Veteran writer, rancher and environmentalist O'Brien (The Rites of Autumn) deftly chronicles his decision to restore buffalo to his 1,000-plus-acre South Dakota ranch for the first time in more than a century. Some 20 years before this life-changing decision, O'Brien was drawn by visions of "grass swaying in the wind to infinity and a sky that takes up half the world" to purchase the Broken Heart ranch. Despite his passion for the Great Plains and "the wild things that share the place," most of the intervening years were devoted to making a going concern of his cattle operation. Then, in January 1998, a recently divorced O'Brien sold his cows and purchased 13 buffalo "runts" from a neighbor. From this initial "crew of ragamuffins" he eventually built a herd of 100, assuming considerable financial risk to acquire the animals and construct eight miles of five-foot-high, barbed wire buffalo fence around his property. O'Brien reflects on how the symbiotic relationship between the animals and the prairie helped return his land to health. In contrast, he documents the difficulties of raising cattle, "sort of ungulate tourist[s]" ill-suited to the harsh plains landscape. Relying on his natural storytelling ability and a gift for character development, O'Brien interweaves his own experiences with a history of the region and engaging portraits of his neighbors. The result is a moving story of one man's love for a place and his desire to "make the land whole again." (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Author of a number of fiction and nonfiction works dealing with falconry, ecology, and Western themes, including The Rites of Autumn and Brendan Prairie, O'Brien is also a cattle rancher recently turned buffalo rancher, which is the subject of his latest book. On one level, this is the story of the buffalo's fate on the Great Plains during the westward expansion following the Civil War. O'Brien writes knowledgeably of the early settlement of the region by farmers and ranchers, as well as the economics and ecology of modern-day ranching. On another level, this is the author's account of his small cattle ranch at the northern edge of South Dakota's Black Hills, the ups and downs of ranch life, and his ultimate decision to switch from cattle to buffalo and to restore the grasslands on his ranch. Plenty of real-life stories of O'Brien and his friends and neighbors are mixed in with broad themes of ranching, ecology, and the buffalo's place in the past, present, and future of the American West, which will make this book appealing to a wide audience. William H. Wiese, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A literate memoir from out where the buffalo roam. Novelist and nature writer O'Brien (The Contract Surgeon, 1999, etc.), who led a difficult enough life trying to raise cattle in the hills of southwestern South Dakota, found himself confronting still more troubles a few years back: his wife left him to pursue a medical career out of state, drought set in, and such little profit as was to be made in ranching disappeared with a rise in costs and drop in cattle prices. ("I sure hope we break even on this deal," one of his rancher friends remarks, apropos of one misguided business venture or another. "I need the money.") Already unusual among his neighbors in his concern for the ecological health of his place, O'Brien raised more than a few eyebrows locally when he decided to ease out of cattle ranching-which, he argues, is an alien economy in the context of the Great Plains, environmentally devastating and anachronistic-and introduce bison in the place of cows. "The difference between cattle and buffalo is obvious enough for anyone to see," he observes: Buffalo require little water, are less picky eaters than cows, and move around as they browse (so they don't graze a patch of grass down to the roots). O'Brien's account of the bison's return, mixed with entertaining sketches of his human neighbors and visitors, is bittersweet, especially in its closing pages. As a chronicle of ecological restoration, his report is premature: He's only been at the buffalo game for a couple of years, the market is still dicey, the land unhealed, the future uncertain. But as a chronicle of life in a lonely and difficult place, O'Brien's story is timeless-and entirely welcome.
[Dan O’Brien] by God can tell a story....This is the book you need to read next.”
—Bill McKibben, The Boston Globe
“A deeply felt story of life on the Great Plains that strays through time and history, touching again and again on the two great themes of the place—rapture and ruin—and finds its way finally to Dan O’Brien’s patient heart.”
“This is a bold, brave, and beautifully written book that should be required reading for every cattleman and beef eater in America.”
“Dan O’Brien’s memoir is a poignant portrayal of our link to the land, and to each other. As personal as a confession and as sweeping as the South Dakota sky, Buffalo for the Broken Heart will leave you entertained, moved, and changed.”
—Tom Daschle, majority leader, United States Senate