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Learn the story of America’s prairie

By Rebecca Hyde
Rowan Public Library
America’s prairie, or Great Plains grasslands, once covered the middle third of our continent. Fewer than 5 percent of its original stretches remain. And that has ramifications for the food we eat and the air we breathe.
This is the message of “Last Stand of the Tallgrass Prairie,” written by Aimee Larrabee and John Altman as a companion to a PBS documentary.
Called “a sea of grass” by settlers, the land was actually a vast inland sea surrounded by marshes and tropical forests.
Then melting glaciers and the upheaval of the Rocky Mountains created an arid climate, which favored deep-rooted, drought-tolerant grasses covering level plains of rich glacial soil.
The grazing of large animals (bison) and intermittent fires kept the grasslands healthy. In return, the grasslands acted as a huge natural air purifier, taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen. Below the surface, the soil is dark, carbon-rich and nutrient-laden. Building high-quality soil is a natural outcome of this ecosystem dominated by grasses. Larrabee and Altman interweave this natural history with the cultural history of the prairie, of its people and cultivation, which has led to most of the grasslands being dug up. Recently, the tallgrass prairie has attracted the attention of conservationists, both scientists and ranchers.
The Konza Prairie Research Natural Area in Manhatten, Kansas (www.konza.ksu.edu) is a center for international collaboration in the study of prairie ecosystems and management. Soil conservation is important globally, from the steppes of the Ukraine, Mongolia and Siberia, to the grasslands of Australia, the pampas of Argentina and the African veldt.For additional information on the natural history of North America’s grasslands, read Candace Savage’s “Prairie: A Natural History.” If you think that the prairie is boring or “the Big Empty,” then you have a failure of vision, according to Savage. It’s time to drop out of the fast lane and be dazzled by the beauty and natural variety of our heartland.
If you are planning a trip, read “Prairie: A North American Guide,” by Suzanne Winckler. The author describes her book as “a celebration of vestiges.” She offers help in how to find a prairie (which can be difficult), and where to discover agrarian landscapes off the highway. She wants people to become aware of how few prairies remain, and to discover that prairies are not flat but have distinct characters. Join the select group of “prairie walkers.”
Teen programs: Metamorphosis Teen Summer Reading Program will end Thursday at the South Rowan Regional Library in China Grove with a Monarch Cookout from 5:30-7:30 p.m. There will be food, a band, a water balloon fight, games and a special grand prize drawing for all teens who have read over the summer.
Children’s programs: Summer Reading Program, “Catch the Reading Bug!” continues at headquarters, East and South branches. “Ron Gulledge ó Teller of Tales” will end this month’s program. Movies in July ó All movies are rated G, PG or PG 13. Some movies appropriate for younger audiences. Children should be accompanied by an adult. Free popcorn and lemonade. Tuesday, “Henry V.”
Displays: South ó miniature sewing machines by Terri Taylor.

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