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Zen of the Plains

Experiencing Wild Western Places

Tyra A. Olstad

Publication Year: 2014

Although spare, sweeping landscapes may appear “empty,” plains and prairies afford a rich, unique aesthetic experience—one of quiet sunrises and dramatic storms, hidden treasures and abundant wildlife, infinite horizons and omnipresent wind, all worthy of contemplation and celebration. In this series of narratives, photographs, and hand-drawn maps, Tyra Olstad blends scholarly research with first-hand observation to explore topics such as wildness and wilderness, travel and tourism, preservation and conservation, expectations and acceptance, and even dreams and reality in the context of parks, prairies, and wild, open places. In so doing, she invites readers to reconsider the meaning of “emptiness” and ask larger, deeper questions such as: how do people experience the world? How do we shape places and how do places shape us? Above all, what does it mean to experience that exhilarating effect known as Zen of the plains?

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Southwestern Nature Writing Series


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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

Maps, Illustrations, and Diagrams

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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

Although this work mentions few people by name, I could not have completed it without the support and inspiration of friends and colleagues I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and work with over the years. A heartfelt thank you to enthusiastic, dedicated, and caring personnel...

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Prologue: Flyover Country; Scottsbluff, NE

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pp. 1-8

Hot. Hazy. The June sun was glaring down on the dusty brown earth and distant black cattle and my father and me, sitting in a Piper Cherokee, slowly buzzing our way west. It was our fourth day in that little plane. We had begun the trip full of...

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Chapter 1 - Shortgrass /Semi-Desert Shrub-Steppe

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pp. 9-136

The wind was whipping fiercely. Grey clouds hung low over a rugged expanse of scraggly sagebrush, sandy arroyos, and the occasional tumbleweed or dust devil or raven swooping by. Because I didn’t yet have the words for “sagebrush” or “arroyo” or “raven” on that cold November...

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Chapter 2 - Mixedgrass

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pp. 137-182

Green! Lush, luxurious green! So this was the legendary sea of grass; here was the soft growth of Poaceae; now was Willa Cather’s “spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere: in the sky, in the swift...

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Chapter 3 - Tallgrass

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pp. 183-218

You cannot make yourself love a place. You can go again and again with different expectations, for different reasons, in different seasons, but you can’t make yourself love a place. You can learn the names of the plants and the colors of the sky, make friends with the deer and come to terms with...

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Chapter 4 - Shortgrass /Semi-Desert Shrub-Steppe

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pp. 219-234

could tell you about how I’d seen the place a year earlier, when traveling through on the way to somewhere from somewhere else, and thought, hmmm, I could live here. I could tell you about how circumstances obliged and I moved to southwestern Wyoming—Fossil Butte National...

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Conclusion - A Brief Meditation on Expectation and Emptiness

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pp. 235-236

Let the snow fall. Let it cleanse all color, leaving the world sparkling in shades of white. Let it erase all texture, burying the bluestem, burying the sage, burying the rocks the ridges, leaving all swept smooth. Let it negate forms, inverting the play of light and dark, the sense of near and far, any...


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pp. 237-254


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pp. 255-266


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pp. 267-269

E-ISBN-13: 9781574415629
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574415520

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 40 b&w illus. 5 maps.
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Southwestern Nature Writing Series
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OCLC Number: 881611571
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Zen of the Plains

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Subject Headings

  • Wilderness areas -- West (U.S.) -- Philosophy.
  • Wilderness areas -- West (U.S.) -- Pictorial works.
  • Plains -- West (U.S.) -- Philosophy.
  • Plains -- West (U.S.) -- Pictorial works.
  • Grasslands -- West (U.S.) -- Philosophy.
  • Grasslands -- West (U.S.) -- Pictorial works.
  • Natural history -- West (U.S.).
  • Zen Buddhism.
  • West (U.S.) -- Pictorial works.
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