Not just any book about the grasslands

  • Not Just Any Land: A Personal and Literary Journey into the American Grasslands, by John Price

    225 pages, hardcover: $20. University of Nebraska Press, 2004
  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."

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