Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 25, No. 2, Spring 2005, pp. 135.
John Price reads and travels his way into the grasslands, the prairies, in his fine new book. He reads four landscape writers-Dan O'Brien, Linda Hasselstrom, William Least Heat-Moon, and Mary Swander-who "commit to a place in such social and ecological peril" as the grasslands. Price also travels to each writer's "place" to talk and try to get a better sense of the ways each has "become native" to a particular geography. Those journeys are also Price's own immersion in the grasslands in hopes of discovering how he himself can be native.
In South Dakota, he reads Dan O'Brien's Equinox (1997) and Rites of Autumn (1988) and Linda Hasselstrom's Windbreak (1987) and Land Circle (I991) and interviews each writer-O'Brien about his life on his ranch with his falcons and Hasselstrom about her lifetime on her ranch and her eventually having to give it up. For Price and these writers the question is commitment: what does it mean, what are the gains and losses? For O'Brien and Hasselstrom their place and their self are one; Price hopes to find that union for himself in his own part of the prairie.
With Heat-Moon and Swander, the locations are different, as are the reasons for attaching themselves to the land. Heat-Moon's PrairyErth (1991) is a very long exploration of Chase County, Kansas-a "deep map" as HeatMoon terms it. Heat-Moon does not live in Chase County, has no personal connection to it, but for Price he represents the ways in which one can learn a place-any place-through its history, geography, ecology. Heat-Moon's book is the story of generations in a landscape. Reading and talking with Heat-Moon leads John Price into exploring his own family history in places, giving him another dimension to his developing sense of commitment. Mary Swander's life on her farm in an Amish community in Iowa, described in Out of This World (1995), is the consequence of a serious illness and a conscious selection of a place for recovery, for healing. The effects of this choice for Swander enhance Price's sense of the potential value of commitment and place.