Prairie comes from the French word, “prere” meaning grasslands. Prairyerth is an old geologic term that refers to prairie soil found where the forested land ended and the Great Plains began in North America. To me, prairyerth is poetry and prayer – conveying a transcendent reality that wants to be experienced, felt, loved and wildly enjoyed.
In his book, The Moth Snowstorm (2021), Michael McCarthy insists that the most precious gift nature has to offer us is the gift of joy. He writes: “Joy has a component, if not of morality, then at least of seriousness. It signifies a happiness which is a serious business. And it seems to me the wholly appropriate name for the sudden passionate happiness which the natural world can occasionally trigger in us, which may well be the most serious business of all.”
Over a century ago, McCarthy’s sentiments were passionately expressed in the book, The Prairie and the Sea (1905) by William Quayle. Quayle’s descriptions of the prairie burst with joy, insight and exultation. In the context of land-grabs, subsistence farming, Native American extinction, robber barons, relentless westward expansion and pursuit of money and profit, William Quayle chose a different way — he fell in love with the prairie.
A deeper democracy invites us to the “passionate happiness” triggered by the natural world that McCarthy refers to – a surprising joy that feeds the heart. Although written in another era, Quayle’s pure exuberance refocuses our priorities and opens our hearts to love the earth and let in the prairie’s joy.
Joy is key to human resilience and perhaps the greatest untapped resource on the planet. People who fulfill their aspirations and help others do the same, renew joy. People who feel the free flow of spirit in nature and walk in its beauty, renew joy.
McCarthy advises: “We should offer up not just the notion of being sensible and responsible about it [nature], which is sustainable development, nor the notion of its mammoth utilitarian and financial value, which is ecosystem services; but a third way, something different entirely: we should offer up what it means to our spirits; the love of it. We should offer up its joy.”
After more than 100 hundred years, William Quayle’s passionate, prayerful bursts of prairie joy leap from the page beckoning us to wander prairie paths and fall in love with what transcends us, with joy itself.
(See GALLERY – quotes by William Quayle and photos)