The first line in Edward Abbey's book about a season spent in the Arches National Monument reads "This is the most beautiful place on earth." I haven't been to Arches - yet - but I have uttered that line any number of times. I said it the first time I saw the Florida Keys, which was 30+ years ago when things looked a bit less, um, overrun. I said it standing on a snow-covered mountain in Colorado and ten years later on another snow-covered mountain in a remote section of British Columbia. I said it looking across a mountain-framed geothermal basin in Yellowstone. Oceans and mountains, the giants and sirens of Earth.
I also said it the first time I stared out the window of a car in South Dakota. And I still think it every time I visit. Odd because the colors are so muted, there's nothing majestic rising out of the earth, nothing otherworldly at all about it. The splendor lies in its reach; grandeur that doesn't climb out of the earth or reach down into it but unfolds across it. Breathtaking simplicity. Buzz Aldrin coined the phrase "magnificent desolation" although technically it's not.
The midwestern prairie is the middle child of America, overlooked and unnoticed, casting an existence in the shadow of its higher profile siblings. It will never be the pro athlete, the opera star, the doctor or lawyer or supermodel or fashion designer. It will never be the prodigal son.
This is the son that feeds the family. This is the son you'd want to raise your children if anything happened to you. This is the son every man wants his daughter to marry yet fails to catch the eye of most young women.
This is the most beautiful place on earth. I wonder if, after living there for 30 years or so, you'd say the same thing? If you did, you'd probably be right.