PrairyErth: A Deep Map

PrairyErth: A Deep Map

by William Least Heat-Moon


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Robert Penn Warren pronounced Heat-Moon's Blue Highways "a masterpiece." Now Heat-Moon has pulled to the side of the road and set off on foot to take readers on an exploration of time and space, landscape and history in the Flint Hills of central Kansas.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780395925690
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 02/28/1999
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 634
Sales rank: 165,858
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.36(d)

About the Author

Under the name of William Least Heat-Moon, William Trogdon is the author of the best-selling classics BLUE HIGHWAYS, PRAIRYERTH, and RIVER-HORSE: A VOYAGE ACROSS AMERICA. He lives in Columbia, Missouri.

Read an Excerpt

Along this fossil highway, even though it lies in the bottomlands that have always belonged mostly to the trees, I am walking in the time of the birth of the tallgrass prairie, that epoch when turfy perennials - bluestems and gramas, panicums and ryes - began covering the American interior as the old sea, now turned to a limestone anchor, once did. Down in here, the rock is the worn concrete, yet, as hard as it is, the cement road is nevertheless a fissured seedbed, a string of a glade full of brand-new prairie, an extinct highway giving birth to grassland.

Now: I've walked half this remnant, and I've found big bluestem and little bluestem, silvery bluestem, cord grass, wild rye, sunflower, bundle flower, catclaw sensitive briar, and also plants of the woodlands, including a clump of garden iris from I don't know where. But this strip is not a relict Pleistocene prairie because there probably never was much grass in this low spot in the bottoms: a vestigial highway, yes, but a new prairie. The native forbs and grasses have come in on the wind and maybe on the floods, and now they have roots under the pavement, and soon the prairie plants will need fire to clear away the shading and moisture-sucking trees, and until then the infant prairie can do little more than begin.

Prairie birth: in an earlier time, men believed the grasslands came as a consequence of infertile ground, or an absence of coarse soil material, or from glaciation, from bison trampling, lightning fires, Indian fires, from persistent wind, drought, temperature extremes.

But Chase County has good soil of various composition, the ice sheets did not reach here, and the temperature range and rainfall differ only a little from the woodlands of Missouri. The other "reasons" - fire, wind, grazing - contribute less to the birth of prairie than to its maintenance. No: the source of the prairie is its midcontinental position, far from tempering seas, where it lies under an eolian cleavage zone that mixes westerlies, wrung dry by the Rocky Mountains, with humid air from the Gulf: here, inches of evaporation and precipitation are nearly equal, and here, above my head, the rain- shadow of the Rockies meets in commensurate strength the humid Gulf fronts so that this land can grow ten-foot grasses and ninety-foot sycamores, and which one prevails depends mostly on one thing: fire. In the last half-century, the balance has careened toward trees because white men have suppressed the keeper of the grasses. To the prairie, the voice of the Great Mysterious speaks in three tongues: water, wind, flame. This glade beginning in the abandoned highway has heard the first two, and now this slender quarter mile of incipient prairie could use a tossed cigarette from a Santa Fe trackman so that the highway can flourish as never before.

Copyright (C)1992 by William Least Heat-Moon. Reprinted by permission by Houghton Mifflin Company.

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PrairyErth: A Deep Map 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
mielniczuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Love the land; love the people.
bookblotter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read PrairyErth right after I read Blue Highways and, frankly, didn't quite know what to make of it. On one level, I really found the book fascinating, on another my reaction was "this is more detail than I want to know about a slice of Kansas" (no offense to Kansas folks or to the state).I've promised myself that I'd read the book again; perhaps soon.
Polaris- on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A deep and lasting impression of a prairie county halfway along Highway 50, where the west begins, where the author senses a pervading Americana. I love William Least Heat Moon's books, and I took my time with this one - dipping in and out over months. It is so rich and varied - it has everything. Solid and absorbing, he builds a vivid picture of the characters who live in a place like Chase, Kansas, lived there, built it, worked it, farmed it, hunted it, sold it, crashed in it, and just about every aspect you could imagine. It truly is a 'deep map'. His writing on nature and the living earth is beautiful. The chapter nearer the end on the last full-blood Kaws was extremely moving and full of sadness. This book is rich with quirky interludes and oddities. I feel like I was there with him in every corner of the place. I loved it, and it has a perfect ending. If it had included more photographs It would get 5 stars. Why not?
slatta on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tied with Arctic Dreams for my favorite nonfiction book of all time.
AnnieBM More than 1 year ago
This is indeed a deep map. William Least Heat-Moon presents the multifaceted layering of history of the Flint Hills in Kansas from which forms a map that is more than geographic. The book requires a deep participation and listening that is more than the eyes passing over the pages. This is a soulful reading. A nice tying together of place and people with their extended history and geography. Highly recommended for those interested in Kansas, prairie, maps, geography and who want more out of history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As usual, William Least Heat-Moon has not disappointed me. PrairyErth takes me to a part of the country I know almost nothing about and the author does it in his usual manner - in interesting detail. He makes me feel the breezes and "see" the landscape, and feel the touch of what he is touching. I get to know people I would otherwise not even imagine. While I preferred his Blue Highway, River Horse, and Road to Quoz books - I am still very glad to have read this book, and I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago