When you think of a windy Kansas winter day, you may just be able to picture a tumbling tumbleweed or two. I thought I would take a moment to share a few pictures of our most recent tumbleweed blow.
I live in the Southwest corner of Kansas where it has been very dry for several years. We haven’t been able to grow much in the way of crops on our non irrigated cropland, but this year we had a small amount of moisture at just the right time for the Russian Thistles to take off and grow into some mighty big weeds. While attached to their roots in the field, they are green and they were about the only green thing growing. Some farmers didn’t do much to disturb them because they were holding the top soil in place during some high wind days. Without something growing on the ground, the top soil likes to take off in the wind and creates dust storms that limit visibility and make breathing outside difficult. When the thistles dry up and a good wind comes along they break away from their roots and begin to tumble across the landscape catching on fence rows, the side of the house or barn, tree rows or anything that gets in their way.
We had a strong front come through our corner of the state on December 28th with a north wind that chilled you to the bone. I was heading home after a family Christmas celebration in town when I began to encounter the tumbleweeds racing south across our two lane highway. There were some small ones about the size of a beach ball but many of them were closer in size to a large dog or a small pony! It is almost impossible to dodge them all on a night like that. The best you can hope for is that one of them doesn’t hit you broadside and leave a nasty scratch on your car. I made it home without hitting too many of the blowing thistles. When I pulled into the yard to unload my car, I opened the shed door to put the car in and while I was unloading, the wind whipped about 2 dozen tumbleweeds into the door. I grabbed my gloves(you don’t want to handle the prickly things without gloves) and tossed them back out into the wind. We were fortunate that the wind was just right that night and we didn’t get too many of them hung up around our farm. The neighborhoods on the north end of my small town were not so lucky, they were bombarded with tumbleweeds that blocked streets and alleys, surrounded and covered up vehicles and piled up between houses. The past several days have been spent gathering and carefully burning the weeds. They burn hot and quick so one has to be careful to contain them so that they don’t take off in a gust of wind and light something on fire.
While they are a nuisance to those of us who have to deal with them annually, people who are passing through and see one will often times stop and try to chase one down and take it home with them. We honor the lowly tumbleweed locally with the Tumbleweed Bazaar, a craft show in the fall. The venue is sometimes decorated with tumbleweeds. Other folks have been known to spray paint the tumbleweeds white and stack and decorate them for a snowman when we are lacking snow. I even attended an event with a western theme where a very creative artist used tumbleweeds and branches to create a horse for their table decor.
As irritating as they can be, they do look delicate and lacy and are fascinating to those who don’t have to deal with them on a windy day. So if you are ever visiting Southwest Kansas on a windy day, keep your eyes peeled for the tumbling tumbleweed!