Whenever I travel, I like to bring reading material that’s somehow related to my destination. So when I got the chance to visit Nebraska and South Dakota, I brought (what else) Little House on the Prairie.
Obviously a lot has changed since Laura’s time–telephone poles and barbed wire fences being the most ubiquitous, along with (mostly single-lane) highways.
Then again, the basics of the prairie have stayed the same. You have the tough tall grass:
I took a walk in it this morning, though it felt more like swimming. In some places the base of the plants were mixed in with giant anthills, and they made hard mounds that were hard to walk on. I’ve heard they can break farm machinery, so I can’t imagine how the pioneers plowed through in wooden wagons.
The soil in northeast Nebraska/southeast South Dakota is dry and sandy, but I’ve also seen quite a few marshy ponds that remind me of Laura’s Big Slough
The ground here is sub-irrigated, which means the groundwater lies close to the surface. In the rainy season a lot of the meadows are simply flooded with standing water. Even now, when the land is dry, water pools in low-lying areas, so you can walk three feet and step from dry sand to wet marsh.
I don’t have any wildlife photos, because the frogs and birds have a ninja-like tendency to stay hidden until just before you put your foot down. Then they burst out of the grass like tiny crazed rockets. I did see some white-tailed deer this morning, and a peeved-looking alpaca (or was it a llama)?
There’s nothing like the prairie to make you feel tiny and insignificant. I drove for 4 hours through rural South Dakota highways without seeing anything but crop fields, silos, the occasional tractor and several towns of fewer than 100 people. It gave me a whole new understanding of why DeSmet was so cut off during The Long Winter–and made me very glad that I wasn’t attempting the drive in blizzard season.