The Prairie and the Making of Middle America: Four Centuries of Description

The Prairie and the Making of Middle America: Four Centuries of Description

The Prairie and the Making of Middle America: Four Centuries of Description

The Prairie and the Making of Middle America: Four Centuries of Description

Excerpt

Between the soaring purple ridges of the Alleghanies and the Rockies's white-capped peaks, the sunlit waters of the gulf and our great inland seas, Middle America stretches. Crumpled into the Ozarks and Black Hills, scarred at the Bad Lands as in elemental chaos, eroded at the south and west into strange buttes and great canyons, its main surface yet remains characteristically flat or rolling, evened by the waves of the prehistoric sea beneath which its sedimentary beds were first laid down, smoothed by the massive ice-sheets that advanced resistless in the glacial epochs. In spite of the fact that the mountains make its sunset limits and plains, that at the time of settlement it was in part shrouded by huge forests centuries old, its characteristic feature is the grass-swathed, fertile expanse of the prairie, parallel to the pampas of the Southland, the broad steppes of Russia. Could the relics of the ancient life speak -- the crinoids of Iowa and Indiana, the mastodons' huge bones that awed early visitors to the Licks -- they might tell weird tales of the making of a world. Even the modern denizens, the migrant birds that yearly wing their way from their tropic shelters to the north, could pass down from generation to generation a record of new world building, of mysterious change -- change that has steadily depleted their numbers, that has diminished their feeding places, that has gashed with man-made structures the harmonious earth covering, formerly broken only by the steely glitter of lakes and streams, the moving dots of wild animals, the camps of the Indian. But although the heavy forests that once mottled it are almost all felled, although the tough prairie sward with its coral-like branching of roots is ploughed up for new crops, although thunderous engines and belching smoke-stacks disturb the peace and quiet of the fertile fields, there still somehow persists the individuality of the territory. The sea of tender green that . . .

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