What you have landed on is a collaborative blog involving what I hope will be numerous students in the semesters to come as they engage with and write papers in response to various aspects of William Least Heat-Moon’s 1991 “deep map” of Chase County, Kansas, PrairyErth, and facilitated by me, John Buaas, their instructor and a professor of English at Butler Community College in Kansas. It is my hope that anyone interested in the Flint Hills of central Kansas, the challenges of contemporary rural and agrarian American life, ideas of place, and the pleasures and challenges of teaching big, sprawling books in Freshman Composition classes, as well as any number of other topics I could name, will find much to read and enjoy here.
Our fall semester is now three weeks old, which means that my students have begun to get their feet wet with PrairyErth. Our discussions and their in-class writing show to me that maybe, just maybe, their curiosity is piqued about the book and its setting. On the first night of class, I asked for a show of hands of students who had been anywhere in Chase County besides driving through it on the turnpike, and no one had. Though that is a discouraging thought, it also means that they can’t claim knowing all (that they think) there is to know about this place. They are a collective blank slate regarding the Flint Hills but, at least so far, they seem receptive to knowing more and thinking more about it. I will be meeting with students next Tuesday to talk about their drafts of their first papers, which are due on Thursday, so then I’ll have a (much) better sense of how (read: if) the writing prompts will result in thoughtful, substantive papers.
And speaking of writing prompts . . .
Something I plan to do for my PrairyErth class this fall is offer a couple of (optional) field trips to Chase County to visit some of the places mentioned in that book, so as to give students a sense of what has changed in the intervening 20-some years since it was published, and what has not. The early-fall trip will be out to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, and the November-ish trip, when the weather will be more unpredictable and in any event cooler, will be a driving tour of different towns in the county that Heat-Moon mentions. Yesterday, my wife and baby son and father-in-law and I made something like a dry run of the later trip, exploring the southwestern quarter of the county (in particular Wonsevu and Cedar Point). For various reasons, we had to cut our trip short, but speaking for myself it was a qualified success, seeing as we visited a part of the county that most people, certainly most non-countians, never see. (There is much to say about that part of the county, if my students can see what there is to say about it.)
And, my wife was able to take this marvelous picture out the car window as we headed home.