Gruchow (Journal of a Prairie Year, 1985) delivers a quiet meditation on ""empty"" places--grasslands, deserts, river shallows--in the American landscape. Most of these spots are bypassed by tourists and nature-lovers looking for more spectacular outlooks, but their very starkness recommends them to Gruchow. He revels in the Blue Mounds of Minnesota, a ""tiny remnant island of the old tallgrass sea"" that once blanketed the Midwest. In the Nebraska sandhills, he hears the call of cranes (""the music of dry bones rattling"") and sees patterns in birds' lives that he misses in his own. He rides a modern wagon train across the Oregon Trail, coins weak aphorisms while considering Wyoming's Big Horn peaks (""a journey into the wilderness is a test of the will against the odds""), suffers from altitude sickness, muses on robins, pokes around ancient Indian earthworks, sits still in the desert and sees its secret life emerge. Gruchow's descriptions of land are lovely and precise; his philosophical digressions (on the relation of human to beast, for instance) prove less successful, relying too heavily on moral outrage and private illumination that sometimes translate into clichÃ‰ (""I had come face to face in that early trauma with the awful mystery of my own existence""). Appealing--despite patches of monotony: much like the landscape Gruchow describes.