The Great Plains Continue to Change

I’ve spent a little bit of time exploring Kansas and have a long fascination with the Great Plains, so articles like this one always catch my eye:

For generations, the story of the small rural town of the Great Plains, including the dusty tabletop landscape of western Kansas, has been one of exodus — of businesses closing, classrooms shrinking and, year after year, communities withering as fewer people arrive than leave and as fewer are born than are buried. That flight continues, but another demographic trend has breathed new life into the region.

Hispanics are arriving in numbers large enough to offset or even exceed the decline in the white population in many places. In the process, these new residents are reopening shuttered storefronts with Mexican groceries, filling the schools with children whose first language is Spanish and, for now at least, extending the lives of communities that seemed to be staggering toward the grave.

The last two centuries of the Plains have really been staggering, if you think about it.  A million square miles of prairie covered with buffalo herds, scattered with Plains grizzlies, threaded and patched by wildfires and floods and tornados and droughts and winters, intensively inhabited and used by native communities and nations.  All of that conquered and “civilized” in less than one human lifetime, then gasping for breath economically and ecologically ever since.   So much change so fast.

Places where civilization seems tenuous or thin are really interesting to me, and the changes and succession of people and economies and ecosystems that happen in those places as well.  And while I can empathize with the resistance to change that the white Kansans in the article express, I can’t buy into the super-short view of history that seems to be behind it.  Five or six generations is really nothing at the scale of deep time.  So I say, “bravo” for more people of more backgrounds choosing to bring their families and histories and language to (and, really in this case, back to) the prairie and make those places home.  Who knows how they’ll change the place and how the place will change them?

Past thoughts related to Kansas and connection to place here.

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