Monday, June 27, 2011

Obsessive learning

Most of my friends know that I am an obsessive learner. My resume includes yoga, knitting, raising alpacas, trying new recipes, installing new plants in the garden, learning about The Depression, and much more. Some of my learning experiments work out well and others just turn out to be great experiences.

I figured out this learning thing was something that defined me when I told my boss what I was making for a big family Thanksgiving dinner and he asked if the recipes were all of my tried and true favorites. In fact, many were new, never tested recipes gathered in my hours and hours of reading magazines devoted to Thanksgiving holiday meals and recipe books. He looked at me like I was insane. I was in heaven - a challenge to feed a whole crowd and the chance to learn some new recipes in the process. My final exam was actually pulling it off with everyone fed and happy.

Some of these learning obsessions come to me slowly - building one thing on top of another. A magazine article mentions a person that leads to a book. I read about Dorthea Lange, a famous Depression-era photographer and have been reading about her and devouring her work ever since. Her biography inspired me to read The Grapes of Wrath. I have another book on the Depression in my pile to read.

A recent favorite subject has been the prairie. We visited the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve and I bought Flint Hills Cowboys: Tales from the Tallgrass Prairie by Jim Hoy. It was a delightful read full of great storytelling and rich Kansas prairie tradition. Some of the cowboys were real characters and the stories were laugh out loud funny. Other stories told about the heartbreaking, dangerous work of making your life from the land told by a scholar and native of the Tall Grass Prairie. Lots of learning and pleasant reading.

My second read was recommended by a professor at K-State. Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch was very well written. The author's experience in transitioning from a cattle ranch to raising buffalo was full of learning, joy, heartbreak, and history. I loved reading about the prairie from someone who obviously loves the land and has a passion for preservation. It played out the real-life struggle to make a living in production agriculture and impressed the need to think about conservation and to relearn what our lands can support.

If your current learning adventures have you anywhere near the prairie or agriculture or the Great Plains, I highly recommend these two books. Happy reading!

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