text by John Madson, photographs by Frank Oberle, Falcon Press, 112 pages
With its large format and spectacular color photographs, this volume surrounds the reader with the richly distilled essence of surviving prairie land. As John Sawhill, the Nature Conservancy’s president, notes in his foreword, this is a subtle tapestry; lacking the drama of mountain, desert, or crashing waves, the prairie has nonetheless firmly established its grip on the American imagination. Today, Sawhill writes, the prairie we can still see evokes “an idealized vision of a landscape as perfectly empty and impressive as it was when the first settlers pushed their way out of the great Eastern forest and onto the plains.” On every page of this book and in every season the prairie shows why its image endures, perhaps nowhere more impressively than in fulland double-page photographs of southwestern Missouri’s Coyne prairie, as early summer phlox, paintbrush, and lousewort flame from its tangled grasses. This land, a caption notes, “is the rarest of the rare”—privately owned since 1886 and never once plowed. Except in pictures, this private patch will keep its own secrets, but for “addicted prairie hunters,” as the author calls them, the volume offers an excellent resource in a directory of sixty-seven tallgrass prairie sites in fourteen states- some hardy survivors, some careful restorations. Most of these are open to visitors, those heirs of the first pioneers who yearn to stride waist-deep and pleasantly lost in their landscape legacy.