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Where The Sky Began

Land of the Tallgrass Prairie

John Madson

Publication Year: 2009

“It was a flowing emerald in spring and summer when the boundless winds ran across it, a tawny ocean under the winds of autumn, and a stark and painful emptiness when the great long winds drove in from the northwest. It was Beulahland for many; Gehenna for some. It was the tall prairie.”—from the “Prologue”

Originally published in 1982, Where the Sky Began, John Madson’s landmark publication, introduced readers across the nation to the wonders of the tallgrass prairie, sparking the current interest in prairie restoration. Now back in print, this classic tome will serve as inspiration to those just learning about the heartland’s native landscape and rekindle the passion of long-time prairie enthusiasts.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. v

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pp. xi-xii

THEY WERE BLIND MEN describing an elephant, those first Europeans, sending back word of the New World in terms of the forests or swamps that lay a few leagues beyond the tidelines. They had no clues to the heartland itself. There was no hint of the freshwater seas that lay farther west, of mighty ...

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Preface to the Revised Edition

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pp. xiii

IN THE FIRST EDITION of this book, Scant attention Was paid to prairie restoration. The final chapter, "People Pastures," cited some examples of restoration but had little to say about how they were accomplished. There really wasn't much reason to say more. In 1981, when that chapter was written, interest in rebuilding ...


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1. Beyond the Wooden Country

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pp. 3-28

ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS that the new colonists must have known, as anchor chains rumbled down through hawseholes, was that they had never really seen trees before. Wherever they had begun - in the snug shires of England, the meadows of Brittany, or the diked fields of Holland - they had seen nothing to compare with this wall of forest that rose behind ...

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2. Fire, Ice, and Mountain

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pp. 29-50

THE TWO OF us were driving through northern Iowa on story assignment, staying on back roads, and taking a long detour around work. I was pontificating on natural history, partly to pass the time and partly to needle Jim - a born agnostic who delighted in puncturing outdoor dogma. And with the ink ...

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3. The Lawns of God

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pp. 51-80

LONG AGO, the prairie grasses taught me that I have more in common with Rip Van Winkle than with Leather-Stocking. Oh, I'll rush around through the boondocks if the occasion demands. But even then I keep an eye peeled for prime loafing areas - especially through midday when most of the action ...

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4. The Far Gardens

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pp. 81-106

GRASS AND SKY WOULD BE ENOUGH. With only those, the summer prairie would be a smiling, running spread of cloud shadow and wind pattern. But the tall prairie goes beyond that. From the first greening of spring to the full ripening of autumn, it is spangled by a vivid progression of flowers—a ... rainbow host that first enamels the burned slopes of early ...

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5. Prairyerths

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pp. 107-124

IN Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain has the Child of Calamity sitting there on the raft and telling about rivers. Not just any rivers, but the clear Ohio that drained the timbered country and the muddy Mississippi that drained all that prairie country. The Ohio just had no body to it at all, compared to the Mississippi, which was good, thick, nutritious water and if a ...

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6. A Prairie Bestiary

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pp. 125-165

As THE OLD TROPICAL FORESTS of the Tertiary Period shrank under a cooling, drying climate, the land opened to the sky. It was a new beginning - climate was shaping the great grasslands and savannahs, which in turn began to shape new plants and animals. The grasses that replaced the Tertiary forests were better adapted than trees to cooler, drier conditions, to more extreme ...

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7. The Great Weathers

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pp. 166-194

ON ONE OF HIS INFREQUENT JOURNEYS into the hinterlands, William Cullen Bryant saw his first prairie - an Ohio "barren" that was an outrider of the main grasslands several hundred miles farther west. It was a gentle encounter, as most of his encounters with nature were, and he returned home to ...


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8. Grandfather Country

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pp. 197-235

IF THE EXPRESSION "Land of Beginning Again" seems folkish and trite today it is through no fault of its own, for there is still no better way of saying what it meant. But it expresses something that has no real contemporary meaning, and with which we can no longer identify - the ineffable spell cast by ...

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9. After the Plow

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pp. 236-256

WHEN JOHNNY CAME MARCHING HOME to his tall prairies after Shiloh and Chattanooga and all those other places, it was a different world. Ma and Pa had been pioneers when he'd gone away, still living in the home soddy with the nearest folks five miles off, and Pa trying to work his new land with that sorry roan ox and the spavined mare that he'd traded half' a crop of sod ...

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10. People Pastures

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pp. 257-296

THIS CHAPTER TITLE belongs to Jim Wilson, a seed grower out in Polk, Nebraska, who specialized in native grasses and preached a gospel of grasslands for livestock and people, extolling tallgrass prairie as prime pasturage for the human spirit. Being a good salesman, Jim was all for planting as much prairie grass as possible-and there's no denying that big is beau ...

Appendix A. Sources

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pp. 297-298

Appendix B. Directory of Representative Tallgrass Prairies

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pp. 299-306

Selected References

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pp. 307-314


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pp. 315-326

E-ISBN-13: 9781587295232
E-ISBN-10: 1587295237
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877458616
Print-ISBN-10: 0877458618

Page Count: 340
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: paperback