Prairie in Her Eyes: The Story of a Friendship

Overview


Framing her recollections with the passage of cranes over her South Dakota ranch, Daum writes about the difficulties of living in a remote place--a fickle river, rattlesnakes, hospitals too far away to be much use, social isolation--but also what keeps her there--the cranes, the rhythms of the land & seasons, her horses, the bonds of family. Unflinching and understated, Daum breaks the silence that for too long has marked (and marred) the lives of western women. Her essays start in the present (she raises ...
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Overview


Framing her recollections with the passage of cranes over her South Dakota ranch, Daum writes about the difficulties of living in a remote place--a fickle river, rattlesnakes, hospitals too far away to be much use, social isolation--but also what keeps her there--the cranes, the rhythms of the land & seasons, her horses, the bonds of family. Unflinching and understated, Daum breaks the silence that for too long has marked (and marred) the lives of western women. Her essays start in the present (she raises sport horses on a piece of what was a 13,000 acre spread) and cycle back through her childhood, with stories about her father, blizzards, a coyote, the White River that whipsaws their land, the differences between people, and the artifacts left by others who have tried to scrape a living out of the land. With humor and insight, her essays touch on different aspects of rural life and convey her vision for a good life in the west.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781571312686
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions
  • Publication date: 1/10/2003
  • Series: The World As Home Series
  • Pages: 228
  • Product dimensions: 10.32 (w) x 2.24 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Prairie in Her Eyes


By Ann Daum

Milkweed Editions

Copyright © 2003 Ann Daum
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1571312684


Chapter One


THE HABIT OF RETURN


Last night I was wakened by the voices of sandhill cranes. The sound came through the glass of my window and woke me slowly, into another kind of dream. A flock of cranes makes a rippling kind of music, like the echo of an echo, a fluttering and tapering off to silence. There is no other sound like it. I sat up slowly and looked outside.

At first I saw only stars and the moon's pale glow rising from the east. I looked at the clock--nine o'clock. I must have just fallen asleep. I thought I saw shadows moving outside the window, against the moonlight, but I wasn't sure. I'd never heard of sandhill cranes flying by night. I crept outside in my nightclothes, barefoot onto a dew so cold it burned my feet. The sky was a whirlpool of cranes, their voices coming from all around. I stood in the center of it, looking up. I remember thinking that if the stars had voices they might sing like this.

I stood there until the last unseen crane had passed, intent on her invisible arc from spring resting grounds in Nebraska to nesting sites farther north. The voices lingered in the darkness, coming from all directions and none, before fading away. The frost had melted under my feet; I traced my footprints back intothe house.


Sandhill cranes keep returning to find home roosts plowed under or slathered with concrete--their home is shrinking. They have had to adjust more in the last hundred years than in the millions since the Pliocene when they evolved.

The cranes now roost on only a tiny stretch of their former habitat along Nebraska's North Platte River. Water needed to keep the Platte's channel wide and clear enough for cranes has been diverted for other uses. Meadows needed by the cranes for their macroinvertebrate life--their snails and earthworms and insects--are being plowed under or developed. And while new stretches of cornfields are providing cranes with previously undreamed of sources of energy, corn can't replace the protein and calcium found in the native grassy soil.

Cranes now spend equal portions of their day foraging for the 3 percent of their diet formed by macroinvertebrates as they do seeking the 97 percent of their diet made up of corn. They roost and forage wing to wing, crowded in their shrinking world.


For the better part of the past ten years I have been moving between school, work, and travel--arriving home to my family's South Dakota ranch in time for foaling and calving season in the spring and leaving after harvest in the fall. And every year, like the birds, I see the places I know and that I call home changing and shrinking and crumbling away.

When I was a little girl, my father ran cattle and farmed on 30,000 acres owned in a partnership with his brothers Ned and Pete. In the late eighties, the partnership split up, leaving my family with 13,000 acres, my childhood universe. Now that universe has shrunk again. We have managed to hold on to only 4,000 of those acres, and almost all of them are leased out to a neighbor now. My parents are retired, and I live together with them in our ranch house by the river. From the living-room window we can now see across to land owned by someone else. We have kept 130 acres out of the lease for me and my twenty horses. It doesn't seem like much compared to what we had, but it is enough.

This losing of a ranch is considered a kind of shame. All over South Dakota, farmers and ranchers are going out of business and running out of hope. I've heard the story before. But living it hurts. Talking about the loss doesn't seem to do much good. These days, when my cousins talk about the wind and weather, wheat and cattle prices, they look at the toes of their boots or out the window. I want to look away.


* * *


Two days later, on the first of April, cranes fill the sky--hundreds, thousands, all flying north in billowing, V-shaped threads. I stand outside and look up. Sometimes the threads weave together and the whole skyful of cranes comes together and begins to circle. They float like leaves in a dust devil--a funnel of birds reaching halfway across the sky. The sky here is not too wide for so many cranes.

All day they pass over the White River valley. They speak to each other constantly in flight, so that a passing flock of sandhill cranes sounds like distant singing--a chorus sung in rounds, again and again. While I am standing, looking up, one crane passes lower than the rest, at about the height of the top branches of a cottonwood tree. I can see the patch of red on his crest, the spear-shaped beak and narrow, silver neck. He sees me, too, and I imagine he wishes he were higher up.

When I drive to Okaton to get my mail, I keep scanning the sky for cranes. I don't see any from the topland. I drive back a little faster than I should. Storm clouds are piling in the south and east, and as I drop into the valley, the sun highlights another moving string of cranes.

There will be snow tonight, and the wind is beginning to blow, flattening the yellow stems of last year's grasses. Snow in western South Dakota blows sideways into hard, no-color drifts. I wonder, sometimes, why the birds bother coming back this way at all. But birds are stubborn, like the people here. They have the habit of return, I suppose, but the habit seems a little bit like love. They keep coming back.

Continues...


Excerpted from The Prairie in Her Eyes by Ann Daum Copyright © 2003 by Ann Daum. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2008

    Seeing Through Another¿s Eye

    In the book The Prairie In Her Eyes, I think the message the author is sending the reader is to be respectful of nature and everything around you. Throughout this book you learn many times where people aren¿t respectful of other animals in their land but you find that Ann, the main character, cares about the animals around her. After living on the farm with her mother, father, older sister and brother for several years she created friendships with the cows, horses and other animals she helped. After developing that bond with the animals she never left the farm even after all of her friends and siblings left when they could. Ann didn¿t leave because she loved the wide-open prairie around her. That¿s one of the things I liked about this book, how she was different from the other people and wanted to stay and live where she grew up. The way she described her surroundings made me feel like I was actually there on the prairie seeing what Ann was seeing. From her detailed descriptions and from my own experiences, nights on the prairie seemed beautiful. The book contains mostly beautiful descriptions and not much dialogue. Some of the stories are from when she was younger it seemed like her parents didn¿t really care much about her. They acted like she was just there, but it seemed that they cared more for her older siblings than for her, although this didn¿t seem to bother Ann that much. Besides her younger relationships with her parents the stories that she has on the farm are good for people who like to step in other people¿s shoes. Also The Prairie In Her Eyes is good for people who like very descriptive books were the author describes the scene so well it¿s like you are really there.

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