Saturday, July 19, 2008

Great Plains by Ian Frazier

I finished this book this morning, and was so sad it was done. It begins,

"Away to the Great Plains of America, to that immense Western short-grass prairie now mostly plowed under! Away to the still empty land beyond newsstands and malls and velvet restaurant ropes! Away to the headwaters of Missouri, now quelled by many impoundment dams, and to the headwaters of the Platte, and to the almost invisible headwaters of the slurped-up Arkansas!... Away to the skies of sparrow hawks sitting on telephone wires, thinking of mice and flaring their tail feathers suddenly like a card trick! Away to the air shaft of the continent, where weather fronts from two hemispheres meet, and the wind blows almost all the time! Away to the fields of wheat and milo and sudan grass and flax and alfalfa and nothing! Away to Montana and North Dakota and Wyoming and Nebraska and Kansas and Colorado and New Mexico and Oklahoma and Texas!"

This is a book by a writer that lived in Montana for a bit and drove around the great plains. He mixes anecdotes with a lot of history to give a picture of this place. The plains are so dry and holds so little that when things come, they leave an imprint. The plains hold dinosaur fossils, shark teeth and prehistoric fish bones, tracks from buffalo, the Oregon Trail, and Native American camps. Abandoned homes from the 30s still stand as if untouched. Booming towns are now small, but each has a museum from their rich history. They seem to remember Sitting Bull, Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, or the In Cold Blood killers like they had just left. It makes me want to drive and be in that history. It makes me mourn the loss of the Native Americans, single family farms, open un-owned land, and the promise of adventure. But the expanse there is so large, you can still go and stand under an unobstructed sky, and imagine nothing has changed.

In telling the history and the present of the Great Plains, it seems the reader really gets to know them. Wouldn't it be wonderful to come across a home left in the middle of the Dust Bowl, preserved as if left last month? The book was nostalgic and informative, and I definitely recommend it.


Kate said...

i think the loss of the prairie is one of the saddest things. the landscape in the midwest now bears absolutely no resemblance to what it naturally was. there is barely any prairie left at all. i cant imagine how beautiful the prairie must have been, stretching out unobstructed for miles on end.

i would like to travel around out west, like in montana and the dakotas, and even the desert in the southwest, where, as you say, there are large areas that are still untouched (at least comparatively). but there really is no place left like that where you can go see the prairie...

Heather said...

It is funny that this has come up just now, because Jeff and I were talking about planning a vacation -roadtrip style heading to Montana and the dakotas, just to experience something very different from what we know.

Kate said...

heather, take me with you! i want to see the badlands in south dakota so bad!