The Last Prairie: A Sandhills Journal

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9780071353472: The Last Prairie: A Sandhills Journal
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It is an area that has captivated and inspired travelers, philosophers, and artists for centuries. Long celebrated as one of the most visually stunning regions of the American landscape, it is also one of the most historically significant. And now, this vast, 25,000-square-mile expanse known as the Nebraska Sandhills is brought to life with passion, perspective, and ecological timeliness in an unforgettable collection by Stephen Jones.

The Last Prairie is an extraordinary triumph of the essayist's art. By turns graceful and penetrating, introspective and universal, ruminative and prescient, the 20 essays in The Last Prairie embodies the essence of Sandhills life. Jones delivers a series of riveting accounts of the Sandhills, flora and fauna, wildlife, and rich cultural history. Fascinating descriptions of bald eagles, trumpeter swans, and the annual migratory flight of a half-million sandhill cranes stand alongside equally vivid accounts of trailblazing homesteaders, range wars, and devastating prairie fires. Jones speaks eloquently to such timeless themes as humanity's search for community and the ties that bind man and nature.

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Review:

Running 100 miles from north to south and 200 miles from east to west, the Sandhills make up about a quarter of the state of Nebraska and constitute the largest grass-stabilized dune field in the Western Hemisphere. Sparsely settled, the region has inspired a fine literature, numbering books by Jim Harrison, Mari Sandoz, and Merrill Gilfillan, among other writers.

Stephen Jones's The Last Prairie is a welcome, elegant addition to that library. An inspired blend of science, natural history, ethnography, and memoir, it recounts Jones's travels along the Niobrara River and deep into the heart of dune country--once the province of buffalo, cranes, and scattered bands of Pawnee and Cheyenne Native Americans, now the site of huge ranches and, as Jones notes, an army of white-tailed deer and other former denizens of wetland forests that edged out onto the plains with the disappearance of large predators. "When it comes to ecosystem disturbances," Jones notes, "the white-tailed deer are just the tip of the iceberg," and indeed the Sandhills are threatened at every turn by industrial agriculture and other manifestations of putative progress. Jones considers some of the programs that have been advanced to save the area, including the apparently ill-advised "Buffalo Commons" preserve that residents fear would make the region an unnatural zoo; he suggests instead a more modest prairie preserve that would attract tourists and provide new revenue for the region's residents, now dependent on ecologically destructive ranching.

But Jones's book is less a program for action than a literate, attractive celebration of a place unlike any other--a book that will inspire readers to go and have a look for themselves. --Gregory McNamee

From the Back Cover:

"Recently I stood on a wind-sculpted ridge with a friend, a Native American holy man, admiring the surrounding countryside and reflecting on its hypnotic appeal. 'The Sandhills,' he said, 'is the most sacred of all places. It's where our spirit goes to rest when we die.' As we stood there with the wind whipping through our hair and nothing visible but grass, water, and sky, I knew his words were true."--Stephen R. Jones

It is a region that has long captivated and inspired travelers, writers, and artists. Celebrated as one of the most visually stunning of American landscapes, it is the largest remaining relic of the majestic prairies that once extended from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains. Now this vast but fragile expanse known as the Nebraska Sandhills comes to life in an unforgettable collection of essays by naturalist and author Stephen R. Jones.

Evocative, insightful, and melancholy, the twenty essays in The Last Prairie limn the essence of life in the Sandhills. Fascinating descriptions of dancing prairie-chickens, courting fireflies, and the annual migratory flight of a half-million sandhill cranes stand alongside equally vivid accounts of trailblazing homesteaders, range wars, and devastating storms. The Last Prairie is both paean and elegy for a place where you can walk for miles through shoulder-high grass or sit on a hill for hours with only the cry of the curlew and the hiss of the wind for company--a place Jones sought for decades and for whose survival he now fears.

The author's vast historical canvas lends a rare perspective and urgency to the book's discussion of recent efforts to save the Niobrara River from dams and developers. And in depicting the life of the Plains Indians, including the nature of their cosmology and their doomed resistance to the encroachments of white settlers, Jones speaks eloquently to such timeless themes as humanity's search for community and the ties that bind us with nature. Infused with quiet pathos and vibrant imagery, The Last Prairie is a triumph of the essayist's art.

In graceful, pitch-perfect language, an award-winning environmentalist renders a startlingly vivid portrait of life in the Nebraska Sandhills.

Praise for The Last Prairie

"A must-read book."--Jonis Agee, author of Strange Angels and The Weight of Dreams

"A lovely book, to enjoy and cherish."--Ann H. Zwinger, author of The Nearsighted Naturalist, Beyond the Aspen Grove, and Land Above the Trees

"From insect to eagle's-eye view, The Last Prairie gives us the heartening illuminations of a writer honoring his chosen cut of the continent with loyal affection and full, gifted attention."--Merrill Gilfillan, PEN Martha Award- and Western Book Awardwinning author of Magpie Rising and Chokecherry Places

"This book is a celebration of place by a man who truly loves it, walks it, and is willing to work hard enough to bring it home to readers and place it in our hearts."--Christina Nealson, author of Living on the Spine: A Woman's Life in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

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