shortgrass prairie

Carpeting the western Great Plains, the shortgrass prairie is composed of grasses that thrive in poor soil over a short growing season, such as buffalo and blue grama grass, neither of which reaches a height of two feet. In the fall of the year, with the near-continual winds of the plains, “The red of the grass made all the great prairie the color of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds, when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running,” writes Willa Cather in My Ántonia. The image of motion and running seems meant to recapture a glimpse of the shortgrass prairie’s most common early species, the American bison, as here, from Alexander Henry’s Journals: “I had seen almost incredible numbers of buffalo in the fall. . . . The ground was covered at every point of the compass, as far as the eye could reach, and every animal was in motion.”

Larry Woiwode