Thankfully, we have Willa Cather and a score of other writers who left behind impressions of a world that's gone now, a world like this one where there is absolutely nothing but land and sky--and prairie grass. Nary a tree here, except in draws and along the rivers. That there is and was beauty here is unquestioned, but this is not the landscape most people know.
Most people live with trees. Like this--
or, come October, this--
I bet I've taken a hundred pictures like this cottonwood portrait, a solitary giant basically all alone in the emptiness. They're all we've got really, and that makes them as iconic as a windmill.
Some people still call these giant cottonwoods weeds; but they're rugged as pioneers. They get beat up terribly by the bully seasons on the plains, but they still manage to inspire, even if the wood is soft and a pain to burn.
I live in a world that's going to look like this soon. Just not much here.
See that hawk a mile away, top right hand corner below? Trees are homes too, habitat for all kinds of creatures and critters. There's that too.
According to REI, a 2014 study in Environmental Pollution argued that every last adult tree sucks up 17 metric tons of air pollution, and thereby--listen to this!--"prevented 670,000 cases of respiratory problems like asthma and 850 human deaths."
That's plain nuts. But if it's only half truth, then, seriously, what am I doing in this barren world?
I guess it just happens to be where I live.
Andrew Sullivan, in a recent edition of New York magazine, confessed to having given up his smart phone and put himself in recovery in order to try to start, once again, connecting with people and places, impossible as that seemed. Sullivan claims the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but distraction. "Perhaps [churches] might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation," he wrote.
And there's this. Some psychologists think there is a kind of redemption in nature--the colors, the textures, the openness, the endless world--all of it pushes us a ways from one self and one's busyness. Those psychologists even have a name for that particular brand of recovery therapy; they call it "ART" or "attention restoration theory."
It works like this. Here's the world I live in, treeless, but winsome in other ways.
What they claims is that actually being out there in natural environments demands so little of our attention our brains get time to rest. Doesn't matter where--in the woods or on the plains.