The opening paragraph of Dan's book, "In The Center Of The Nation" always evokes an emotional response in me.
"Coming from either direction the land changes before you have a chance to get ready for it. Traveling eastward, you see the grasslands for the first time from several thousand feet up in the Rocky Mountains. You come around a turn intent on the ruggedness of the mountains, and suddenly the pine trees, rocks, and fast-running water are gone. Below you, though still fifty miles off, is the flattest, smoothest, mostly treeless stretch of land imaginable. And if you are traveling west, you’ve just gotten used to the fertile, black soils of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, just come to expect the neatly painted, prosperous farm buildings surrounded by cultivated groves of trees, but when you come to the Missouri River, it all goes to hell. Suddenly the order is gone, the prosperity scattered. When you get the feeling that the whole world can see you but no one is watching, you have come to the grasslands of North America.”
I read this book years before I knew Dan and even then it had an impact on me. As a native South Dakotan, I knew just what he was taking about. Twenty years later it remains eminently profound, but now for deeper reasons that are rooted in the fragility of the land and branch out into trying to make a go of a sustainable meat company. In addition to often feeling invisible, you also feel that your messaging is unheard, no matter how hard you shout or whisper, "Can you hear me now"? “No, we can’t hear you now”... echoes in the silence.
South Dakota in general, is known as “flyover country”. And, some people say, “That we live in the middle of nowhere”. We say, "Like nowhere on Earth", but seeing or hearing about nowhere is a pretty tough sell.
This year however, we were delighted with the number of people who were interested in touring the ranch. From customers, to potential customers, to those interested in the ecology of a healthy, prairie ecosystem, they came, and most came with their families as part of their summer vacation. They not only wanted to see firsthand what we are doing out here on the prairie but they wanted to experience what it’s like to be in the center of a free roaming buffalo herd.
As we drive through the ranch we converse about soil health, grass varieties, and carbon sequestration. We discuss eating meat, eating less meat, eating grass-fed only meat. I point out birds and wildflowers, and all are thrilled when a whitetail leaps across the prairie, elegant in its stride.
We continue on, looking for the buffalo herd and once we’ve located them, we approach slowly. All become quiet as we navigate our way among them. We stop, take in the sounds of the buffalo’s hooves touching the earth, and listen to their breath and soft grunts mixed into the pitch perfect prairie orchestra.
As hosts, we hope that the vastness of the ocean of grass and the majestic animals are slowly seeping into our guest’s soul and that they can start to feel a shift in the balance of the greater wholeness of life. Or, at least... that they think it’s pretty cool. The wholeness is what we on the ranch and at Wild Idea are trying to hang on to. We also think, that it’s pretty cool too.
We then answer a million questions about buffalo. The children’s questions are asked rapidly, consecutively and with great curiosity. I am overjoyed with their interest and smile back at their beaming faces while thinking, “They didn’t flyover and they can hear me now”.
P.S. If you haven’t read “In The Center Of The Nation”, you should - it’s a pretty good read. You can view here, along with Dan’s other books.