Friday, October 5, 2012

Carl Kurtz's Photo Essay: Dickcissels

In preparation for the upcoming second edition of A Practical Guide to Prairie Restoration by Carl Kurtz, we're excited to be sharing Carl's beautiful photos and observations about nature!

Carl Kurtz is a professional writer, teacher, naturalist, and photographer. He and his wife and partner, Linda, live on a 172-acre family farm in central Iowa that is one of the few prairie seed sources in the Midwest.

Dickcissels are grassland birds that evolved in the tallgrass prairie.  If a prairie is available they make use of its superb plant structure.  Singing perches are the tallest plants such as this compass plant.  The sturdy interior cluster of stalks of large old plants can provide for their finely woven nest with its pale blue eggs. They are also fairly common roadside birds.  Listen for their song as you drive down the road.  It sounds like their name repeated over and over. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Interview with John Price: Part 3

What have been some of the aspects of that personal journey for you?

I think learning to love and commit to a place is very similar to learning to love and commit to another human being. Much of it is accidental (like nearly getting killed by a pheasant) and instinctive, deeply spiritual, and beyond our capacity for expression. Much of it is also a matter of choice, of conscious searching, hard work, and articulation. There are moments full of elation and sentimentality and humor and other moments full of self-doubt and even despair. Learning to respond successfully to the challenge of committed love—for people or places—begins in childhood, which is a big part of this memoir. I grew up surrounded by several generations in a family who, despite serious challenges and personal losses, remained dedicated to their communities and to each other. So I had that example from very early in my life. Nevertheless, I spent most of my adolescence wanting to leave home, which is nothing unusual for a young person in America today. I was guided back home by the land itself, by the beauty and fragility of its native habitats, but also by stories about that land told by my family, by writers past and present, and by my own articulation of life in this place. It was also a matter of recognizing what I refer to in the book as a state of kinship: “the familial embrace of nature, body, and spirit.” Kinship is not something you choose, it is something you are given. The choice is whether or not to return that embrace and live fully within it. Ultimately, Man Killed by Pheasant is meant to reach out to others who may not identify themselves as environmentalists or midwesterners, but who are likewise seeking to settle more deeply within the kinships that define and sustain them.

Excerpt from "Mole Man Lives!" in Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships

Between my eighth and fourteenth year I grew approximately six inches. Which is to say, not at all. There is never a good time to be a short boy in America, but the late seventies and early eighties were especially challenging. The Randy Newman song "Short People (Got No Reason to Live)" was immensely popular, as were Troll Dolls and Gnomes. Gary Coleman ruled. Then there was my own sister, Carrie Anne, who was two years younger than me, but who'd had the audacity to grow two inches taller—the rogue cornstalk towering above the bean plant. That's how it felt sometimes, and there were moments when I would've appreciated someone ripping her out of my life by the roots just to be rid of the comparison. And the danger. Almost the very instant my sister stepped into the hallways of Fort Dodge North Junior High School, she commenced telling the most monstrous bullies that her "big brother" was going to pound them straight.

"Carrie Price?" I'd say as one after another of these bullies shoved me against lockers. "Never heard of her!"

John Price is the author of Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships

Monday, October 1, 2012

Interview with John Price: Part 2

You grew up in Fort Dodge and have lived in Iowa your entire life. You’re now nationally known as a writer of place, in particular the Midwest. How do you define the Midwest and what makes it unique?

The great thing about places is that, like people, they resist definition. This is certainly the case with the Midwest. If you ask a group of people to define the borders of the Midwest, my guess is you’ll get a very wide range of answers. Some might paint a broad geographical swath running from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains all the way to, perhaps, Pittsburgh. Others might zero in on the mostly rural center of the country, excluding major metropolitan areas like Chicago and Detroit. Others will focus on more abstract concepts like “the heartland” and conjure up images of “the simple life.” The Midwest, like all places, is anything but simple and its resistance to easy definition is part of what makes it interesting to me as a writer and resident.

When you look closely at the natural environment, however, unique features do emerge. For me the Midwest or any other region should ultimately be defined by its native ecosystems, one of which—the one I happen to live in and write about—is the tallgrass prairie. Unfortunately, most of that prairie has been lost (less than one percent remains in my home state of Iowa), which has created significant challenges for those of us trying to anchor our identities to the natural environment. Much of my writing has focused on my personal journey to recover a sense of place and identity rooted in that environment.

Now in my fortieth year, I live in western Iowa in a house near the Missouri River, just a few hours from Fort Dodge, where my parents still reside, where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried. Esther, too, is at rest in the Boone cemetery. I've never lived anywhere but Iowa. This has become the unexpected, defining journey of my life: to come home without ever having left. When others ask why I've stayed put, I reply with what must seem the ordinary details of life: a job, a family, a history. I often mention the place itself: the wildlife and natural areas I've learned to love, the human communities I've called home, the flawed yet promising terrain that's become as familiar as my own flesh. All of these answers are true, but none, by themselves, ever feels complete. Only together, in relation, do they begin to mean anything. What word is there for this? Mosaic? Ecology? Kinship—the familial embrace of nature, body, and spirit.

John Price is the author of Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships