Bird’s Eye View of a Wildfowl State – Prairie

The trail was a well marked tarmacced path and not very long.  I could see the small escarpment that was the main quarry just beyond a range of trees.  Between me and it was a rare site in modern America, a stretching plain of tall prairie grass dominating the terrain for about half a kilometre.  About waist height it was a tangle of stems with, at this time of year, extensive seed heads which rattled and whooshed in the wind.  I could see variations in the texture as I looked out; there were obviously other species intermingled with the grass.  This was not something that would be easy to navigate through – to walk through the patch here might take ten, twenty minutes, and who knew what potholes and depressions lurked below to give you a twisted ankle, or how scratched (or even poisoned) you might get if your bare skin came in contact with the vegetation.  How did the settlers manage to get through all this from the east, let alone burn it down and make cultivated fields?  Of course it would die down over the winter and there would be paths of least resistance, but it was another reminder how tough those trekkers must have been to even attempt it.  Where the grass met a small coppice of trees I noticed a huge pile of loose boulders; a very odd feature in a landscape of rolling prairies.

I came across a small river in a wooded valley a few steps on.  Attached to several trees were multicoloured cloth, prayer ties fluttering in the cold wind; what intentions or requests had been made one can only guess at; perhaps it was just to ask to find a nice solid piece of pipestone up ahead.  The trail followed the stream up a small incline through an open woodland till it met the vertical bluff of the quarry face.  It could almost be a natural feature, but it is not.  Generations of Indians had cut down through the hillside till they reached the narrow seam of pipestone.  I realised the pile of loose boulders I had seen was rubble pile that had once been solid rock above where I was standing.  Huge amounts of incredibly hard quartzite needed to be removed first before they could get to the deep pink layer of pipestone, and with that seam dipping down to the north, the more they excavated the pipestone the more overburden had first to be removed.  So what was left was a deep face of quartzite that had the pipestone at its base.


A sea of grass

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