strategies for capturing the stories of the great plains


The Great Plains, as we have seen, is many things. It contains thick layers of rock that formed in oceans, and younger layers of rocks deposited by streams. These rocks have been affected by earth movements and injected by hot molten rock, some of which reached the surface as volcanic rock. The rocks have been carved by streams, dissolved by ground water, partly covered by glaciers, and blown by winds. All of these agents have played important roles in determining the landscape and the landforms of the Great Plains. But the streams were the master agent. They formed the great depositional plain that was to become the Great Plains, and then began to destroy it–leaving only the High Plains to remind us of what it was. Those long miles we travel across the High Plains are a journey through history–geologic history.


Both the illustration and the quote are from The Geologic Story of the Great Plains. Interestingly, these geologic plains do not include the eastern half of Kansas, which are my plains. Where I am from, geologic Missouri?

I don’t think so.

I find this map more helpful. 

I wonder why it ends so abruptly at that sharp hook on the Rio Grande– I have seen maps that continue into Mexico. This map also cut off the Northernmost terminus of the Great Plains in Canada. There be dragons, I guess, or worse, politics. 

I ask “what is the Great Plains?” today because I am shaping a storytelling project within it. The project will involve perhaps ten years of travel throughout the region crowdsourcing folktales, or fakelore (the line between the two is actually pretty blurry).

What is crowdsourcing folklore? It’s hijacking oral history. It’s curating imagination. It’s reverse engineering the Brother’s Grimm. It’s… still in the process of being defined and even named, but the form of the project is very clear. I would like to set up folktale workshops all around the Great Plains. In these workshops I would provide the parameters the stories should follow and plenty of research materials made up of regional historical and scientific texts as well as myth and folklore from the world over. Then, over a period of perhaps two weeks, I would help participants hone and share their stories and then present a night of storytelling to the community.

All the original stories would go online. Over the years, however, I would rewrite the stories for style and tone and even sometimes content (can’t promise I won’t) until a tome emerges full of stories that are not rehashed fairy tales nor co-opted Indigenous mythology but…

But something new. Rooted to the Great Plains as thoroughly and specifically as the Big Bluestem, but in the embrace also of this global moment with its swirl of histories and ever-changing technologies.     

One of the issues I face is how and where to organize these trips, how to capture the breadth and depth of this region while not chasing Coronado-like an El Dorado of completeness that will ever be “in the next village.” 

Should these workshops take place in a few cities? Or roam the prairies like wolves once did and will again? Cities would probably yield the most participants and partner organizations, but are also more likely to create urban stories.

Or are there, and this just occurred me to, natural fonts of storytelling? In Kansas, which I know best, I would set up in Lawrence, Lucas, Garden City… but that’s already six weeks of workshops and I haven’t even left Kansas.

The thinking continues outside of this post… 

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