American Author, Editor and Conservationist
American Author, Editor and Conservationist
And then the hour before dawn arrived, crisp and clear, the breathless hour when the animals seem to pause and ponder, the universal hour of reverie. A golden halo of light bathed the grassy ridge tops, but the forest and the river were still cast in heavy shadow. Our sleeping bags were covered with frost, and inside them we were lightly dressed. We awaited the benediction of the sun.?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????
We say that one gets cancer, or a cold, or kidney disease. One would never think to say that one is cancer. But we say that one is depressed, or bipolar, or schizophrenic. A disease of the body is a condition. But a disease of the mind, we think, is a state of being. We no longer believe, as we did 250 years ago, that the mentally ill are animals, but we are not yet ready to grant that they are fully human either.
Curiosity, imagination, inventiveness expand with use, like muscles, and atrophy with neglect.
What the Prairie Teaches Us - The prairie, although plain, inspires awe. It teaches us that grandeur can be wide as well as tall. Young prairie plants put down deep roots first; only when these have been established do the plants invest much energy in growth above ground. They teach us that the work that matters doesn?t always show. Diversity makes the prairie resilient. One hundred acres of prairie may support three thousand species of insects alone, each of them poised to exploit ? often beneficially ? certain plants, microclimates, soils, weather conditions, and seasons. This exuberance equips the prairie to make the most of every opportunity, to meet every natural contingency. The prairie teaches us to see our own living arrangements as stingy and to understand that this miserliness is why they so frequently fall short of our expectations. The prairie is a community. It is not just a landscape or the name of an area on a map, but a dynamic alliance of living plants, animals, birds, insects, reptiles, and microorganisms, all depending upon each other. When too few of them remain, their community loses vitality and they perish together. The prairie teaches us that our strength is in our neighbors. The way to destroy a prairie is to cut it up into tiny pieces, spaced so that they have no communication. The prairie is patient. When drought sets in, as it inevitably does, prairie grasses bide their time. They do not flower without the nourishment to make good seed. Instead, they save their resources for another year when the rains have fallen, the seeds promise to be fat, and the earth is moist and ready to receive them. The prairie teaches us to save our energies for the opportune moment. The prairie grows richer as it ages. Our own horticultural practices eventually deplete the soils. The topsoil washes or blows away; without additives, fertility dwindles. But the soils beneath the protective cover of prairie sod deepen over time; their tilth improves as burrowing animals and insects plow organic matter into them; fires recycle nutrients; deep roots bring up trace elements from the substrate; abundant legumes and microorganisms help to keep it fertile. The prairie was so effective at this work, that more than a century after it was broken, it remains the richest agricultural region in the world. The prairie teaches us how to be competitive without also being destructive. The prairie is tolerant. There are thousands of species of living things on the prairie, but few of them are natives. The prairie has welcomed strangers of every kind and has borrowed ideas from all of its neighboring communities. In doing so, it has discovered how to flourish in a harsh place. The prairie teaches us to see the virtue of ideas not our own and the possibilities that newcomers bring. The prairie turns adversity into advantage. Fires were frequent on the unplowed prairies. The prairie so completely adapted to this fact that it now requires fire for its health. Regular burning discourages weedy competitors, releases nutrients captured in leaves and stems, reduces thatch that would otherwise become a stifling mulch, stimulates cloning in grasses, and encourages the growth of legumes, which capture nitrogen from the air and make it available to the whole prairie community. The prairie teaches us to consider the uses that may be made of our setbacks. The prairie is cosmopolitan. On the wings of winds and of birds, in the migrations of animals and insects, down the waters of streams and rivers come the messages, mainly contained in genetic codes, that sustain the prairie. Its storms swoop out of the Arctic or sweep up from the Gulf; many of its songbirds are familiar with the tropical rainforests; its monarch butterflies winter in the highlands of Mexico; its ducks vacation on seacoasts and in desert oases; its parasites hitchhike upon all of them. We think we have discovered the global village, but the prairie knew of it millennia ago. The prairie is bountifully utilitarian. But it is lovely too, in a hundred thousand ways and in a million details, many of them so finely wrought that one must drop to one?s knees to appreciate them. This is what, over all else, the prairie teaches us: there need be no contradiction between utility and beauty.
Faintly at first, like a whisper of wind, I hear the sound of running water. As I approach it, its language becomes more distinct, the babble of many voices in an unfamiliar language. And then I am upon the rapids, the water slipping over stones like liquid silk, its voice now a low murmur, the sound of an astonished crowd.
When I go there, I retreat into the wildness of my own brain, transcending the limits of living in a world of words or of my own kind alone and reveling in the grace of the wild.
I had come to the lake because I had been writing about it for days, and the more I wrote about it, the less I could remember it. To write about something is to take leave of it. I needed to find my sense of the lake again.?
When the uniqueness of a place sings to us like a melody, then we will know, at last, what it means to be at home.
I was struck by several things as I read John Fraser Hart's history of American Agriculture, The Land That Feeds Us: By the thought, again, that abuses of land and abuses of human beings are connected components of the same moral order; by how simplistic it is to think of oppression as a phenomenon that divides merely along racial and gender lines; by how sordid and squalid the history of American agriculture, which was to be the foundation of our democracy.
I will make one more try at keeping a journal. My life, from the evidence of my notebooks, would seem to have consisted solely of Januaries.
It was the circle of little stories into which we were now drawn--the remembrances of food and recitations and customs, of other places and ages--that distinguished us from the prairie world that stretched beyond the dimly lit shadows of the old farmhouse into the long night.
Its glow seemed to emanate not from the heavens but from within the earth and to radiate out into the darkness of space. The second most beautiful light in the world is the light of the midday sun on snow, light at its most transparent?Sunlight on snow sparkles, moonlight shimmers on it. Winter days are naked; winter nights are veiled in blue lace and sequins.?
Maybe nothing is sustainable and permanent. Maybe that is the beginning of wisdom.
Nauseated by the scent of flowers and of body perfume. We waited a very long time in that parlor, and the odors of the place grew as we sat there, waiting, I suppose, for condolences to be said. The room grew cloyingly hot. There was a tropical steaminess about it. But when we went to bury my grand- father, we encountered a bitter wind, and the snow was running again For a long time after that, I smelled the odor of death in the snow winds.
Tell them I got up and said a few words. [When asked how he wanted to be remembered a few months before his suicide from depression]
The complicated prairie survives against the odds, and our simple farms don't. This is the sort of truth that withstands both objective and spiritual scrutiny.
The testament of a man who simultaneously aches and rejoices over the land he calls home.
There is an ancient eloquence in lists.
There is no death so final as the death of a memory.?
And the landscape conveyed a strange aura of intimacy. Vastness, emptiness, austerity have the paradoxical effect of opening up the self, of rendering it vulnerable to the persuasions of the heart. Noise, busyness, bustle, abundance - the trappings of industrial life - are enemies of intimacy. Is it any wonder that our industrial lives are so violent.
We no longer believe, as we did 250 years ago, that the mentally ill are animals, but we are not yet ready to grant that they are fully human either.
It is one thing to decry the rat race...that is the good and honorable work of moralists. It is quite another thing to quit the rat race, to drop out, to refuse to run any further--that is the work of the individualist. It is offensive because it is impolite it makes the rebuke personal the individualist calls not his or her behavior into question, but mine.
There are two classes of moralists: those who seek to improve the quality of other people’s lives, and those who are content to improve their own.