Travel to U.S.: Oklahoma: Norman 1: The Agrarian Background
Carved out of the Unassigned Lands and opened to settlement in April, 1889, Norman began as a county seat and agricultural service center. Although a suburb of Oklahoma City today, Norman's identity is very closely linked to the presence of the University of Oklahoma. Still, something of the city's agrarian beginnings can be detected under the urban accretions.
Not an inspiring picture? Maybe, but interesting in its own way. Norman is on the left bank of the Canadian River, which flows from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico to the Arkansas River of eastern Oklahoma. The flow varies hugely over the course of the year, and many parts of the streamcourse are dry in the summer. Here, looking like a sea of gravel, is the river during a dry spell. Norman is hidden on the left. Sadly, most Normanites believe that the only good river is a mountain river; hence the city makes no effort to use the Canadian except as a source of sand and gravel. Not so long ago, the bank around the bend downstream was also the city's so-called sanitary landfill.
In summer, the water is very warm. It was across the same river, some twenty miles to the south (behind the camera), that the first settlers came splashing into the newly opened lands of Oklahoma Territory.
Those settlers found themselves on or near an ecotone, with grasslands to the west and oak forest--the Crosstimbers--to the east. Both were homesteaded and put to cotton. A century later, the Crosstimbers are back, except for the occasional pasture, like this one, just east of town.
The Crosstimbers were a huge impediment to travellers and settlers. Here, again from East Norman, a creek flows in a channel incised through Permian sandstone and sheathed by tough oak.
The townsite of Norman, which was laid out by employees of the pre-existing Santa Fe railroad, lay on the grassy side of the ecotone. Here, literally within a 100 yards of Interstate 35, is a residual bit of that old grassland. Farmed until World War II, it was then put into a naval-air station, from whose protective arms it has only recently been prised. The University of Oklahoma has all sorts of good ideas for this patch, which is slated for an industrial park.
Tucked away on the same bit of ground, an old farmhouse.
Judging from the tractor, that homestead wasn't abandoned so very long ago. In the background: buildings flanking Interstate 35.
I know, I know, you want to go shopping. And you don't even see what I want you to see. Look at that pattern in the foreground. Know an old weedy cotton field when you see one?
A couple of miles to the south, and next to the state's new museum of natural history, another cabin, the Neal Family Cabin, has been trucked in from its original location at Wanette, and prettied up. Such are the ironies of museology. Update, December, 2005: a flatbed truck drove up, loaded the Neal cabin, and took it to the Harn Homestead, a museum just south of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Consolation: well, near the site where this picture was taken there's now a spanking apartment complex and, on the other side, a great new car wash.
A less gentrified relic: the silos of one of the many dairy farms that Norman once had. One of these days, they'll be blasted to make room for more parking, but for now they're kept as a momento. They're surrounded by very active soccer fields--and parking lots, of course. Thank some Oklahoma State landscape-architecture students. About 20 years ago, they were told to do a masterplan for this then-new park. They suggested that keeping the old farm silos might be a good idea, not only as a bit of heritage but also as a place maker on the otherwise homogeneous landscape.
An abandoned but miraculously surviving schoolhouse at the north end of town (24th St. NW).
The schoolhouse had a tornado shelter, now collapsing.
From the schoolyard you get an almost pristine view of what Norman looked like a century ago: prairie plains, the Santa Fe track, and some trackside telegraph wires.
Not far away you can also see how hard farming was on this land, with sheet erosion carried to such an extent that whole slopes dropped away. Just to the left is an entrenched creek, with near-vertical banks.
* Australia's Northern Territory * Austria * Bangladesh * Belgium * Brazil (Manaus) * Burma / Myanmar * Cambodia (Angkor) * Canada (B.C.) * China * Czech Republic * Egypt * France * Germany * Greece * Hungary * India: Themes * Northern India * Peninsular India * Indonesia * Israel * Italy * Japan * Jerusalem * Jordan * Kenya * Laos * Kosovo * Malaysia * Mexico * Morocco * Mozambique * Namibia * Netherlands * Norway * Oman * Pakistan * Philippines * Poland * Portugal * Singapore * South Africa * Spain * Sri Lanka * Sudan * Syria * Tanzania * Thailand * Trinidad * Turkey * United Arab Emirates * United Kingdom * U.S.: East * U.S.: West * U.S.: Oklahoma * Uzbekistan * Vietnam * West Bank * Yemen * Zimbabwe *