The jam jar sitting on John Vannatta's kitchen table appears to be filled with coffee, until he shows you the label on the lid. The preserve inside is history, saved from a time when black blizzards filled the sky, turning day into night; a time when Americans starved. "Pure 1930s Blow Dirt," it reads. It might also say: don't forget, lest it happens again. Continued below...
Not that Mr Vannatta, 92 – or his neighbour Huston Hanes – needs reminding. Both retired farmers, they are members of a very small club indeed: the last survivors of that great American epic, the Dust Bowl, that spanned 1932 to 1936 and coincided with the Great Depression.
Mr Vannatta found the dust on rafters in an old barn 10 years ago and knew at once what it was. When the storms they called "dusters" roared through, vacuuming whole fields to the heavens, this is the dust they left behind, choking the lungs of grown men and burying trees to their highest limbs.
Brought together by a reporter, the two neighbours in Keyes, a small and parched farming town in the Oklahoma Panhandle, ponder not just the past, but also the present. Drought is again stalking the Panhandle, a two-by-four stick of territory on the map so flat and so lonely that it goes by the name "No Man's Land". It has been more like a furnace here of late than either can remember, more even than when the dusters came. And they both agree the Dust Bowl, or something close to it, could happen again.