This summer I traveled by car through a significant portion of the American Midwest. While I have been through most of these places in the past, these more recent travels struck me differently. I found myself frequently captivated by the geography and history of this area, and how those two things have worked together to change both the landscape of this place, and the larger history of our country. This piece is intended to capture the complex emotions that I felt while experiencing the geography and history of these places.
The Great Plains are vast, and have a deeply violent history. Yet for many people they represent a kind of peace and simplicity not found elsewhere. The agricultural industry in this area has reduced what was once the largest contiguous ecosystem on the continent by 98%, so that now only a tiny portion of this area still exists in its natural state.Yet, this same agriculture accounts for billions of dollars of food, national wealth, and exports. The Great Plains represent man’s perfect dominion over nature, yet their very vastness, and paleontological and archeological richness, speak to the impermanence of that dominion. The culture and development in this part of the country is a modern veneer that has been laid over an ancient and resilient landscape, so that one is constantly having the experience of seeing something new in contrast to something from the ancient world.
The title of this piece comes from the Old Testament, Isaiah 40:6. Generally the intention of this passage is interpreted as meaning that corporeal life is fleeting and impermanent. While I believe this is true, grass itself is anything but. Grass is one of the most resilient and abundant life forms on our planet. Further, grass is entirely responsible both for the native biological and mineral diversity found on the Great Plains and for the bulk of the region’s agricultural production (wheat, corn, and barley are all species of grass). – Stephen Bailey