By Susan Naramore Maher
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More recently, Ian Frazier, Richard Manning, Anne Matthews, and Jonathan Raban have published bestselling essays on the Great Plains, but their narrative forms do not engage in the artful braiding of deep past, scientific knowledge, cultural history, and personal participation in a spatial milieu. A book I particularly admire, Dan O’Brien’s Buffalo for the Broken Heart, presents a compelling story of Plains restoration as the author switches from cattle to bison production on his Black Hills ranch.
In works like Rising From the Plains (1986) and Crossing the Craton (1998), McPhee’s narrative cartography returns us to the earliest reaches of earth time and then shows us how human culture adapts to or resists the constraints of this history. . ”66 McPhee’s narrative deep maps do not overtly chart the interior response to the world, nor do they bother themselves with dreamscapes, personal quest, or spiritual compass points. Yet his deep maps detail a complex web of history compelling in its own right.
58 Deep mappers develop keen eyes for such traces, such snatches of story. ”59 Among the disciplines Plains nonfiction writers chart is biology. 60 “Deep, deep below the time of man in a remote age near the beginning of the reign of mammals,” he explains, he taps and chisels “the foundations of the world” (4–5, 6). The slit transforms into a deep map, presenting us with “many dimensions” that expand the narrow visions of our lifetimes, and which chart “an immense journey” (12). Like the vertical axis in one of Bakhtin’s chronotopes, “[everything] that on earth is divided by time, here, in this verticality, coalesces into D E E P M A P P I N G T H E G R E AT P L A I N S | 15 eternity, into pure simultaneous coexistence” (15).