By Susan Naramore Maher
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From presettlement days forward, Plains writers and storytellers representing many literary and cultural traditions have addressed the changing face of the land. 37 Deserving particular notice is a dynamic, contemporary tradition of nonfiction writing focused on the environment and nature of the Plains. 38 These writers come to their subject matter from various routes. They may follow geologists, like John McPhee. They may be ranchers on the northern Plains like Linda Hasselstrom and Sharon Butala, or farmers who have succeeded on the High Plains, like Julene Bair’s family.
As such, it is dialogical in nature, somatic by choice, and undergirded by an insistent regard for the land below and yet above 22 | D E E P M A P P I N G T H E G R E AT P L A I N S human constructs. Deep mapping is an aesthetic and an ethos. ”87 Deep mapping the Great Plains, the signature effort of nonfiction writers of place, marks a significant new direction in this region’s literary culture. Charting patterned textures of science, history, and human desire, Plains writers deep map a layered illiterature steeped in place.
55 What made it distinctive—grasslands—now represents a minor percentage of Plains acreage. ”56 At the headwaters of contemporary Plains nature writing—Loren Eiseley and Wallace Stegner—this desire stands out and continues to find expression in the newest generation of writers. ” Following Prescott Webb, Plains essayists have sought ways to reframe and to reimagine regional history through crosssectional narrative. The literary cartography of the Plains has 14 | D E E P M A P P I N G T H E G R E AT P L A I N S been a multigenerational project, its striking possibilities first suggested in Loren Eiseley’s early essays from the 1940s and 1950s and then embraced wholeheartedly in Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow (1962).