12 December 2009

Life on the Prairie

I love flying across the central part of the US. The flat terrain, which must be incredibly tedious to drive across is strangely compelling from the air.

First, there is the regular grid of the township and range, imprinted by the European settlers to impose order and ownership on the wide open plains. The checkerboard pattern resulted from when the land was sub-divided into 1 mile square blocks, with a grid of roads, each as straight as ruler. Some of these roads are just dirt tracks to the farms, others almost by chance have evolved through time into the major highways. Each mile square is subdivided into 4 homesteads and the first bit of variety comes from the location of the farm house within the plot. Then there is the land use, some ploughed, the combed lines always running parallel to the larger grid. Some blocks are further subdivided and some left fallow, in the more arid, southern US the grid has a circular pattern imposed by the huge irrigation wheels, sometimes these sit within a single 1/4 mile block other times they fill the whole mile, but do the tell neighborly cooperation or past failure and takeover. What stories can the occupants of those little houses, the families who work the land tell us? What can we learn of the personal triumphs and tragedies from the subtle variations in this national grid.

The grid is imposed on nature, which for the most part flat and featureless. Locally though a river or stream with no respect for the straight edges, snakes through the grid, highlighting the difference between mans order and natures apparent chaos.

One day I may drive those roads but in the meantime I am content to enjoy the beauty of the grid and its imperfections

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