Right after we read Giants in the Earth, National Geographic did a feature article on the prairies of North Dakota: The Emptied Prairie. The article shows just one facet of North Dakota, I'm sure. The idea, however, that the prairie will not abide company seems to echo Beret's despair and anxiety about living in the vast emptiness. Yet, the emptiness now is merely a façade.
The number of acres that remain prairie grassland continues to diminish. The problem of grassland loss is enormously complicated and tied into the need for better sources of energy. Wind energy and ethanol production are claiming some of these lands. I'm unsure exactly how wind turbines cause damage to the prairie ecosystem, but people who work with the Tallgrass Prairie in Kansas feel strongly about it. The Conservation Reserve Program, a program developed to help with wildlife conservation, is seeing losses in the amounts of acreage that was formerly left fallow as wildlife habitat(12% of the CRP in North Dakota lost year according to the wildfowl conservation group Ducks Unlimited.) There is some indication that grasslands may act as carbon-dioxide sinks (here), but we're still learning how to manage this. And here in the Flint Hills, human expansion has covered the prairie that I once could see from my own windows.
Empty places are essential to human experience, too. Especially here in the middle of the continent. The ocean's vastness is beyond daily avenues of travel, there are no mountains to remind us that we are small. The prairie's scale and the prairie's unconcern demonstrate how insignificant our human conceits, yet paradoxically, remind us how much harm mankind can do with our own greed, ignorance, and willful defiance of natural order.