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D e e p M a p p i n g t h e G r e a t P l a i n s : S u r v e y i n g t h e L i t e r a r y C a r t o g r a p h y o f P l a c e S u s a n N a r a m o r e M a h e r The West is made up of one long series of necessary and true fill-in-theblank stories, and sometimes it seems we are doomed to live them cyclically and perpetually, simply because there is no such thing as The Story. As the colonial culture of the West, we have no culture, which is just the same problem as having no story that tells us how we fit in the place. —Richard Manning, Grassland (92) The way to understanding the West is never by clean lines but by indirection and by webs of changing connections among people, plants, institutions, animals, politics, soil, weather, ambitions, and perceptions. That way is rarely traced by clear distinctions but by ambiguities and by blurred, evolving identi­ ties. Its stories—not those brought in but the ones built from the roots up— will never offer the pleasures of simple lessons and inspirations; but it is through those stories, the weathered surface of a very old layering, that westerners can tell where and who they are. If we are to find our way to the West, they are the ones we have to listen to. —Elliott West, The Way to the West (166) For the last two generations, scholars and writers studying the effects of settlement on the Great Plains have been attempting inter­ calated narratives in an effort to “tell where and who they are.” Inspired by paradigm shifts across disciplines, these writers build stories using intricate, often paradoxical, webs of cause and effect, loss and gain, nat­ ural and cultural forces, and deep time and human time. The push and pull of dynamic influences has in but two centuries irrevocably altered the Great Plains biome, its human economies, and its store of natural resources. In the face of such massive upheaval and resettlement, many writers would agree with Donald Worster’s assertion that “[w]e need new kinds of heroes, a new appreciation of nature’s powers of recovery, and a new sense of purpose in this region— all of which means we need a new past, one with the struggle for adaptation as its main narrative, one that regards successful adaptation as a kind of heroism too” (253). Whether one characterizes the old stories as paradigms, myths, or fighting words, Worster reminds us, narratives involving archetypes of human achievement and failure shape our sense of the past and our frames for the future. In the aftermath of settlement, the need for new stories seems par­ ticularly urgent. The darker actions of Plains history— genocide, species extermination, extractive farming practices, boom and bust cycles, Dust Bowl proportion catastrophes— cast a long shadow over the present. “To many of us today,” Wes Jackson writes, “it seems tragic that our ancestors should have so totally blasphemed the grasslands with their moldboards. . . . [I]t was one of the two or three worst atrocities com­ mitted by Americans” (77-78). The future, demanding wiser human adaptation, appears uncertain. Writers comb the voices from the past for new guides while deliberating over the current ideologies and practices for direction. The assault to place, meanwhile, continues to reflect what James Howard Kunsder has called “the geography of nowhere.” In dystopian mood, Kunstler argues that “we have become accustomed to living in places where nothing relates to anything else, where disorder, unconsciousPeter Miller. SAND SPRINGS, MONTANA. Black and white photo, f Open rangeland on a 21-mile stretch of back road in Garfield County. WAL 3 6 .1 SPRING 2 0 0 1 ness, and the absense of respect reign unchecked” (185). Echoing Kunstler, William Bevis bemoans “the no-place of capitalist modernity” that affronts an appreciation of region and love of particular places (21). The Great Plains, whose ecosystem fell...


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