I grew up mostly on the Plains, but it was in suburbs, without much sense of
connection. As a 17-year-old I was eager when Dad took us to live in
California. After school I worked in Arizona, in Utah, back in California,
renting my way around the West for two decades.
Then I began to feel pull to make a place my own. And my needle swung toward
prairie and the Plains. I studied the benefits - land cost, taxes, soils,
etc. But I think this was rationalization building on intuition.
The source of that remains uncertain. I propose to myself and to friends
that it came partly from Willa Cather. Maybe for weather more dynamically
lovely than severe Western peaks - maybe better climatic character-building.
Maybe because, though most of my extended family and all of my immediate
family are gone from the place, it's where they formed, and that came to
Recently I suspect that it's also because when young I imprinted on the
Plains. I wouldn't have known as it happened, and didn't appreciate the
place as a boy. But beyond the suburbs, which arguably can't leave deep
positive impression, were things to root in psyche, things even if not
always pleasant, somehow primal: grass and farms; prickly hedge rows and
sticky horse apples; semihumid to semiarid heat; scent of thunderstorms;
and, maybe most important, land leaning never more than gently, open, with
I had gone to live at places with flashier getup: the geographically and
culturally sensuous Bay Area, and Utah where the Rockies plunge a mile to
the Great Salt Lake. If my imprinting hypothesis is true, then if I'd grown
up in either place, or somewhere else, that is where something subtle but
deepest in me would ring true.
But I came back to the subtle Plains. Back to where on a winter day the
grass is brown and the trees are gray and bare-though still writing with
wind. Where in spring it's windier yet, carrying meadowlarks, dickcissels
and their calls. Where the tallest and handsomest buildings are grain
elevators, and where Earth's edge usually rises not much higher than my eye.
I have been back for eight years. I have that place I came for. I continue
to make my home for it, and anticipate-even hope-that it will always be
making me. I don't romanticize the setting, at least not much. It can be
harsh, and, if you let it, dull. But I think I can and have chosen to love
it in a way that I have not felt for other places.
Maybe I'm rationalizing yet for something I can't quite understand. But I am
surprisingly moved by our simple state song about this level range being
Scott Bontz is the Editor of The Land Report for The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas. You may reach him via the web atwww.landinstitute.org