Last month, I visited Red Cloud, Nebraska, for the annual Willa Cather Spring Conference, where I met Dan O’Brien, author of Buffalo for the Broken Heart (which I highly recommend – the man sure can tell a story). Dan was the keynote speaker at the conference and gave a great speech, as well as a sneak preview of his upcoming novel, which sounds fantastic! It was nice to finally meet him and get to chat with him (about grass, of course), as well as obtain his autograph for my copy of his book. Thanks, Dan!
I also visited the Cather Prairie, a 610 acre unplowed prairie. While it is a highly scenic prairie, the unrelenting Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis) had invaded much of it. Though to be fair, it was still late in the spring, and many of the warm season species were not yet highly visible. The place still needs a good prescribed burn program, otherwise it will degrade from prairie to a Brome dominated grassland. This shows why management, fire especially, is important in prairies; just because it is unplowed doesn’t mean it is management-free or perfect, it just means it wasn’t plowed.
Willa Cather wrote much of the prairie that surrounded her in the book, My Ántonia. While I’m not sure Ms. Cather ever had a scientific understanding of the prairies she wrote so much about, it is her prose and lyricism that still helps to draw people to prairies today; because not everyone can relate to such a complex ecosystem on a scientific level – and the prairies need all the supporters they can get! With that said, I will leave below some of Cather’s famous prairie quotes:
“We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it
and understand it are the people who own it – for a little while.”
“This country was mostly wild pasture and as naked as the back of your hand. . . so the country and I had it out together and by the end of the first autumn, that shaggy grass country had gripped me with a passion I have never been able to shake. It has been the happiness and the curse of my life.”
Then there is hiking in prairies. Not all prairies are flat and not all prairies are the same. They may not be as rugged as the Rocky Mountains, but, as Michael Forsberg says, “it can be every bit as remarkable.” The two photos below are from yesterday’s hike on a loess hills prairie.
Enjoy the article, linked below, which sings a song for hiking in the prairies.