The prairies of South Dakota hold an enduring place In my heart. There's a uniqueness in the quiet solitude of walking the seemingly endless roll of these grasslands with only the sound of the wind and the native grass brushing against my L.L. Bean boots and pants. I marvel at how the great Missouri River bisects these lands, and I can't cross it at Yankton or Pierre without wondering what Lewis and Clark must have thought about America's vast new purchase.
No American author captures the prairie landscape better than Willa Cather (1876-1947). So the following, from her My Ántonia, is for my fellow grouse hunters who walk these prairies again this fall.
I wanted to walk straight through the red grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and the sun and sky were left, and if one went a little farther there would be only sun and sky, and one would float off into them, like the tawny hawks which sailed over our heads making slow shadows on the grass....I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we fell like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as natural as sleep.
Cather also wrote, "We come and go, but the land is always here." But since we are still here, here's to many more productive and safe hunts.