Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An outsiders perspective

A few weeks ago, we made quick trip to see the extended family for a fun event. Flew out Friday morning, back Sunday night. The family event, a wedding, was great and it’s always nice to see extended family for a fun event. During the travel time, I ended up reading Prairie Spring by Peter Dunne. So it was fun reading about the part of the country I was traveling to. As someone who grew up in the plains and prairies, I was interested to see what one of those easterners had to say about some of my favorite places. I wanted to see if he got it right. I also recalled that sometimes it takes an outsider to do a good job of interpreting a place (I seem to remember something from history class about Alexis de Tocqueville’s contribution to America’s understanding of itself). I am happy to report that Dunne did indeed get it right.

The book documents the travels he and his wife did across the Great Plains during spring time. Lots of good info about birds (Dunne is a well-known birder) and plants, but even more so the book was about the people who live in the plains are working to conserve what they love about their place. Dunne uses good creative non-fiction technique to make for an informative and fun read. (As a biologist, I’m as eager to read dense technical info as anyone, but for a fun read I have to admit that bringing in the people can make it fun).

I also ran across what to me is a sad commentary about reading about the plains and prairies while flying over them. A marketing blurb on the back of a different plains and prairies book – one I did not buy because I did not like that marketing blurb – said that this was the book to read while flying over the middle of the country to let you know what was going on down there while you’re flying over it. Yikes. I guess if that’s your attitude about the plains and prairies, we’d just as soon not have you drop by!

As fun as it was to see family, I did manage to sneak off to the local wildlife area. The elk were especially cooperative, standing in silhouette against the afternoon sky on the first small rise from the road. The bison were not so cooperative but were still easy to see a bit farther off.

Haven’t written much this month about place (travel makes the stack of papers to grade get so much taller!). I must get back into the habit. Writing about experiences does help one get more from the experiences (you English profs out there are saying ‘duh!’). In the mean time, we do have skiable snow. Time to get out on it.

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