The land here in the Plains stretches from horizon to horizon, anchoring the great bowl of the sky for 360° around the spot where you stand. Sure, geographically this is accurate for wherever you happen to be on the planet but here you can actually see it. I grew up in the South among pine and oak forests, where the limits on your vision are the amount of pasture you are standing in. This unlimited view of surroundings was at first disconcerting – I now have an appreciation of those afflicted with agoraphobia – as I re-calibrated my sense of presence to include a much larger perspective capable of not only seeing where I am but where I’m going.
The stories of pioneers struggling with the endless, unchanging panorama for days and weeks started to make sense, especially as we traveled to the west and started seeing those few landmarks that appear off in the distance, like Chimney Rock or Scotts Bluff. Riding on a wagon at the pace of a mule or oxen these sudden reliefs on the horizon might take a couple of days to reach, certainly disheartening to people thinking they were making good time westward.
In the modern day, though, these treeless spans of prairie enable agriculture on a massive scale, carpeting the land with square miles of corn, soybeans, wheat or hay. The productivity of Plains agriculture is amazing with an astoundingly few farmers across the central part of the country feeding thousands of people directly or indirectly through their labors. Part of this productivity comes from maximizing use of the land and managing it effectively. Where in a field crop A won’t produce sufficient yields, crop B may do so. Where trees are retained or planted as windbreaks, structures can be located to minimize the impact of the relentless wind. Smart farmers continue the tradition of managing with the terrain rather than against it, contouring their fields to preserve the land from wind and water erosion.