Kansas: an ocean of grass
To undertake a westward journey on any early American trail — to begin life on the Oregon or Santa Fe, the Mormon or Gila — necessarily demanded the acceptance of difficulties.
From accounts in pioneer diaries, scientific notebooks, and letters written to family and friends, it seems that Indian raids, horse rustling, gunfights, and buffalo stampedes were the least of it. More often, quotidian challenges became the undoing of even the strongest traveler. Mired wagons; swarming insects; meal after meal of crackers and tea; the combination of overpowering thirst and stagnant, disease-ridden water; all these demanded remarkable levels of commitment and persistence.
Whether it was the zip code or the seven-digit phone number which came first hardly matters. Both were traumatic in their way. When the telephone exchange for my home town (PYramid2) was dropped in favor of all-digit dialing, you could hear the wails of the afflicted rising up to heaven: “They’re turning us into nothing more than numbers.”
Writing in The Atlantic, Megan Garber recalls that period of transition:
All-Number Calling—it is clear in hindsight—stood in the minds of many for the age of the impersonal, when people live in huge apartment buildings, travel on eight-lane highways and identify themselves in many places—bank, job, income tax return, credit agency—by numbers.
Stephen Baker, author of The Numerati, contends that such simple and relatively straightforward numbers are relics of the industrial age. Today’s data miners seek to turn us into combinations of numbers as they gather, compile, and interpret information about us before drawing their conclusions about how we will — or, more precisely, how we might be persuaded to — behave. Continue reading
To pass through a fire-ravaged world — eyes stinging in the smoky haze; feet sinking and twisting in the soft and shifting ash; lips tight against bitter, blowing grit — is to risk being consumed by irrational certainties: convinced, perhaps, that such desolation, such destruction, will last forever. Even when burns scheduled for prairie management have been carefully planned and implemented with precision, the sight of the bleak and apparently lifeless land sears the mind as surely as the earth itself has been seared.
Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge, February 2, 2017
After weeks of fruitless horizon-scanning and radar-consulting, the roiling smoke plume rising over the southwestern horizon seemed promising. Before long, I’d found confirmation: a scheduled burn at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge was underway, and the section being burned would be accessible by road.
I’d been hoping to visit a native prairie after a prescribed burn, and my opportunity had arrived. The January 31 burn, carried out under the supervision of the Texas Mid-Coast fire crew on 515 acres of land, would be accessible via Hoskins Mound Road, my usual route to the Brazoria refuge.
When I arrived at the refuge on February 2, a portion of the world I’d known there appeared to have been obliterated.