I didn't give much thought to America's prairies until I moved to South Dakota. I grew up loving the hardwood forests of the Mid-Atlantic and New England states, then discovered the great western mountains as a college student. The grasslands of North America were something I skipped over, believing them flat, unvarying, and dull. What little I knew of prairie came mainly from childhood. Fourth-grade geography lessons, Little House on the Prairie, and the favorite Apple IIe game of eighties educators, Oregon Trail—these were the sources of the vague impressions I had about an ecosystem that historically occupied more than 1.4 million square miles of North America.
When I first came to work at Badlands National Park in 2008, the prairie took me by surprise. Far from being a pancake-flat plain with a boring lack of biodiversity, the grassland teems with life.
Art and I have an uneasy relationship. I enjoy looking at art. I admire people who create original works. I often wish I could draw, or paint, or sculpt; I long for the artistic ability to capture the beauty I see in wild animals and plants. Every now and then I take a stab at sketching in my nature notebook ... but I always fall back on words to describe what I see. Writing is far easier, for me. It comes more naturally. Drawing is mildly scary. Painting or using pastels, or introducing color in any way? Terrifying!
The eastern yellow-bellied racer is a common snake in the grasslands of western South Dakota. True to their name, racers are speedy snakes, long and slender. They’re nonvenomous and, in my opinion, beautiful: the archetype of what a snake should be. I was delighted to see this blue-green adult racer, roughly three feet in length, as I walked home for lunch today. Read more
I’ve been in my new home in Badlands National Park for just over two weeks now. I arrived here in summer, and within a week the autumnal equinox carried us over into fall. On cue, the cottonwood trees turned from green to gold, and the nights became crisp and clear. Read more