Sunday, September 09, 2007

About the plains

The landscape of the Great Plains, the swathe of prairie that runs through the middle of the United States, is quite special. While traveling to Fargo, North Dakota last year, I had my first glimpse of it as my flight approached the airport. The incredibly flat, largely treeless expanse around Fargo was apportioned neatly into farms. And later, on the ground, I felt odd because my sense of perspective was altered by the flatness: because there were so few trees, the view was uninterrupted in all directions, and the sky seemed large and imposing. A character of Willa Cather’s describes aptly in her novel My Antonia the feeling of insignificance one feels on the vast prairie: “Between the earth and the sky, I felt erased, blotted out.”

When I drove through South Dakota and Nebraska last month (and quite a bit of Minnesota too), I got to see the prairie again and was able to better appreciate its variations. I learned, for instance, that it isn't always flat, and that it undulates gently - an ocean of farms and grassland with swells and lows. And pretty much throughout my trip, I found large bales of hay arrayed upon the farms that flanked the road, sometimes in an orderly fashion, as in the picture below.

I’ll stop here for now, but there will be more in coming months about the plains – not only about its landscape, but also of its history, and if I have the time, a review of Willa Cather’s novel O Pioneer, set in the newly settled plains of late nineteenth century Nebraska.

I took these pictures somewhere near the very small settlement of Carter (hamlet is perhaps the right word) in southern South Dakota.


Kartik said...

I imagine it'd start to get eerie after a while :-)

Definitely, the plains are something else - I was reading a book called "The Great Plains" (can't recall the author) - it gives an amazing account of life in the prairie states.

Hari said...

It must have been Ian Frazier. I've heard a lot about him, and have also read a little of his other famous book, On the Rez, which a memoir of travels in the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. It's a place I recently visited; hope to post something about it soon.

Kartik said...

Ian Frazier it was!