Friday, May 26, 2006


I've known plains...that central area of the United States between the Appalachian and the Rocky Mountains generally referred to as the Great Plains. Geological forces placed these plains at 2500 feet or more above sea level with high mountain ranges on the west that cuts rainfall to 20 inches or less each year. The geography varies from table top flat to gently mounded to hilly and is characterized by vast open expanses swept by wind that blows harder than anywhere else in the country. The eye roams unimpeded from horizon to horizon, man and his implements dots on the landscape.
I've known the upper Great Plains...that area west of the Mississippi River and north of the Platte reaching to the Rockies. Grasslands and streams fed numerous herds of buffalo and tribes of native people. Skeletal remains tell of dinosaurs inhabiting the plains in eons past. Today evidence of civilization erupts in crazy quilt pattern unable to fill the expansive ranges. Grass species range from tallgrass to stem grass to bluestem to western wheatgrass to grama grass. So important are the grasses to the culture and environment that each state has an official grass. Once home to roaming herds of buffalo, the plains today are home to elk, antelope, deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes, grouse, pheasants, wild turkeys, eagles, falcons, and prairie dogs.
I've known plains...the fields that change with the seasons. In spring, fallow earth lies flat and barren waiting for cultivation and planting. By late spring seedlings burst open their seed coverings and tender sprouts emerge. Their shoots responding to rain and sun soon reach for the sky. In summer, the fields put on a style show. Grains wear seed heads, legumes show blossoms that change to fruit, corn tassels and stalks grow heavy with ears, sugar beets charm with their ruffling foliage, and sunflowers display smiley faces. The plains are lush and luxurious. The heavy growth undulates in the summer breeze. This is the flatlander's ocean, the movement swelling and surging with sun lighted peaks and dark mysterious shadows. In late summer, the fields of grain turn golden promising wealth and reward. The harvest begins and continues into fall; the plains become sear and empty, turned into themselves. In the undercurrents, the plains rest, digest, gather energy for a new season. Days and weeks become the months of winter when the plains lay under a mantle of snow shifted and shaped and reshaped by the ever present wind sweeping unblocked across the even ground. The flatlander's ocean is awash in waves of white, waves that stretch to fine points or curl to shelter shadowy havens, waves that grow or diminish with the ebb and flow of wind driven snowflakes.
I've known plains...ever changing and never changing. The plains orchestrate my life's song. Sometimes I'm in harmony and sometimes I'm in discord. The rhythms of the plains are ever present calling to my inner being when I hike, backpack, or horseback ride. Canoeing, fishing and hunting allow me to savor the sights and sounds of the land. Photography tries, but cannot quite capture the fullness of images that invade and inspire my senses. The plains remind me that no matter how out of step or off key I get, I have only to look and listen to find affirmation. Yes, I know plains.