Grasslandus Interruptus, by Jay Dusard

This book had to be called Grasslands because of discontinuity. The truthful S at the end of the word reinforces our knowledge that a once-vast Grassland existed on this continent before the onset of Manifest Destiny. It reminds us that we decimated the bison, rammed railroads through, overran rangeland with bovines from a wetter Europe, imposed the cadastral grid, turned sod upside down, and continue to till and spray to the far horizons. Great moments in fragmentation!

In June 2007 I visited my old workshop-teaching pard Kirby at his new digs near Santa Fe. On the heels of his Anasazi and Wheat Country achievements, I asked him, “What’s next?” “National Grasslands—all of them,” was his reply as he brought out several new silver prints. “Damn, Don,” I said, “I hope you find a tree out there.”

Well, he found the tree—in fact, dozens of them. Plus swales, draws, ridges, buttes, clouds, shadows, windstorms, firestorms, rainstorms. Most of all, the beautiful, life-sustaining grasses. I had hoped to see his variation on the Albrecht Dürer 1503 painting known as The Large Turf. “Couldn’t do it. The tall grass was never still enough.”

I love to be horseback in the intermountain grasslands around here. Like the ranch that I took Don to back in 1998, where the cattle are located and moved in ways that benefit the range, and the expansive stand of tall native Sacaton grass is burned regularly. We know now that Indians, using hunting pressure and fire, once “managed” the enormous bison herds of the Great Plains. The score-or-so of National Grasslands scattered about the West are being managed again. Managed and monitored. Among the restoration approaches and strategies: fire, cows, bison.

Don Kirby has found for us an archipelago of hope in an overstressed land.