Letter to America

By John T. Price

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Dear America,

I’ve come here to one of my favorite spots of Nebraska prairie to think over our relationship, and I’ve come to a decision: I love you, but I need some time off. No, this isn’t because of the argument we had last night.

Not that you would have noticed, but these last few months have taken a huge toll on me emotionally. I haven’t slept well, despite the drinking, and that little tremor in my eyelid has started up again. I’ve been spending a lot more time in the basement, and less time out here, where I belong—where we belong. Yes, I know we’ve been together for 50 years and, yes, I know we have had some amazing times together, like last spring on that beach in Malibu when we found the exact spot where, in Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston got down on his knees and screamed, “Damn you all to HELL!” Okay, maybe that’s not the best example, but still, I think every relationship can benefit from a little time off now and then. Maybe it will give us the space we need to truly reflect on why our relationship, our love, matters. Before it’s too late.

I realize the problem isn’t just you, America. I’ve taken our relationship for granted. I’ve been complacent and weak; I’ve stayed silent when I should have spoken up, which I think you may have mistaken for unconditional support. My country, right or wrong.

But in my defense, there were times when your behavior left me completely speechless. Two summers ago, for instance, when you knew I was grieving a particularly brutal year of grasslands destruction, with 3.7 million acres lost. You may not think that’s a big deal, but since you’ve become obsessed with belittling countries south of the border, let me put it this way: that’s more acres than the Brazilian Amazon lost to deforestation.

And how did you respond to my feelings? You bought a gold-plated treadmill and started blabbering about making yourself great again. Can you blame me for thinking that was just a bad joke? And please don’t give me that Big-Ag crap about being a good provider. I didn’t fall in love with the size of your bushels per acre or your checkbook or your ego. I fell in love with your compassionate, democratic, poetic prairie soul!

We used to read actual poetry together, remember? Before you threatened to de-fund the NEA? Whitman was our favorite, the guy who called the prairies “America’s characteristic landscape,” the thing that made it truly great—“that vast Something, stretching out on its own unbounded scale, unconfined . . . combining the real and ideal, and beautiful as dreams.” Not to mention all the other passions we once had in common, such as national parks and safe drinking water and feeding poor children and providing medicine for the sick and voting. And facts. Now I’m just not sure anymore.

I know exactly what you’re thinking as you read this: You don’t understand me! Or worse, you’re planning to guilt-trip one of your drinking buddies into leaving me another message on Facebook about how you just “need a little more time.” Don’t even. I’ve been there/done that again and again, but every morning it’s the same old bullshit. I get out of bed, maybe pick a prairie pasque flower petal (just one, since there aren’t that many any more) to put by your plate, make us breakfast, and then you show up and start in on the immigrants, the Muslims, the Wall, the fake news, the fake science, and it’s like I go invisible and you completely forget the pasque flower and the amazing huevos rancheros sitting right in front of your face! It’s driving me nuts, America!

And then just last week you proposed “reviewing” national monuments to allow development, as well as potentially withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, which you then bragged about at the dinner party we attended yesterday. When I tried to talk with you about it during the drive home, you started yelling at me about how I wouldn’t disrespect Sweden like this, or Australia or Russia or China or Canada (I can’t recall all the nations you mentioned, but it was a lot). Do you have any concept of how lethal your stupidity can be?

I’m sorry if I sound angry, America, but guess what: you don’t have a monopoly on that emotion. Plus, if there’s any chance of us staying together, we’re going to have to start being honest with one another. And there’s no way around it: I feel angry. And betrayed. I mean, I’ve stood by you during some pretty difficult times. Like 25 years ago, when I first discovered how you’d spent the entire century before we met destroying prairie ecosystems, leaving them the most endangered in the world, and that you were still sneaking off at night to snort “just a few more acres.”

I could have left you then, but we talked it out, and even though part of you continued snorting prairie (like during that epic binge in 2014) there is another part of you that joined me in trying to save it. I will never forget the days we spent together seed collecting and pulling up garlic mustard and trying to boost the spirits of those on the front lines of restoring and protecting the native land that I know, deep down, you still love. Not to mention all those hot hours in the tall grass right here at Glacier Creek Prairie when, despite the ticks, we couldn’t keep our hands off one another. Pure sweetness!

We haven’t talked about the kids, but then again, you haven’t spent much time with them recently. Remember your children? I’m raising three of them right now, and trust me, if it wasn’t for them, I might have given up on you years ago. And no, I haven’t told them everything you’ve been up to—I won’t put them in the middle—though sooner or later they’re going to figure it out. Despite me taking them to this beautiful prairie and telling them about the many good things you’ve done, are still doing, I can’t prevent them from seeing you on TV and on the internet, throwing the ball around with the gun industry and the military drones and the homophobes and the polluters, all of whom are making it less and less safe for their kind to go to school, or even step outside. They’re asking a lot of questions I’m finding hard to answer. Still, they love you, and it breaks my heart to think of them losing faith in you. In us.

I guess that’s ultimately why I’m writing this letter, why I’m asking for a little honesty and a little space. Not much space–maybe just the distance between our house and an apartment you rent across town, where we can spend the odd night together; just enough for us to gain a little perspective. To remember why we care. And I really need you to care right now, truly care, and not just for our children and for our friends and for the prairie, but for every living thing on this planet—because I know you’re capable of it. Because I know, despite everything, your soul is big enough.

Did I just say something hopeful? Maybe it’s because I’m sitting here in this fragile 320-acre prairie in the middle of Omaha, which, despite the odds, continues to survive. Could it be the same with our romance? Well, you know better than anyone what a bleeding-heart softie I am. Sometimes, between the sheets, you’ve called me your “sweet little buttercup,” even though you know very well that Ranunculus acris isn’t a native prairie plant. But I guess if we’re being honest, that’s what I’ll always be.

As I said, I still love you, America. Desperately. Let me be clear, though: if you ever call me your sweet little buttercup again, I swear to god I’ll kick your butt all the way to Mars. From what I hear, you’re going there anyway.

With all my love,

John T. Price



John T. PRiceJohn T. Price is the author of three Midwestern nature memoirs, including Man Killed by Pheasant and Other Kinships (Da Capo) and Daddy Long Legs: The Natural Education of a Father (Shambahala), as well as the editor of The Tallgrass Prairie Reader (Iowa). A recipient of a NEA fellowship, his nonfiction has appeared in Orion, Terrain.orgThe Christian Science Monitor, Creative Nonfiction, and other publications. He teaches at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Read more from John. T. Price appearing in Terrain.org: “Peacock, Beware!” and “Confessions of a Prairie Lounge Singer”.

Header photo of prairie wildflowers courtesy University of Nebraska Omaha.



Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.