Thanks to everyone who commented on the previous post about the importance of grasslands in American history and culture. It’s a fascinating topic. A number of people pointed out that Europe does indeed have a major grassland – the vast central Asian Steppes do extend into parts of Europe, a bit west of the Black Sea. It definitely helps explain why when the American plains were “settled,” it was often by people with roots in those areas of Europe.
So in honor of the world’s grasslands, let’s devote the next few posts to highlighting the plains, prairies, pampas, llanos, cerrados, steppes, savannas, and velds of the earth.
The Central Asian Steppes
From the Black Sea in the west, to China and nearly to the Pacific in the east, are the steppes of Asia. It includes at least parts of China, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, and several of the “stans.” The region has been incredibly important in history as a trade route between Europe and Asia for everything from spices to horses. Much of the trade was along the famous Silk Road. Of course, not only were goods traded – ideas, traditions, art, religions, and all other aspects of culture were also traded as Europe and Asia grew up together through the ages.
One famous example of this was Marco Polo. A wealthy merchant from Venice, Marco traveled east with his father and uncle all the way to China, and served the great Kublai Khan for years. He returned to Europe, was imprisoned, but wrote his tales of wonder from the wild open lands of Asia. These stories helped fuel the European desire for exploration, not only as a means of gathering wealth, but also as a grand adventure to see foreign lands and cultures very different from those found in Europe.
Grasslands and Travel
I think it’s clear from history that like the sea, grasslands inspire travel and adventure. Forests tend to invite us to stay and settle and build a home. The open lands of the steppes and plains dare us to find out what lies beyond that tantalizing horizon. The Great Plains Trail strides (and rides) proudly along with that tradition!