Who were these people? We can know in general terms how they ended up here, where they came from and that they happened to die near here and were of this particular Christian denomination but the reality of their individual lives is hidden. All we have are names and dates, but together they form a sample of the great wave of settlement of little more than one hundred years ago that claimed land on the bald prairie.
But then, this church is abandoned. Is this a precautionary note? Can we really declare victory just yet or is our confidence based on a couple of lifetimes of experience only and not on the earth`s timetable which stretches over much longer spans of time and climatic changes. How about this dramatic grassland climate that provides too much rain and then not enough, blistering heat, early and late frosts? To make a successful crop can be a struggle now. How about a hundred years of variation, of little or no summer rain? The original grasslands had that experience built into their communities of plants and animals. How well would the present man-made system cope with this guaranteed eventuality?
To imagine this seems ridiculous, everything is so solid, so worked over, we cannot imagine the large balloon after it has popped from one small pinprick. Remember those images from the dirty thirties in the last century: dust storms, abandoned, drifted in farm buildings. Just a few years combining dryer conditions, uncertain rains and a financial system that would not continue to support people on the land. A little bump in the weather and economics being the pinprick for many, setting them moving on like the wind that was blowing their fields away. Imagine the mega-farms we know today, the banks and investors watching the bottom line, pulling the plug on agriculture that could not pay after only a few years into a longer, dryer spell or even more dramatic shifts from year to year as are associated with global warming.. Complexity in our modern world is more vulnerable than those nomadic flexible lifestyles of the past.
Imagine the grasslands of North America, stripped as they are of their natural blanket of adaptive vegetation becoming dryer, abandoned farms and towns, the soil beginning to blow, forming dunes. The desert climate creeping northward. The tipping point, the permanent conversion of grasslands into desert just as has happened in the past in other places.
Those settlers in the churchyard, they had no concept of this, they cannot be blamed if they were swept up in a great social experiment that nature must surely, and perhaps sooner than we think with global warming, put an end to, but we can think ahead, imagine what we can do to limit the damage, how we can reseed those open soils with natural grassland before it is too late.