One of my dissertation chapters is about John Joseph Mathews Wah’Kon-Tah and Sundown. It’s fitting in between chapters describing the art/writing inspired by locations–New Mexico and Oklahoma, to be specific.
Mathews seems to walk a line of arguing that the landscape is a constant, and showing that it isn’t. He’s writing about the encroachment of modernity, and the ways that the Osage people coped with modernity and white civilization. Yet, he’s also writing about the earth, the land, and the ways that the Oklahoma prairie land coped and adjusted to modernity and white civilization.
I’m still teasing out the chapter, but I can’t help but relate this exploration to my own experiences. How have I been shaped by my environment, even as I try to resist it? How much has my perspective of the Pacific Northwest–the place I most often think of as my home, even though I’ve been away from it for nearly 12 years–been shaped by my absence from it? How will my understanding of Oklahoma shift once I no longer live in the windswept plains and walk under the blistering sun in the summer? How will my response to the wind shift when I no longer have nightmares of tornadoes and fear wildfires each time I smell smoke?
While Mathews seems to set up the landscape as permanent and the human efforts to change it as futile, the landscape clearly does change throughout Wah’Kon-Tah, and the ways in which its human inhabitants interact with the landscape also change. The reciprocal relationship of human and land, human and ecological system, is one that repeatedly surfaces in Wah’Kon-Tah. It is, I feel, an important one to explore in much of the literature from the interwar years, considering how drastically technological advances from farm equipment to machines of war had already shifted how humans were able to interact with and scar the landscape.