thought and prayer to the beauty of this earth and pledge to respect it in every way we can. We can learn from the Native Americans who lived so productively on this same prairie land for generations with huge herds of buffalo and never disturbed the earth because they understood it limits and its capacities. In many ways I think Ron Burns has given us a precious gift and a warning to ponder this Thanksgiving in this series.

St. Francis, you who so loved the earth, at this critical time help us to respect the limits of the land and the gifts of this beautiful planet Earth.