Writer and photographer Gary Lantz has always felt most at home in what the Osage used to call the “heart stays” country—the southern edge of the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie in Oklahoma’s Osage County. It’s a place of grassy mounds with lots of rocks underfoot and clusters of crooked little oaks providing shade. It started young, his long-lasting love affair with a landscape that unnerves the uninitiated a little, mostly because it just seems so empty, and it has persisted through his entire life.
As proud grasslanders know, the prairie is biologically fulfilling, unique, and increasingly rare: biologists from the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy agree that a healthy prairie remains one of the most ecologically diverse and dynamic ecosystems on this planet—as well as one of the rarest left on earth. This landscape that once inspired rapturous exclamations from travelers headed west on horseback now mostly exists in fragments exiled from each other by cropland, cities, and interstate highways.
Historically, tallgrass prairie stretched from Canada to Texas, from central Kansas to Indiana. Now the last major expanse of tallgrass occurs in the Flint Hills, a verdant landscape extending in a north-south strip across eastern Kansas and into northern Oklahoma’s Osage County. In these essays, Gary Lantz brings the beautiful diversity of the prairie home to all of us.
“Heart Stays Country is an amazing collection of observations regarding one of the most important, endangered, and least appreciated ecosystems in the world. Lantz’s eloquent and in-depth writing will open up a whole new world and appreciation for the prairie. I live on a ranch in the prairie and realized after reading this book how little I know about my own land. I think it should be a required reading for college courses.”—Sue Selman, owner, Selman Guest Ranch, Buffalo, Oklahoma
“Many writers who extol the virtues of prairie landscapes are visitors taken by its special character, but return home at sunset to the domestics of suburbia. They want to save it. Many others who live in the midst of grasslands never see or reflect on what is so special. Some are willing to plow or spray it with herbicides, and bulldoze the trees along the creek. Gary Lantz lived much of his life away, but the grassland has drawn him back to rediscover how much it imprinted on his life. As expressed, Lantz cherishes the diverse life of prairies—from dragonflies to prairie-chickens—and the complexity of its history, including that of Native Americans and neighboring ranchers along Sycamore Creek. It would be a blessing if every child could be equally exposed to nature and develop an appreciation for noble communities.”—Ron Klataske