In the final scene of John Price’s book, Not Just Any Land, a botanist watches buffalo moving in at an Iowa wildlife refuge and says, "There are mysteries about Iowa tallgrass only buffalo can solve." America’s grasslands, which once stretched from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains, are now mostly gone, but several national grassland tracts remain and, as Price notes, the number of buffalo is increasing.
Price, an English professor in Omaha, has
written a serious and poetic first book. He weaves together
creative nonfiction, nature writing and extensive interviews, but
also allows himself lighter moments of self-deprecation.
In his travels, Price visits numerous other authors who have been
captivated by the prairie. In writer Dan O’ Brien, who helped
save the endangered peregrine falcon, he finds hope for prairie
restoration. With author William Least Heat-Moon, Price explores
the contradictions between idyllic rural life and harsh racial and
economic realities. Says Heat-Moon: "I believe in environmental
issues so strongly, I’m not sure I can maintain moderation or
even want to — sometimes you can moderate all the power out
of your opinions. So how do you find a balance?"
Admirably, Price spends the book — and his own life —
trying to find that balance. With his wife, he restores native
grasslands near his Iowa hometown and tries to be more responsible
to the land, heeding Wallace Stegner’s warning that a healthy
society requires "the sense not of ownership but of belonging."