Grass, Sky, Song

Grass, Sky, Song, in part, is a requiem concerning our ingratitude toward the gift of Creation. In particular, it is a psalm of lament over our infidelity with the northern Great Plains. But throughout, it is a book of beauty, of vision, and of hope.

GSSTrevor Herriot brings the prairie and its sky to life, and then considers the harm inflicted by our ongoing colonizing ways. He shows how we’ve hobnailed our way here–by accident and design, in ignorance and through the expedience of technique. And how, as a result, suitable habitat for the birds of the Great Plains is disappearing. No doubt this disappearance will never make the Kyoto and Copenhagen things-to-ameliorate list. But the greater tragedy is that the ravages of our development-at-any-cost has also been largely ignored by those of us reared on the prairies. In this sense the great value of Herriot’s book is the connection it persuasively traces from the fate of palm-size brown birds and the native grassland that sustains them, to the  health and well-being of our own bodies and souls.  

Grass, Sky, Song is also a book of beauty. Through Trevor Herriot’s eyes, the grassland, and the sky that mediates the sun, through which small winged creatures make their passage and sing their mystery, reveal a shikinah presence. To read this book is to grow a certain peripheral vision–it is to be given sight for the holy in the margins.

It is a book of vision and hope. There is forgiveness in the flight-songs of small buff-coloured birds. There is, we find, promise in the name meadowlark. There is, we discover, a restorative power in the grass and sky, a resiliency that while beaten has not snapped.

But there lies a warning here. Hope that is real will not slough off blame, even to obvious targets. It will instead square up to our own complicity as consumers in "achieving security of the food system," and our lazy demand for inexpensive food. Here we are shown a new-old way: how even the choice to eat, not grain-fed, but grass-fed beef and bison, is a step of re-engagement with our prairie environment.

The central nervous system of the Great Plains is badly flayed, but what is not dead, may yet flourish. A renewed sensitivity to place can allow old pathways to reroute themselves revitalizing the vastness of our Plains and receiving back the delicate mystery of song birds.

Grass, Sky, Song honours the least of these–be it a pipit, a tuft of native grass, the click-click of a burrowing owl, a fleeting swirl of mist, the contents of a square yard of air–nothing is overlooked, forgotten or passed by. To live our lives in such a way where the falling of a sparrow does not go unnoticed is to live in concordance with Creation–and so, to build the stabilitas of our society‚Äôs soul and body.

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  1. Sounds like a great book. The kinds of things mentioned therein are priceless, and without replacement in a modern world. When our values include nature toward the top of the list, we won’t be so fast to see any of it go to waste. Perhaps this book will help the awareness of this, and help us realize that we are connected with the birds and all living things.

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