Friday, August 9, 2013

What Once Was...

A page from the 1941 edition of  "Upland Game Birds of Oklahoma." The pamphlet, published by the Oklahoma Game and Fish Department (now called the Department of Wildlife Conservation), describes small, but most definitely present-at-one-time populations of both sharptails and sage grouse in Oklahoma.

There is, of course, much documentation of the historical presence of, and (justifiable, I hasten to add) lamentation for, the ensuing disappearance of charismatic megafauna on the southern plains. We all know that grizzlies, wolves, elk, mountain lions, black bears, pronghorn, etc. were once common on the prairies (Teddy Roosevelt once went on a wolf hunt in SW Oklahoma). Of course, so were native tribes, and we all know how well it ultimately worked out for both indigenous peoples and large predators...

However, up until I found this pamphlet in an OKC used bookshop a few weeks ago, I myself knew precious little about the pre-to-early-settlement gamebird populations on the southern plains, which are my personal charismatic megafauna.

Oh, I knew all about prairie chickens, of course. But I had no idea, no idea at all, that those lonely sagebrush hills where I now follow the dogs in pursuit of my beloved bobwhite quail once held sharptails and sage grouse, too.

Can a land hold some vestigial memory of what once was but is now gone never to return? I believe so. The plains are a palpably sorrowful and tragic place, perhaps our most sorrowful, a region crowded with ghosts that linger on just beyond the conscious periphery of memory. I can feel them all around me whenever I walk across this landscape and imagine what - and who- came before me.

And it's fascinating, in a decidedly bittersweet way, to imagine that, in addition to all the homesteaders, cowboys, trappers, explorers, Native Americans, bison, wolves, bears, elk, mastodons and everything and everyone else that left an imprint in this swirling dust before me, I now know there are two more ghosts out there walking these plains, two more faint and dimming after-images of what was once a bright and searing now.


  1. Nice words dude. That the body politic could connect to that........

  2. Beautifully said. And very sad to those of us who love these prairies.