Searching for Iowa’s Prairies[1] by Mary Stark

Nothing in my previous experience or reading prepared me for the dense thicket2 that I was about to enter.  My colleague, Stephen Johnson, assured3 me that we just had to meander4 through the thick undergrowth5 to reach what was once tall grass prairie.  


I was born in Iowa, a state that once was 85 to 88 percent tall grass prairie; still I had never seen one.  Only one-tenth of one percent of tall grass prairie now remains in Iowa.  Since Steve has a Ph.D. in plant ecology6 from research on prairies in the Flint Hills7 of Kansas, he volunteered to inventory8 the 300 acres of land still classified as9 prairie around Pella.  I volunteered to assist him and learn first-hand about tall grass prairie and Whitman’s metaphor of LEAVES OF GRASS.10 


I soon learned that Steve and I conducted research in different ways.  I wrote my dissertation11 on the nature imagery and context12 of Walt Whitman’s works; in the comfort of the library and my lounge chair13, I had played with Whitman’s idea of America as a prairie, a unique landscape full of diversity14 of flora15, fauna16, and fungi17.  I liked the metaphors and Whitman’s long lines of open verse18 which followed the unique landscape of the rolling prairies19.  Steve’s research, on the other hand, entailed20 taking measurements and collecting aboveground biomass21 in flesh-cutting prairie cord grass (Spartina pectinata) to document22 the effects of fire on its growth and productivity.  Konza Prairie23 in Kansas provided the actual pre-settlement prairie24 because its rocky soil prevented even the steel plow from piercing25 it.  


Now was my chance to learn more about the facts in order to understand the metaphors of a landscape that disappeared 150 years ago.  Steve and I started with a parcel26 of land that the Army Corps of Engineers27 referred to as “Prairie Remnant 244-828.”  “Remnant” seemed more like a left over piece of fabric with frayed open edges29 than the expansive diverse vista described by 19th and 20th century American authors30.  The number of 244-8 jarred31 me as mechanical and lifeless, just the opposite of Steve’s photographs of prairies, rolling as a sea of purple blazing star and orange milkweed butterfly32.  But Remnant 244-8 was my first chance to see the literal roots of Iowa’s heritage33– all of it hiding behind a dark curtain of autumn olives, oaks, blackberry vines and poison ivy34. 


I followed Steve as he navigated35 around the dense hedge36 of poison ivy.  All the while, I thought of my brother’s agonizing three-week recovery from brushing against this rash-producer37.  Despite the humidity and 90 degree temperatures, I was suddenly glad of my long-sleeved shirt and long pants tucked38 into my socks.  Steve and I tip-toed39 around a fence of fallen logs, multi-flora rose40 and poison ivy covered with ticks41, their legs outstretched to snag42 passing deer– or humans.  We reached a wetland43 teeming44 with what Steve identified as reed canary grass45 (Phalaris arundinaceous).  The reed canary grass engulfed46 us.  It never looked this tall from my vantage point47 in the car.


We walked faster when we found a well-worn deer trail48.  I thought of the early descriptions of the steel plows that had ripped open the prairie49.  The sounds made by the blade as it carved50 the network of roots were like rifle reports51.  Before I knew it, I stumbled and fell.  I was relieved when I saw I hadn’t fallen in poison ivy.  Steve helped me up, and we continued on.


We pushed on and up the slope to what looked like an open pasture52.  Steve began spotting53 plants that indicated remnants of a panorama54 of Indian grass, milkweed butterfly, partridge peas55 and cream gentian56.  Steve was thrilled at the sight of some of the pre-settlement plants of the tall grass “lost landscape.57     


My first encounter with Remnant 244-8 inspired me to learn the facts of Whitman’s nineteenth century landscape.  In the process of my prairie education, I am including units of prairie literature and ecology in my Nature Writing and Environmental Literature course58.  As a class, we travel forty miles to the Neal Smith Prairie Learning Center, a 5,000 acre restoration project,  We also tour a sod house59 in Pella’s historical village , as actually one area of Pella was once called Strawtown for these sod houses– perhaps even formed from that prairie sodgrass.  Above all, I am inspired to plant prairie flora on my own three-quarters of an acre, remnant-sized yard. 


1. prairie: a wide open area of fairly flat land in North America which is covered in grass (大草原).

2. thicket: dense growth of shrubbery or small trees (灌木丛,小树丛).

3. assured: guaranteed or convinced (使确信).

4. meander: walk aimlessly, winding about or without a planned route (漫步,闲逛).

5. undergrowth: low growth on the floor of a forest composed of herbs and shrubs (下层灌丛).

6. plant ecology: the study of plants and their relationship to the environment (植物生态学).

7. Flint Hills: a very rocky large area of rolling hills in north central Kansas, set aside as a natural area (地名,为堪萨斯州中北部一块面积很大山地起伏岩石遍布的地区).

8. inventory: make a list of everything that is in a given area or place (列出清单).

9. classified as: decide what group something belongs to (归类为).

10. Whitmans metaphor of Leaves of Grass: a book by Walt Whitman, a 19th century American writer, a metaphor of American life and nature, widely considered one of the great masterpieces of literature (十九世纪美国作家瓦尔特•惠特曼的“草叶集”,隐喻美国人民的生活及其本质,普遍认为这是一部伟大的文学巨著).

11. dissertation: a long written paper submitted as one of the requirements for a doctorate degree in graduate studies (博士论文).

12. nature imagery and context: the use of examples from nature which produce imaginative occurrences in their surroundings (自然界中有象征意义的实体和周围环境).

13. lounge chair: a large, comfortable chair (安乐椅).

14. diversity: a wide variety of things or types of things (多样性).

15. flora: all the plants that grow in a particular place or country (植物群).

16. fauna: a technical term referring specifically to animals (动物群).

17. fungi: non-green organisms typically growing as filaments in the soil, or on plants or animals as a parasite (真菌). The term includes mushrooms and related organisms which play a vital role in recycling of mineral nutrients in organisms and the soil.

18. open verse: writing without use of one particular rhythm (自由体诗,不使用专门格律).

19. rolling prairies: 起伏的大草原

20. entailed: involved something as a necessary part or result (使……成为必要).

21. biomass: the total amount of living matter in a particular area, or of a particular organism (所有生物).

22. document: record something in writing or on film (记录).

23. Konza Prairie: a large prairie area set aside in north central Kansas as a natural area or preserve (康泽大草原,是位于堪萨斯州的中北部的一个自然保护区).

24. the actual pre-settlement prairie: the prairie that is in the state or condition before humans came to that area (真正处于人类居住前状态的大草原).

25. piercing: puncturing, or making holes in something (穿透).

26. parcel: an area of land that is part of a larger area which has been divided up (一大片面积中的一小块).

27. Army Corps of Engineers: a U.S. government organization which is given the responsibility for overseeing government land and water resources (陆军工程师团,是美国政府的组织,负责监管政府的土地和水资源).

28. Prairie Remnant 244-8: the specific, smaller piece of land which was once in prairie, based on map location which is one part of a larger land area (编号为2448的大草原残留部分).

29. a left over piece of fabric with frayed open edges: 一块边上开了口磨破的布片

30. the expansive diverse vista described by 19th and 20th century American authors: 1920世纪美国作家所描写的广阔的景致各异的风景

31. jarred: made someone feel annoyed or shocked (令人感到不快或震惊).

32. rolling as a sea of purple blazing star and orange milkweed butterfly:明亮的紫色星和橘黄色的斑蝶像一片海洋那样高低起伏。

33. the literal roots of Iowas heritage: 爱荷华州遗产的真正的根

34. behind a dark curtain of autumn olives, oaks, blackberry vines and poison ivy: 在秋天的橄榄树、橡树、黑莓的藤蔓和有毒常春藤的浓密的幕后。

35. navigated: found which way one needed to go (指路,引路).

36. dense hedge: 茂密的树篱

37. agonizing three-week recovery from brushing against this rash-producer: 因为触摸过这种产生皮疹的东西而经历了极度痛苦的三周恢复期

38. tucked into my socks: stuffed into my socks (塞进我的袜子里).

39. tip-toed: walked carefully on the toes or the tip of ones foot with heels raised (掂起脚走路).

40 multiflora rose: a thorny plant producing a rose flower, and often found in some prairies (野蔷薇).

41. tick: an insect that sucks ones blood (扁虱).

42. snag: attach themselves to (附在……身上).

43. wetland: 湿地

44. teeming withbeing full of (长满了……).

45. reed canary grass: 草芦

46. engulfed: completely covered or surrounded (完全把……掩盖了).

47. vantage point: a good position from which something is viewed (观察某物的有利位置).

48. a well-worn deer trail: a rough path used by deer for a long time (鹿经常走的一条小路).

49. ripped open the prairie:(用犁)把大草原撕开

50. carved: cut by a sharp instrument (雕刻).

51. rifle reports: the sound of a rifle being shot (来复枪的枪击声).

52. open pasture: 开阔的牧场

53. spotting: seeing something or someone (看见).

54. panorama: 全景

55. partridge peas: 敏感豆

56. cream gentian: 黄龙胆

57. lost landscape: a sight that once existed, but which no longer exists (失去的景色).

58. Nature Writing and Environmental Literature course: 自然写作和环境文学课

59. sod house: 一种完全用泥和草建造的房子





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