By Jennifer Presler
In the modern world, staying connected means keeping up with world news, following the latest trends, and plugging into social media. While the prairie might not have much in the way of popular culture, it does offer the possibility of connections far deeper than can be achieved among the distractions of city life. On the prairie, there is no safety cushion, no guardrail, and nothing screening you from experiencing the land in its full glory.
In the short two months I lived on the American Prairie Reserve, I felt more in tune with the land and its inhabitants than other places I’ve called home. From walking transects and discovering the land on foot, I developed an intimate trust in my own instincts, my crewmates, and in the other animals constantly fighting to survive in this beautiful yet challenging climate.
I know the taste of the snow on the different edges of Sun Prairie, the smell of sage as the wind ripples across the grass, and the feel of a winter chill deep in my bones. I have seen bison, pronghorn and deer roaming freely; I’ve heard prairie dogs calling to each other as they warn their colony of an invading badger; and I’ve tracked a coyote chasing a cottontail across a frozen creek.
The prairie taught me a new way of life, centered on connecting to the world around me. Being a part of the Landmark Crew required me to look at my surroundings, but the prairie enveloped me and I saw much more than originally met the eye. The sky became more than a backdrop for the sun, and the grass was more than ground cover. With every molecule, organism and force working together, the landscape chugged away like a well-oiled machine—every element necessary and nothing unappreciated.
Despite living without the small luxuries that are commonplace in a city, I wanted nothing. We had a warm house for shelter from the elements, a car that never stopped pushing through mud and snow, and even electricity and indoor-plumbing (for the most part). Beyond material things, I had crew mates that formed a sort of dysfunctional family: always looking out for each other and celebrating the goofiness that results from a bit of cabin fever. There was no void left by the absence of superficial cares and impersonal encounters.
Life on the prairie may not move at the speed of a celebrity scandal, and the issues may be more localized than global warfare, but that’s the beauty of it. Each day is an adventure into connecting with each other, oneself and the immediate surroundings. It was refreshing to unplug my Smartphone and plug into the prairie.
Born and raised in the Arizona desert, Jennifer Presler has a degree in Molecular Biology and Ecology. She has worked with captive raptors at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, on a geobiology project at Biosphere-2, researching warblers in the mountains near Tucson, and prairie dogs in Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan.
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