Swimming Through the Sky, Over Stunning American Wild Lands

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Several times I've mentioned the American Prairie Reserve in north-central Montana, an ambitious, market-minded, long-term attempt to restore an enormous stretch of North American grassland to the flora and fauna Lewis and Clark would have seen. My wife Deb and I spent nearly a week there this past summer, and a fuller report on its ambitions, its progress, and its obstacles will be part of the forthcoming season of American Futures posts and articles.

For now, I wanted to share an elegant video the project has just created, about “The Transect” — a two-week, 200-mile trek across the prairie by the APR’s director, Sean Gerrity, and some of the project’s officials, friends, and supporters.

This is meant as a promo video for the prairie project, which is fine with me because I support the cause. But even if you pay no attention to the narration  and interview portions and simply watch the footage, especially the aerial shots, I think you’ll  find it rewarding. For me two aspects jumped right out, which I’ll mention after letting you see the video itself.

The Transect from American Prairie Reserve on Vimeo.


What did I notice when I saw this? First, and obviously, the scenery itself. The Missouri Breaks, the northern lights, the herds of bison, the unlimited vistas in all directions. The footage conveys, better than almost anyone (certainly me) could describe in words, the scale, the vastness, the other-worldly remove of being in a part of the United States so distant from most workaday American concerns.

The other aspect I noticed were the low-level aerial perspectives on the prairie, shot from small drones operated by Gib Myers, who is vice chairman of the APR board and whom you see in the film. In my aviation books I’ve written about the 3-D sense of swimming through the sky that from I have always found so enthralling, and revealing, about flying small aircraft at low altitudes across changing and beautiful terrain. The aerial parts of this video are as good a sample of that experience as I’ve seen in a while, and over terrain as beautiful as you will encounter anywhere.

We flew over many of these same areas in our little Cirrus airplane, but at a higher speed and not quite as close to the ground. This drone’s-eye perspective turns out to be a wonderful view.