Friday, October 19, 2012

Carl Kurtz's Photo Essay: Prairie Spiderwort

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.

Some flowers are tough and last for weeks, others for only a single day or as in the case of prairie spiderworts for just a few hours.  As the morning light level increases spiderworts open and then begin to close by mid-day.  On cloudy days, however, they often remain open until late afternoon.  Whether pollination occurs often determines how long a flower stays in bloom, which is influenced by light, heat and insect activity.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Interview with John Price: Part 7

How have you encouraged your own children to connect with the natural world? 

Our three sons are young—eleven, nine, and two—but when it comes to nurturing a connection to nature, I don’t think you can start too young. There are many ways to do this, I think. The final chapter of Man Killed by Pheasant describes an afternoon we spent as a family on a small Iowa prairie, identifying wildflowers and telling the stories of our immigrant ancestors, in the hopes that our children will see their lives as being intimately entwined with place. We’ve also taken extended family trips to natural areas, but that’s not always possible given limited time and resources. So, most of our efforts are concentrated on the daily, often unexpected, but still informative encounters with nature occurring closer to home—in the backyard, with pets, in the garden. I write about a number of these small encounters in this memoir, in the lives of my children and in my own childhood. I think children can teach adults a thing or two about intimacy with nature, as well, and that has certainly been the case for me. They’re more willing than most adults to explore the world with their senses and to openly marvel at what they find there. They’re also more willing to defend the defenseless—to help the injured bird, to mourn the fallen tree, to pick up the stray can or candy wrapper. They’re not afraid to get their hands dirty. I think part of my job as a parent is to be a good steward of my child’s sense of kinship with the natural world, to nurture it and learn from it myself. I don’t know if it will make a difference in their lives or in the life of this planet—I certainly hope it does—but I already know it has made a positive difference in my own.   

Excerpt from "On Kalsow Prairie (A Postlude)" in Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships

When viewed from the road, Kalsow Prairie is nearly invisible against the taller corn of the surrounding fields. If not for the wooden sign, we might have missed it entirely. At 160 acres, Kalsow is what is commonly called a postage-stamp prairie, one of the last scattered vestiges of native tallgrass. I've always been intrigued by that metaphor, the idea that such places convey messages across space and time, which is true in a way. To those trying to restore prairie on cultivated or otherwise disturbed ground, these postage stamps are the guardians of heritage, the deliverers of seed and ancient knowledge. If they disappear, as many do, then it may not be possible for the land to go home again. "They are the last lingering scraps of the old time," John Madson wrote in Where the Sky Began: Land of the Tallgrass Prairie, "fragments of original wealth and beauty, cloaked with plants that you may never have seen before and may never see again." He was referring specifically to Kalsow Prairie, which is only a few miles west of Fort Dodge, though I don't remember hearing about it while living there. Like other treasures, I had no idea it was so close to home.

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Interview with John Price: Part 6

Who are your inspirations among nature writers and writers of place?

Henry David Thoreau, Ed Abbey, and Annie Dillard were some of my earliest influences. Also, Loren Eiseley and Aldo Leopold, both of whom were midwesterners who blended science and ethics and art in ways that are still a revelation to me—I admire writers who seem to live in the boundaries, as they did. Following the floods in 1993, I sought out conversations with contemporary grasslands nonfiction authors committed to living in the region they write about—Linda Hasselstrom, Dan O’Brien, William Least Heat-Moon, and Mary Swander—and those visits became part of my first book, Not Just Any Land: A Personal and Literary Journey into the American Grasslands. Their example helped guide me through an important stage of my life as a writer, when I was just considering the possibility of committing to place. Since becoming a father, I’ve been especially drawn to authors who are writing about nature and animals from within the context of family, work, and community. These include contemporary writers Wendell Berry, Scott Russell Sanders, and Tom Montgomery-Fate but also E. B. White, James Herriot, and Gerald Durrell. In Man Killed by Pheasant, I write from within a similarly personal context, exploring the ways nature has informed everything from the decision to get married to our efforts to have a baby to the ways I memorialize my grandfather.         

Tell us about the tallgrass prairie reader you are editing. And your next book, Daddy Long Legs: The Natural Education of a Father.

I’m very excited about the anthology, which will gather literary nonfictional accounts of the tallgrass prairie, from early exploration narratives to contemporary nature writers. Some of the authors include George Catlin, Walt Whitman, Mary Swander, and Louise Erdrich. It will be the first anthology of its kind, presenting a portrait of how the tallgrass prairie has inspired the human imagination over several centuries. Daddy Long Legs is another nature memoir that continues the story of my life as a parent and about how nature has influenced and enriched that life. It is also about the death of my grandmother and about how nature provided my family with a way to understand and articulate the meaning of that loss—especially my children, who were very close to her.   

Excerpt from "Man Killed by Pheasant" in Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships

So I'm driving east on Highway 30, from our new home in Belle Plaine to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It's a four-lane, and because I'm the eldest child, I'm driving the speed limit, around fifty-six, sixty miles per hour. I'm listening to Jimi Hendrix cry "Mary"—imagining, as usual, that I am Jimi Hendrix—when in the far distance I see some brown blobs hovering across the highway: one, then two. By the way they move, low and slow, I suspect they're young pheasants. As I near the place of their crossing I look over the empty passenger seat and into the grassy ditch to see if I can spot the whole clan. Suddenly, there is a peripheral darkness, the fast shadow of an eclipse, and something explodes against the side of my head in a fury of flapping and scratching and squawking. In an act of extraordinary timing, one of the straggling pheasants has flown in my driver's side window. And being the steel-jawed action hero I am, I scream, scream like a rabbit, and strike at it frantically with my left arm, the car swerving, wings snapping, Hendrix wailing, feathers beating at my face until, at last, I knock the thing back out the window and onto the read. I regain control of the car, if not myself, and pull over, undone.

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