I don’t own a time machine, but the newspaper article I have from 1982, which details an interview with my great grandfather on the eve of his 100th birthday, tells me more about what central Oklahoma was like in the years prior to statehood than anything I’ve ever read. My great grandfather was seven years old at the time of the Land Run, which opened this area for settlement, and in the article he mentions his family having to fight to retain the 160 acres they claimed. They fought blizzards, tornadoes, wildfires, which could be contained “only with the help of every able-bodied man,” and outlaws who tried to wrest away this land through gunfire.
But more than this, the article mentions the enormous herds of buffalo and wildlife that once lived here, and, to my astonishment, the abundance of clean, clear water that “wasn’t all filled up with junk like it is today.”
As a lifelong angler and someone who has spent so much time in and around Oklahoma’s lakes and streams, it’s hard to believe there was ever much clear water here. Most of what we have is found beneath the ground, in aquifers, or in the streams of the eastern third of the state. Here in central Oklahoma, where eastern deciduous forest meets western prairie landscape, the red soil bleeds into our reservoirs and ponds, which are under constant assault by the wind. Consequently, they’re turbid, which may be one reason why I’m so fascinated by pristine water.
As I read news of the state’s ongoing battle over water rights, I am reminded that no one will ever really own Oklahoma’s water. It belongs to the earth, and it’s more precious than diamonds. The best we can do is to educate ourselves about how we can protect it. And the best way to do this, in my opinion, is to take a kid fishing, and to explain that the changes wrought on the land today will affect us, and our water, a hundred years from now.