By Zach McKeown

I fought the mud with every other step, as it clung to my boots like a parasite. A week ago, walking on top of the snowdrifts and not knee deep in snow was the main challenge, and we’d put in a request to the ASC office for snowshoes, which now seemed pointless. This last week, the snow was nearly gone and the once-frozen earth has been transformed into a vast patchwork of soft, saturated mud.

It was a Wednesday during my last week on the prairie, and the sunny weather had drawn me outside into the field adjacent to the ranch house on a day off.

Not a breath of wind on this winter day (Photo by Ryan Rock)

PictureZach in his element on a transect

When I stopped walking, the mud ceased squelching. My ears were met with silence, broken only by the pulsing of my heart through my body. This silence held command over my attention, casting me into solemn reflection. This experience was not an exception during my two months on the prairie, but rather the norm.

I looked out over the grand view and was struck with a sense of solitude. Surrounded by the wild, natural environment, I felt as if was the only person in a 100-mile radius. This feeling is easy to attain here: Walk for five minutes you’ll be entirely alone in the silence—or wind—of the prairie.

On windy days, this profound silence is substituted with the wind’s howling dominating presence. It has a stunning power to shape the lanscape, especially in the winter. I could see remnants of snow piled in the lee of a hill, or behind the thicker wooden posts of the fence. Much like the silence, the wind causes me to retreat into my thoughts; it assaults my senses, and conversation with others becomes too much effort. 

These two powerful forces can often both be present on the prairie within the space of an hour. The wind seems to demand solitude, while the silence seems to overwhelmingly invite me into it. Despite the presence of so much life and activity on the prairie, I’ve found a stillness here that offers no distraction from the invitation or the demand. 

This stillness emphasizes even the subtlest of my actions and brings my connection to the prairie to the forefront of my mind. As I stand in the field, the feeling of solitude is merged with a true sense of intimacy with this place.

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Zach McKeown has a degree in Biology. Before coming to Landmark, he spent two months in the Peace Corps in Liberia and was evacuated after arrival due to the Ebola outbreak. 

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