Tuesday, January 29, 2008

South Dakota . . . Prairie?

They use the word ‘prairie’ around here. They use it wrong. There is a Prairie Casino. A Prairie Auto Parts, Prairie Design, Prairie Communication, Prairie Home Inspection, Prairie Tool Company. Prairie is a word used in advertisements and newspaper articles and radio shows and television weather reports as in “Here on the prairie . . . “ But this is not a prairie. This land has very little to do with the prairie anymore. Few people around here even know what prairie means. This land is not prairie. It is the plains. It is former prairie that has been scraped clean of actual prairie and planted to agricultural crops and assaulted with chemical fertilizers and herbicides and insecticides and tilled naked to allow the prairie-made soil to blow away in the wind and wash away in the rain.
One man tells me there is a scrap of prairie out here somewhere, west of town maybe, or does it just sound romantic to say ‘west of town’ and it is really southeast? And I see a few prairie grasses in the ditches along the roads. Are they remnant plants of the long gone prairie or did the highway department plant them from seeds from Kansas or Utah? Does anyone know or care that those russet grasses still standing out there after months of blowing snow are little bluestem, one of the main prairie grasses of this area? Do they know that at one time, less than 2 centuries ago, this land was covered in an unbroken sea of little bluestem, switchgrass, Indian grass, big bluestem, northern dropseed, and a multitude of prairie flowers? Do they have any idea what such a thing would have looked like, with no trees except along creek banks, no buildings, no power lines, no roads? Just grass, vast flat endless grass.
No, there is no prairie here. This is not the prairie. At best, this can be called ‘the plains’. Until someone does something to bring back some substantial acreage of actual prairie, there ought to be a moratorium on the use of the word ‘prairie’ here. If I were less law abiding, I’d go out tonight in a black cape and a black mask and black armbands with a can of paint and spray black over every occurrence of the word ‘prairie’. If I lived here and was not just visiting, I would volunteer to plant some prairie somewhere. I hope someone who lives here is doing just that.
Update: As my pal Roland points out: "The prairie may have been sacrificed to Deere and McCormick and Monsanto and ADM but how would the Plain Laundry and Plain Ford and Plain Grocery sound? Much like Fox Run and Oak Village and Badger Creek subdivisions should be called Vinyl View now that the owls, foxes and badgers have been eradicated."
So I guess I should lighten up and be glad they are using 'Prairie' in the names as a point of pride. Perhaps use of the word will spark the curiousity of people who might learn more and might preserve what little bits remain and might replant a bit here and there or even a lot. Perhaps it already has!

1 comment:

DFV said...

Different perspectives, I guess. Even before The Great Fire - in Chicago - a "prairie" was a vacant lot! And I think the term "gangway" is exclusively used to mean a (cement) walkway between two buildings. My parents didn't refer to door locks - instead they used the term "latches." hicago had some odd expressions all its own.