The rolling humps I am walking over are sand hills, and once, during glacial times, they were roving dunes, built and pushed along by powerful winds rushing down off the continental ice sheet. Now they are tamed and held down by a mat of prairie plants, here a remnant of a grassland ecosystem that stretched up the center of North America. Even as I wander with my camera I can see holes where the carpet of plants has been disturbed and the sand released to blow restlessly on the wind once more.
In other places with sand hill landforms the natural grasslands have been plowed up and annual grain crops have taken their place. Planted to follow the contours, with the stubble left after the harvest to hold the fragile sandy soil in place throughout the winter months, now in early Spring we see enormous tractor and discing outfits lightly tilling the stubble under and preparing the ground for another crop. Farther down the road, big sprayers are moving over the enormous fields to kill emergent weeds that will permit a new cash crop without the need for more cultivation. Everything orchestrated to keep that soil where it is and save time and money at the same time A perfect combination!
Here in this unplowed military range area there is no need to ‘make `er pay’. The plant communities in all their complexity have no economic advantage that is easy to see. No grain to feed the world`s hungry, no rows of wonder-bread on the supermarket shelves. No tilling, no sprays, no GM grains either. Just the sound of wind in grasses, the flutter of new poplar leaves and the scream of a hawk. This must have a value beyond the immediately economic. It speaks to us who stand in its midst, of our relationship, to our sense of community with what lives and what strains to move beneath our feet once more. This is our skin, our desires, ourselves, that rolls around me.