You cannot truly love living where the prairie used to be without constant wonder and sadness about how the prairie used to be.
The soil is the land, and the land is the only thing that has kept people here all these years. Every time the crops are harvested and the surface is turned over, the dark matter of this place exposed yet again to the unfeeling elements. I rejoice in the life that soil represents and supports. But I grieve, too, for all that had to perish to make this possible.
Often, when I look across the wide expanse of cultivated fields stretching for miles in every direction across the rolling landscape, I try – largely in vain – to imagine what it must have been like here before: before the surveyors plotted the prairie vastness into a one-mile grid, before countless plows turned over the tall prairie grasses to reveal the dark earth hugging their roots, before the clapboard farmhouses with their double row of poplars and cottonwoods dotted the face of the earth here in the middle of America. Before nothing was left of where the buffalo roamed. Occasionally I can catch a glimpse: some preserved patch of grassland where I can stroll through, running my fingers through the switchgrass and big bluestem, breathing in the tireless wind, listening to the trill of the meadowlark and the aqueous call of the red-winged blackbirds.
Sometimes, if there is a bit of a dip, I can lose sight for a moment of what is all around, block out the view of farm sites and row crops, and see only waving grasses and sky. It is sort of like imagining a fabulous cake from the few flakes of ossified frosting that are left on the serving plate the morning after the party. Not even a taste, just a very dim glimpse for the very imaginative.