The Tallgrass Prairie Reader

The Tallgrass Prairie Reader The Tallgrass Prairie Reader University of Iowa, 2014

Edited by John T. Price

University of Iowa Press, 2014

Author and English professor Price edited this unique collection of writings by the prairie's inhabitants, explorers, and visitors from the seventeenth century up to today who reflect on their impressions of the once-prevailing landscape which stretched north to south right through the center of what is now the continental United States.

Through the eyes of American Indians--Black Dog, John Joseph Mathews, Meridel Le Sueur, and others who embraced the prairie's riches and were humbled by its sacredness and danger--we see thousands of miles of undulating hills, waving grasses, running bison, and late summer fires. Few of the earliest Europeans who traveled out to the prairie recognized such glory, but saw only a vast emptiness. After overcoming their initial disdain for the timberless land, later pioneers and their descendants turned more and more of the dark, fertile soil underneath into farmland, ultimately at a cost to the environment and themselves. 

Today, less than two or three percent of the original prairie now remains, some say even less than that, of what was the biggest biome in the world. In the 1980's, out of an awareness of such a loss, the prairie preservation and restoration movement began. Observers such as novelist Josephine W. Johnson and conservationist Paul Gruchow lament its loss and extol its value and beauty. From restorationist John Madson readers are introduced to the intricate ecosystem of the prairie: the soil, the grasses with their miles-long roots, and the parts that bison, prairie chicken, wildflowers, and the wind and fire play. Nature writer Teresa Jordan and ecologist Don Gayton consider the benefits and shortcomings of prairie restoration. Twenty-first century-writers such as naturalist Cindy Crosby find appreciation for the scarce, sacred prairie while clearing it of weeds or gathering native plant seeds, and are in awe of its significance on the American landscape and in its history.

These fine selections chosen by Price (forty-one writers total) help us imagine the endless prairie, often compared to an ocean, with its own species of grass, flowers, animals, and its people--from the First Nation to the post-modern suburbanites. The Tallgrass Prairie Reader takes us on a journey with them all through this definitive landscape in the heart of the continent. Along the way, one comes to realize that without love and respect for the prairie and its creatures as the priceless gifts they are, or for any of the land claimed as the United States, we who live there cannot love one another. And without such love, we will all be lost.

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