Books  Regional Natural History  Americas 

Prairie Spring: A Journey Into the Heart of a Season

Biography / Memoir

By: Pete Dunne (Author)

274 pages, illustrations

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hardback | Mar 2009 | #207974 | ISBN-13: 9780618822201
Availability: Usually dispatched within 1 week Details
NHBS Price: £24.50 $30/€27 approx

About this book

A portrait of spring in the heartland of North America In this first of four seasonal narratives, Pete Dunne sends a postcard from the prairie in his characteristically puckish style.The prairie is an exciting place to explore an unfolding drama – man versus the environment – and as Dunne and his wife travel through the heartland, the fleeting nature of the season comes to symbolize the precarious balance between the two. At the Sandhill Crane Festival in Nebraska, Dunne observes the struggle between maintaining the cranes' habitat and meeting farmers' needs for water. As in other habitats, human encroachment is only one of the challenges facing the preservation of the Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado.

Climate change, invasive plants and animals, and mineral exploitation are just a few of the others. Conflicts over the grassland habitat continue between ranchers and prairie dogs and between oil companies and prairie chickens. Yet Dunne finds affirmation on the prairie: people putting their lives back in place after a tornado; volunteers giving their time to conservation efforts; the drive of all species to move their genes to the next generation, which manifests itself so abundantly on the prairie in spring.

"[...] If you’ve read anything by Dunne, then you know what to expect here (and if you haven’t, [...] you don’t know what you’ve been missing). Humorous, insightful, educational, and just plain fun to read, his prose is amazing. I particularly enjoyed his analogy of a prairie-chicken lek and a baseball game. It seems a little weird, but it really worked. However, he stretches a bit too far at times, such as the conversation he had with a painted horse. It was just a little wide of the mark for me. But in most everything else, he was right on target."
- Grant McCreary (23-02-2009), read the full review at The Birder's Library

"Dunne (Golden Wings) presents an intimate account of a two-month trek – accompanied by photographer wife Linda – following the coming of spring across Americas prairie grasslands. Theirs is an odyssey into the time of beginning that weaves together spiritual insight, plant biology, geology lessons and American history – and a plethora of bird sightings, from the mating trysts of the increasingly rare lesser prairie chicken to the plight of the threatened mountain plover. Their journey begins in New Jersey and continues to Nebraska, their arrival timed to witness the annual migration of half a million northbound sandhill cranes. Next come Colorado and a primer on how homesteading sodbusters transformed an ocean of vibrant prairie grasses into a devastating dustbowl; New Mexico and the Sixth Annual High Plains Lesser Prairie-Chicken Festival; back through Colorado and the Pawnee National Grasslands for a glimpse of the threatened prairie dog, once (along with bison) among the environmental engineers of the 19th century Western plains; and into South Dakota, home to between 800 and 1,400 free-ranging bison. Dunnes melodic prose and rhapsodic connection with the natural world brilliantly entice an estranged audience to explore a [...] now alien environment."
- Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"Dunne, birder extraordinaire and author of numerous books (including Tales of a Low Rent Birder, 1987, and Pete Dunne on Bird Watching, 2003), now turns his pen to spring. In this first of four projected narratives on the seasons, Dunne begins the journey on Groundhog Day, the day halfway between the official first day of winter (the winter solstice) and of spring (the vernal equinox). With his signature mischievous writing style, Dunne tells of the travels he and his wife, Linda, took through the prairie regions in 2007. Although a theme of humanity's effects on the prairie runs as an undercurrent throughout the narrative, it never overwhelms the sense of awe and wonder at the natural beauty of the grasslands and their inhabitants. Whether writing of the dance–cum–gladiatorial contest of the male lesser prairie chickens, or of racing a prairie storm to shelter, or of meeting a man he dubs "Johnny Earth Day" (whose goal is to pick up trash wherever he goes), Dunne brings the reader into his affirmation of nature and its wonders."
- Nancy Bent, Booklist

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