481 CHRONICLESnshould be advised that the Poppersndefine the Great Plains as a regionnwhose “eastern border is the 98thnmeridian,” which runs straight upnthrough the hearts of Texas, Oklahoma,nand Kansas and the eastern thirdsnof Nebraska, South Dakota, and NorthnDakota. Denver, Colorado, on then105th meridian, roughly marks thenregion’s western edge, which meansnthat that state, Montana, Wyoming,nand New Mexico are included too, forna total of 10 states in all. “Although thenPlains occupy one fifth of the nation’snland area, the region’s overall population,napproximately 5.5 million, is lessnthan that of Georgia or Indiana,” writenthe Poppers meaningfully.nAlthough they never really comenright out and say so, it’s obvious that byn”overall” population the Poppersnmean the Oshkosh, b’gosh kind: farmersnand ranchers. They claim that thensoil and the ecology in the Plains statesnare just too fragile to support thendemands made on them nowadays bynfarming, ranching, and oil, coal, andnmineral extraction. They talk aboutn”sodbusters” (whom I’d grown up admiringnas settlers who tamed the stubbornnsod) as greedy or ignorant mennwho overgrazed and overplowed thensoil, ruining it and leaving a legacy andnhabits of ruin for those who came later.n(“Grass no good upside down,” theynsolemnly quote a 19th-century Pawneenchief saying as he watched homesteadersnslice up virgin soil.)nIt’s not that the Poppers have any ofntheir facts wrong; it’s just that theirnconclusions don’t seem to spring naturallynfrom the facts. They’re correct innsaying that the Great Depression hitnthe Plains states years before the WallnStreet event. They’re also right innpointing out that small towns andnfarmers in the Great Plains went berserknduring the energy boom and thenfat agricultural years of the 1970’s,noverbuilding and overplanting, andnthat now those same towns and farmersnare suffering for their shortsightedness.nThe gargantuan Ogallala Aquifer,nproviding water for agriculture innsix of the Plains states, is drying upnfrom overuse. Soil erosion is a seriousnproblem in many places. Farm foreclosurenand bankruptcy are higher in thenPlains states than anywhere else. Nearfuturendroughts are predicted, and then”greenhouse effect” is expected tonraise the temperatures everywhere bynat least two or three degrees, whichnwould make the Plains even morensusceptible to drought.nBut it’s never been a secret that it’s anlot harder to wrench a living from thenland in Nebraska or the Dakotas than itnis in Iowa or Missouri, where the rainnchooses to dump itself and the topsoilnseems a hundred miles thick. On thenother hand, we’re not living in povertynhere. Our best grain-growers and livestocknranchers have learned how tonwrest a pretty good living from thisnthin-skinned place without doing anyndamage. And because of them, ourn”bigger” cities (over, say, 30,000) arenholding their own, population-wise,nand every month sees new businessesntaking the place of those that havenfolded. Our small towns are dyingngracefully, inevitably. The GreatnPlains is not the Fertile Orescent, andnsmall towns here simply aren’t destinednto last for more than 100, maybe 150,nyears.nYet what the Poppers see as thendismal future here is based mainly onnthe predictable death of our smallntowns. And that’s where I take heart,nbecause I think the Poppers think ournsmall towns are dead already, or mightnas well be. Their article was accompaniednby some rather transparendy patronizingnphotographs captioned, fornexample, “Picking up the mail at sixnbelow in Morton County, North Dakota”;n”Saturday night at the AlamonBar in North Platte, Nebraska”; “Burtonnand Kurtlye Brewster at lunch withnthe local postman at the Quarter CirclenU Brewster Ranch near Birney,nMontana”; and Darrel Coble of CimarronnCounty, Oklahoma, saying, “Indon’t really know why I like livingnhere. I guess just ’cause this country’snhome.” Makes me feel like I shouldnask for food stamps just for having tonlive in this hellhole.nThe Poppers are not the first toncome up with this idea, they remindnus, citing several forerunners andnpromising that there will be plentynmore. Bret Wallach, a University ofnOklahoma geographer and MacArthurnfellow, wants the Forest Service to paynwilling Plains farmers and ranchers thenfull value of what they think they mightncultivate in the next 15 years. The dealnis, they wouldn’t cultivate it — thisntakes set-asides into the 21st cen­nnntury!—but would follow an approvednnative shortgrass-planting program,nafter which the Forest Service wouldnbuy them out except for a 40-acrenhomestead. That sounds just temptingnenough to be dangerous, except thatnfarmers are farmers because they likenthe personal freedom to do what theynwant. Robert Scott of the Institute ofnthe Rockies in Missoula, Montana,nwants to turn a tenth of his state into angame preserve he would call the “BignOpen.” State and federal agencies,ncombining forces, would remove fencesnand domestic animals and replacenthem with game. According to thenPoppers, Scott figures that a ranch ofn10,000 acres — about four miles on anside, not at all unusual these days—ncould bring in $48,000 a year for thensale of hunting licenses, and the onetenthnslice of Montana would add anthousand new jobs to the area: therenwould apparently be a high demandnfor “outfitters, taxidermists, workers inngas stations, restaurants, motels.”nWhoo-ee, Elmer, let’s dump greatgrampaw’snhomestead and the rest ofnthe 28 sections and get us a job in anGAS STATION. You bet.nJane Greer’s great-grandfathernKlopfenstein busted sod in Iowa, andnshe and her husband drain the aquifernonto their shortgrass lawn in doomednBismarck, North Dakota.nLetter From Albionnby Andrei NavrozovnCausley at 70nMy formal association with Chroniclesnbegan in February 1986, when, at thensuggestion of its editor, I wrote annobituary of Philip Larkin. Lookingnback at the history of my loves, Inexplained that I had decided to buynand edit The Yale Literary Magazinenbecause “my ambition in life was tonfind the poet born to translate Rilkeninto English and publish him.” At thatntime, my ambition remained unfulfilled,nalthough its pursuit did lead mento the living wellsprings of Englishnpoetry, with Larkin, whom I had discoverednin a secondhand bookshopnnear Amir’s Falafel on Broadway, asnmy forked stick: “The trees are comingn