Willa Cather on the prairie

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Willa Cather grew up on a ranch near Red Cloud, Neb., in the late 19th century. She was known for the austerity of her style. Alfred Kazin wrote, ``She seemed so native, and in her own way so complete, that she restored confidence to the novel in America.'' ``My 'Antonia'' (1918) is the story of 'Antonia Shimerda, the daughter of Bohemian immigrants. Here the narrator, Jim Burden, looks around his grandparents' Nebraska farm, where he has just arrived. Early the next morning I ran out-of-doors to look about me. I had been told that ours was the only wooden house west of Black Hawk -- until you came to the Norwegian settlement, where there were several. Our neighbours lived in sod houses and dugouts -- comfortable, but not very roomy. Our white frame house, with a storey and a half-storey above the basement, stood at the east end of what I might call the farmyard, with the windmill close by the kitchen door. From the windmill the ground sloped westward, down to the barns and granaries and pig-yards. This slope was trampled hard and bare, and washed out in winding gullies by the rain. Beyond the corncribs, at the bottom of the shallow draw, was a muddy little pond, with rusty willow bushes growing about it. The road from the post-office came directly by our door, crossed the farmyard, and curved round this little pond, beyond which it began to climb the gentle swell of unbroken prairie to the west. There, along the western sky-line it skirted a great cornfield, much larger than any field I had ever seen. This cornfield, and the sorghum patch behind the barn, were the only broken land in sight. Everywhere, as far as the eye could reach, there was nothing but rough, shaggy, red grass, most of it as tall as I.

North of the house, inside the ploughed fire-breaks, grew a thick-set strip of box-elder trees, low and bushy, their leaves already turning yellow. This hedge was nearly a quarter of a mile long, but I had to look very hard to see it at all. The little trees were insignificant against the grass. It seemed as if the grass were about to run over them, and over the plum-patch behind the sod chicken-house.

As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.

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I had almost forgotten that I had a grandmother, when she came out, her sunbonnet on her head, a grain-sack in her hand, and asked me if I did not want to go to the garden with her to dig potatoes for dinner.

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