National Geographic : 1953 Apr
562 The National Geographic Magazine mi ses. He starts this time on the row right next to the last one he sprayed. I thought maybe he would forget a row, but no, he covers every one as thoroughly as we could on the ground." This tribute was for Schaefer, finishing the field of hoppers nearest the trucks. We drove over to get a bug 's-eye view. Because the planes were working from such a low altitude, we parked the jeep well away from the flags and walked in to lie flat on our stomachs at the edge of the marked area, steadying our cameras with elbows braced in the sand. We intended to stay away from among the hoppers, but they had spilled over the boundaries in the hour since the flags were placed. Before we knew it, Dhia had moved the flags back, and we were 30 yards inside the target area. Schaefer had started his next run in our direction with only a slit of sky showing under his wheels. It was no time to stand erect. It seemed impossible that the fast-approach- ing plane did not intend to land on us. Quickly it grew too big for the camera finder, too big for the eye. Then we were over- whelmed. The noise was deafening; we shoved our faces in the sand and plugged our ears with our fingers. Caught in a Reeking Rain of Poison The reeking poison fell , a fine , drenching mist hardly visible but feeling like a slap from a wet dishcloth. Slowly we got up, hair and clothing redolent, droplets in our ears and on our glasses and camera lens. Before we could exchange words of sym- pathy, Schaefer was back from the other direction- another flop, another picture, an- other aldrin bath. Then, mopping ourselves, we jeeped back to the landing strip, picking dying black hoppers off one another. From the strip , spraying looked extremely dangerous. Almost from the first take-off the wind had buffeted the planes with strong, fitful gusts. This is the most feared hazard of the crop-dusting pilot, and the strain began to show on the flyers' faces as they reloaded their tanks. After the first run pilot Anderson took his shirt off , perspiration dripping from his chin. After the second, Bill Mabee stood beside the biggest truck, sucking a cold pipe and squint- ing minute after minute at the skimming planes. " I don 't like this. It's not good to spray in this wind. It's like waiting for - waiting for - something ," he finished lamely. The burden of waiting for the planes to return grew heavier. Even the crewmen were silent as time and again a plane seemed to hit the ground. When the wind rose , the plane steadied itself at 10 feet. Suddenly the wind would drop , and the sound of the en- gine being gunned as the plane lost precious altitude would reach us. The roar always seemed too late. We were thankful when the job was done; no one could have borne another trip. Both pilots were soaked with perspiration now , and they tried before they took off for the base to explain their nervousness. "It's So Easy to Crack Up" "It's that wind ," one said , as though the rest of us had been unaware of it. " In weather like ·this, the plane gets bounced up. When you try to put her nose down again it's so easy to crack up, if you put it too low." By the time we reassembled at camp the wind had become a gale. Now we were en- folded in a muffled world of whirling sand. When the sun chose to shine again, trucks and planes would roar out to kill more locusts. But not today. In Iraq 's Parliament or our Congress in Washington, D.C. , sheiks and senators might inquire into the worth and meaning of inter- national cooperation to increase the world 's living standard. There it may be hard to define "Point 4 Mission." Here it is so easy. Here, Point 4 is men from two nations squatting around a lamp , planning campaigns against invading insect hordes on a bilingual map. It is men working long hours in remote wastes to conquer one of man 's oldest scourges. It is pilots risking their lives to help prevent famine. Point 4 is an American flyer saying, " Let's see, Bill. You say the hoppers on one acre will grow up to eat the food on 200 acres. We sprayed 200 acres this morning. That means we ' ve saved 40,000 acres up north. " New Hope for Victory Point 4 is the Iraqi entomologist with a locust specimen in his palm , its feelers curled about a finger, saying, " I checked the field you sprayed yesterday, Schaefer. Every hop- per is dead. " It is Bill Mabee , sitting like a Bedouin with boots tucked under his haunches , fingering his belt buckle , souvenir from a grasshopper cam- paign in Nevada, and musing over the map: " If this wind changes, they 'll come back again , and there 'll be trouble in Afghanistan, too. I wonder how many people know we could stop their milling back and forth like this, Dhia- stop them for good." And Point 4 is pilot Schaefer, looking up from the letter he is writing to his wife and sons and saying casually, " I thought we were out here to help keep people from starving. I 'm hungry- isn't it chow time?"