Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fields of Prairie Grass

This afternoon I bicycled past a burning field. As the yellow-brown smoke thickened into a ghastly smog, I accelerated past the burning prairie grass, and though I’m not a smoke reader (there are people who calculate emissions for a living), I didn't want to breathe the obviously polluted air. Men in yellow coats and hard hats stood nonchalantly at the edges, not wearing safety masks, ready to put out the fire if it got out of hand.The parks department probably yawns over coffee: “Gotta do three fields today.” It’s the cycle of work for them. The prairie grass will be thick and wavy again in another couple of months. A renaissance.

Well away from the fire, I sat down with my thermos and book. A taped-together Penguin of Pamela Hansford Johnson’s An Avenue of Stone is not geographically correct after the burning of prairie grass. More appropriate farm books: Willa Cather’s O Pioneers; Bess Aldrich’s A Lantern in Her Hand; Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres; Martha Bergland’s A Farm under a Lake; Larry Woiwode's What I Think I Did; and, for light relief, Betty MacDonald's The Egg and I.

But one cannot live always in reality, and Pamela Hansford Johnson, a genius at depicting class differences in England, sweeps me far away. An Avenue of Stone promisingly begins:

“As a class,” Helena said, “we are doomed” - indicating consciousness of her absurdity only by a bright flash in my direction from her Tiberian eye.

More about this later.

By the way, nobody was surprised about the fire. "Oh yeah, I saw it." That laconic prairie matter-of-factness is even part of the cities here.

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