I am reading Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi” and am somehow made to feel nostalgic for a period in American history — the middle of the 19th century — that neither I nor my parents lived through. Twain’s knack for telling a tale will do that to you. There were glorious steamboats, and on either side of the Mississippi, millions upon millions of buffalo.
In fact, estimates are as high as 75 million buffalo grazing the grassy plains. John Kirk Townsend, a naturalist en route to Oregon described that the “whole plain, as far as the eye could discern, was covered by one enormous mass of buffalo. Our vision would certainly extend ten miles, including about eight miles in width from the bluffs to the river bank, there was apparently no vista in the incalculable multitude.”
When contemplating the availability of that scene, the magnificent raw energy of the herds, a scant 150 years ago, how are we to come to terms with and understand what we see in its place today? Some 90 million acres of corn with a few high rises, Taco Bells, and cul-de-sacs scattered about. More sobering still is the realization that for many this is worthy of a smile. After all, it’s what we fought for: dominion over nature — progress!