"I crossed an old fenceline. The fence had been gone for five years, but its ghost lurked in the bluegrass that choked out all native growth along its path. Another century might pass before the line of the fence was no longer visible. The prairie was created over millennia and lasted for millennia; once it was wounded, its bruises were also slow to heal."
I had not heard of Paul Gruchow before I found his books on the regional publications shelves at the shop at Open Book in Minneapolis. I learned of Milkwood Editions when I attended the Public Library Association Conference in Minneapolis in 2008, and I have enjoyed much natural history writing in the past, so I bought Journal of a Prairie Year, first published in 1985 and brought back in print by Milkwood in 2009. I took it back to my daughter's apartment and finished before I boarded my plane home three days later.
Journal of a Prairie Year is a fairly small book in size - only 138 pages of text - but it is filled with natural drama and philosophy. Gruchow went outdoors in all types of weather to check on the flora and the fauna, the sky and the soil, the wind and the state of his soul. He admitted that the great prairies of the Midwest had been mostly plowed, but he thought their natural force of earth and atmosphere had not been tamed. The gray and cold of winter could force him indoors, and the unreachable horizon always verified his small role. Still, he found joy in the inevitable spring and the lives of the wildlife that survived the bitter wind, hail, and floods that came each in their season.
Gruchow was a literary reader as well as naturalist and farmer, and he features quotes from other authors. Wallace Stevens, Annie Dillard, and D.H. Lawrence influenced him, as did Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Gruchow could write a good sentence and paragraph himself. Readers of essays and natural history will enjoy his work.
Gruchow, Paul. Journal of a Prairie Year. Milkweed Editions, 2009. ISBN 9781571313188.