Iowa Writes

from The Emerald Horizon

At first the Euroamerican settlers could not fathom the tallgrass prairie. Stepping into it from cropland-speckled woodlands to the east, they entered a land of sky and horizon, wind and light, flower and scent, a surging sea of grasses that staggered the imagination. The prairie grasslands seemed to stretch on forever, a landscape that promised no enclosure, only intensity and exposure. Nothing like this lay behind the settlers, not in their experiences, not in their memories or those of their grandparents. The wind strummed ceaselessly through the grasses, reshaping fields of color and putting the prairie into motion. The air was buzzing, humming, whirring with inexhaustible life. Insects by the millions flitted and whirled about reedy stems. Flocks of birds dove through the sky and whistled overhead, casting shadows over the land for hours on end. Elk and bison snorted and stomped, then thundered over the rise. Wolves and cougars circled and crouched, readying for the spring. In the end, the remains of all were incorporated into one of the richest soils on Earth, a deep, loamy topsoil that ironically would become the demise of the prairie. Settlers' journals described the vast prairie in the only terms these newcomers knew: as an inland ocean of storm-tossed waves, as a billowing sea.

About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting


Ecologist Cornelia Mutel is the historian and archivist for IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering at the University of Iowa College of Engineering. She is the author of Fragile Giants: A Natural History of the Loess Hills (Iowa, 1989). The Emerald Horizon: The History of Nature in Iowa was published by Iowa this spring.

The Emerald Horizon site

University of Iowa Press

This page was first displayed
on May 16, 2008

Find us on Facebook