Defined by haystacks, birds, and grass

Paula Ebert

By A Contributor

If you are looking for a thoughtful, engaging environmentally oriented romp, “Man Killed by Pheasant” is for you.

John Price begins with his childhood and we learn about his family and how he overcomes his shyness and lack of growth - you’ll begin to root for him to grow even an inch.

But linked throughout the entire book is an uncommon ability to observe nature.

At each stage as he grows, he also stops, observes, and his love of nature helps define him in a refreshing and unusual way.

Early on in the book, he describes as a child, how he has come to love a particular stretch of land near his home in Iowa - it is his refuge.

This love of the land is echoed throughout the book, as is the loss he feels when he comes home to discover that the land he loves is scheduled to be used for housing.

You will follow him through his journey into manhood, and as be becomes a father; and how he relates to his grandfather; and the story of his family’s immigration to Iowa.

Price combines humor with his observations.  In the essay which bears the title - he begins by describing his trip to teach one of the first distance learning courses: “So, I’m driving east on Highway 30, from our new home in Belle Plaine to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  It’s a four lane, and because I’m an eldest child, I’m driving the speed limit, around fifty-five, sixty miles per hour. I’m listening to Jimi Hendrix cry “Mary” -— imaging as usual, that I am Jimi Hendrix —what in the far distance I see some brown blobs hovering across the highway: one then two.

By the way they move, low and slow, I suspect they’re young pheasants.

As I near the place of their crossing, I look over the empty passenger seat and into the grassy ditch to see if I can spot the whole clan.

Suddenly, there is peripheral darkness, the fast shadow of an eclipse, and something explodes against the side of my head in a fury of flapping and scratching and squawking.”

I just want to point out here that only an observant person would see the birds, estimate that they are pheasants, and be interested in seeing the “whole clan”. We can see he survives the assault, and later in the piece, he links this to other events in his life - the “displaced, bodiless job… the summer of the great Iowa floods.” Due to the floods “bean fields suddenly became sheer, inaccessible places, where herons stood piercing frogs in the shallows, where pelicans flew in great cyclonic towers, where bald eagles swung low to pick off stranded fish.”

The entire book is filled with such beautiful language, just lying there, waiting for someone to pick it up, and admire the prose, to envision what he wants us to see. He has spent most of his life in Iowa, and this is how he explains it:

“This has become the unexpected, defining journey of my life: To come home without ever having left. When others ask why I’ve stayed put, I reply with what must seem like the ordinary details of a life: a job, a family, a history. I often mention the place itself: the wildlife and natural areas I’ve learned to love, the human communities I’ve called home, the flawed, yet promising terrain that’s become as familiar as my own flesh.

All these answers are true, but none, by themselves, bean anything. What word is there for this? Mosaic? Ecology? Kinship? — the familial embrace of body, mind and spirit.”

I’m not suggesting this, but if you read nothing else, read the final essay.

The Postlude entitled “On Kaslow Prairie.”

It is the tale of when he and his family stop on a patch of prairie that has been preserved, and what they observe and learn.

There isn’t room to quote the entire piece, and I tell you I’m tempted, but this little bit will have to suffice:

“It is bluestem and it is my favorite. It’s also called turkey foot because of its three-toed cluster of flowers, but these won’t develop until the late summer or fall, when the grass reaches six to nine feet.  Its great height is one of the reasons I first admired it along country roads near Bell Plaine, and still do — some things haven’t changed since my junior high days in Fort Dodge. The tall still rule.”

Get this book. Read it and enjoy it. Better yet, come and meet the author at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at the K-State Student Union Flint Hills room.

Paula Ebert is a graduate student in creative writing at Kansas State University.

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