[No. 3 in our Eco-Lit series; concludes with a little writing contest]
A few months ago, I attended the Land Institute’s annual Prairie Festival in Salina, Kansas. The festival featured talks on sustainable agricultural practices, spirituality’s place in environmental advocacy, and research on new crops. It also included a barn dance with live music by local musicians, bonfires, local food, and guided walks around the Land Institute’s experimental plots and prairie regrowth areas. Many of the talks were loaded with scientific content that was a bit too technical for me, but I was able to fully experience the prairie in the Land Institute’s intentional setting. It was an empowering way to integrate a significant ecosystem in the American West that I often overlooked when establishing my own “sense of place.”
The Land Institute is located near some of the few small patches of tallgrass prairie left in the west. These patches reflect the historic ecosystems of my resident state of Colorado, which today is primarily composed of shortgrass prairie ecosystems east of the Rocky Mountains. Only 4% of the historic 170 million acres of tallgrass prairie is left in the United States, almost all of it located in Kansas’ Flint Hills. Maintaining the little tallgrass prairie that remains, as well as promoting regrowth in areas that traditionally hosted tallgrass species, is the only reason what is left of the tallgrass prairie has survived.
My time at the Prairie Festival got me thinking about how to incorporate local ecosystems into my writing and sense of place. This new perspective from an under-appreciated local ecosystem was an important access point for me to reassess what it is I value in a place. It also made me wonder why the ocean, desert, and mountains are universally celebrated while other areas, such as the prairie and freshwater wetlands near the coast, are not prioritized or even seen as beautiful to many. What I appreciated about the Prairie Festival was their focus on local ecosystems: how individuals can work with them for a grounded sense of place. That sense of place can then become a sustainable relationship with the land through ecologically mindful farming techniques or simply appreciating a given environment and living harmoniously within it.
In a related event, a couple months ago haiku author Julie Warther (What Was Here, calligraphy by J.S. Graustein, Folded Word 2015) participated in the opening ceremony of the Open Air Art Museum at the Inn at Honey Run in Millersburg, Ohio. As a regional director of the Haiku Society, Julie spoke to guests with innkeeper Jason Nies, then led a walk through the newly implemented Haiku Walk. The path is adorned with 30 large stones, each of which boast a steel plate engraved with haiku poems. The attendees included six featured poets who read their work. As the path continues through the forested area near the inn, the haiku poems follow the movement of the seasons, beginning with themes of spring and ending in winter.
The Haiku Walk makes both poetry and the local environment of central Ohio accessible to local residents. Like the Prairie Festival, the Haiku Walk (as well as other place-based events/establishments) offers a setting for people who may be otherwise unfamiliar with an area’s ecosystems an opportunity to be within their local environment, even for a just little while. Unlike state parks, national forests, and other protected natural areas, places like the Land Institute and the Haiku Walk attract individuals who may not otherwise get out into their native ecosystems. They are more accessible and offer something beyond the outdoors for the sake of the outdoors: The Haiku Walk has the attraction of its poetry alongside the trail, while the Land Institute has a research institute for the future of sustainable farming. The Haiku Walk is not located in an extravagant landscape, nor does it have traditionally awe-inspiring views like a mountain or coastline. Yet its location in a wooded area typical to the region offers a way for locals to connect to their landscape and appreciate the often-under-appreciated intricacy of nature within a densely populated area.
To broaden understanding and appreciation of historically under-appreciated landscapes/ecosystems, we at Folded Word are hosting a little writing competition. If there is an under-appreciated landscape dear to you, tell us about it:
Not interested in competition? Just reflect on the landscape for your own sake (though we’d love it if you’d share a one-line description in the comments below). Either way, we hope you’ll take this opportunity to share the value in otherwise-overlooked environments with us.