Friday, June 13, 2014

2014's crazy nature: Cicadas and the Honey Moon

Since 1997, billions of periodical cicada nymphs have been living underground in total darkness, sucking nourishment from tree roots and counting ever so slowly to 17. Now their precisely predictable, amazingly synchronized emergence — the state’s biggest insect show of the decade — is underway in several Eastern Iowa counties. . . . Within six weeks, the adult cicadas will have mated, laid their eggs and died. When the eggs hatch, the offspring will burrow into the ground where they will start their long, slow countdown to 2031. - See more at:
Tonight get ready for the Honey Moon!

A champagne-colored full moon will appear in the sky, a celestial event that hasn't happened in almost a century. A "Honey Moon" is what the June full moon is called since it glows amber, and the last time it fell on a Friday the 13th in June was in 1919. The next one will not occur until June 13, 2098! See more at:

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Interview with John T. Price, pt. 4

John T. Price’s anthology of prairie writing, The Tallgrass Prairie Reader, goes on sale in June—just the right time to enjoy Iowa’s wild beauty! Editor Holly Carver talked to him about the book.

Holly Carver: I hear that your cold-hearted editor forced you to leave fiction and poetry out of your anthology. Which pieces were hardest to omit?

John T. Price: Terribly cold-hearted (I say with affection), but early on I could see how, if we were to include all our favorite works about tallgrass prairies, across all genres, this project would have filled volumes. Still, it was painful to leave out influential works such as William Cullen Bryant’s 1832 poem “The Prairies” and Carl Sandburg’s 1918 poem, “Prairie,” which was recently quoted in a speech by President Obama. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s fiction, which was based on the author’s real-life experiences, includes what I feel are important descriptions of tallgrass prairie wildlife, especially rare, positive, and truly beautiful portrayals of wolves, which are now extinct from these parts. Among contemporary fiction and poetry writers, the list is too long to include here, but I was especially sad to leave out the prairie poetry of Twyla Hansen, the current Nebraska State Poet, who is a real model of literary advocacy on behalf of the tallgrass.

HC: Your reader begins with works of nineteenth-century authors ranging from high adventure to romanticism. Then, after the destruction of the majority of the tallgrass, the writings become nostalgic, even epic and tragic. Next comes an emerging environmental consciousness, followed by a larger ecological perspective informed by hard science. What’s next on the tallgrass literary horizon?

JTP: This is a great question. A lot depends on the success of the ongoing efforts to protect and restore the tallgrass prairies. They are still terribly underprotected and very much in danger of vanishing from the planet—which is unconscionable. When I think about the future of the tallgrass and its literature, I often think of a 1964 quote by farmer and environmentalist Eugene Poirot: “The once great prairies with their fruits and wildlife nourished our nation through its weak infancy. They nourished it again through its reckless and wasteful adolescence. The nation has now reached a maturity which should make it capable of recognizing that the prairie can no longer give that which it does not have and that as man destroys it he destroys himself.”

As Poirot implied, a deeper sense of personal identification with the prairies is essential. The prairie, even in its currently diminished state, still has a lot of inspiration and beauty to offer those who seek to understand and appreciate it, including writers. My hope is that more people will give back to the prairies by dedicating their talents, whatever they are, to helping ensure its survival. But this begins with seeing the tallgrass prairie, no matter where you live, as “home.” As home, it becomes a place worthy not only of our attention but also our love and protection. As home, it becomes a place to return to and find our rightful place in the world, no matter how far we’ve strayed, no matter what mistakes we’ve made in the past.

If that happens, if we begin to see the prairies as our collective home again—“America’s Representative Landscape,” as Walt Whitman put it— we may see a resurgence of tallgrass ecosystems and a tallgrass literature that is once again full of the awe, wonder, respect, and reverence that define our most meaningful experiences of wilderness.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Interview with John T. Price, pt. 3

John T. Price’s anthology of prairie writing, The Tallgrass Prairie Reader, goes on sale in June—just the right time to enjoy Iowa’s wild beauty! Editor Holly Carver talked to him about the book. Come back in a few days for the end of the interview.

Holly Carver: Your introductory essay to each piece provides biographical information and context. Taken together with the introduction to the anthology and the placement of the various chapters, you create a conversation among your writers, not just about each writer, which is a fairly notable achievement. How did you make these connections?

John T. Price: From the very beginning, I tried to think of this anthology as a kind of ecosystem, and ecosystems are all about connections and interrelationships. As I read and researched the various authors and works of literature, I kept track of recurring themes and questions, as well as certain places and natural features, and tried to select a diversity of responses to them. For instance, I became fascinated with the effect that the tallgrass had on those who spent their childhoods near it—an experience that is relatively rare nowadays. So I included such accounts by Mark Twain, Francis La Flesche, William Quayle, John Muir, and Hamlin Garland. I also included Dakota tribal author Zitkala-Ša, who, though not writing directly of her childhood in the essay included here, writes about a spiritual connection forged by her childhood spent on the prairie, “as free as the wind that blew my hair.”

It was fascinating to observe how literary representations of certain aspects of prairie ecology had evolved over time, as more scientific knowledge emerged. You can see this with fire, for example. It is portrayed by George Catlin and other nineteenth-century writers as a force that, though beautiful in its own way, was mostly terrifying and destructive. Later in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, fire is portrayed as an ecological force of health and healing. Certain prairie stories and observations of wildlife, such as the indigenous lore of prairie flowers as told by enthnobotanist Melvin R. Gilmore, seem to take on a life of their own, popping up in later works, shaping those perspectives in recognizable ways. Whether or not the “outside” world has been paying attention to the literature of the tallgrass prairie, the writers here have been reading and influencing each other for a long time.

HC: I won’t ask you to comment on contemporary writers, but which nineteenth-century writers are your favorites? Which deserves to be more widely read?

JTP: In the nineteenth century, I was fascinated by Eliza Woodson Farnham and Elizabeth B. Custer. Eliza Farnham, who lived in a farming community in Illinois during the 1830s, wrote some of the most stunningly beautiful descriptions of the prairie and its wildlife I’ve ever read. Elizabeth Custer’s work was interesting because one of her key motivations for writing her western memoirs was to glorify the memory of her famous husband, but her detailed descriptions of the grasslands environment itself—whether during a flood in Kansas or a blizzard in South Dakota or a romantic excursion riding horseback across the open prairie—kept stealing the spotlight. If I might be permitted to go a little ways into the twentieth century, William J. Haddock’s A Reminiscence: The Prairies of Iowa and Other Notes, self-published in 1901, provides a powerful before-and-after portrayal of the destruction of the tallgrass prairies and the profound impact that destruction had on those who witnessed it. This should be required reading for anyone studying environmental literature, not just those interested in the tallgrass prairies.