The Wheatgrass Mechanism: Science and Imagination in the Western Canadian Landscape


156 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-920079-70-9
DDC 508.712






Reviewed by William A. Waiser

William A. Waiser is an associate professor of History at the University
of Saskatchewan, and author of Mackenzie King, Grey Owl and a National
Park: The History of Prince Albert National Park.


This is a different kind of love story: between a man and a landscape.
Gayton, a scientist by training and an explorer at heart, seeks to
provide an intimate, almost spiritual, appreciation of the little-known
and little-understood open-plains environment of Western Canada. He does
so through a series of short, elegantly written essays that mix science,
experience, and reflection.

He describes, at times humorously, the region’s peculiar plant
physiology, and how species like wheatgrass are wonderfully adapted to
their environment. He affectionately recounts his investigations of the
landscape, telling how, during these outings, he felt like an explorer
on a journey of discovery. And he muses, somewhat nostalgically, about
the Great Plains Indian civilization and its lifeline, the buffalo that
once roamed the region in numbers beyond comprehension.

Gayton’s message is simple: he is alarmed that the Prairie landscape,
which has flourished for thousands of years, is now seriously threatened
after only a century of large-scale agricultural activity. Society can
reverse the damage it has done, according to the closing essay, by
developing a bond with the earth “that go[es] far beyond simple
analysis and concern, into realms of imagination and myth.” Whether
Gayton’s plea will be heeded is debatable. If it is not, his landscape
may eventually exist only in memory.


Gayton, Don., “The Wheatgrass Mechanism: Science and Imagination in the Western Canadian Landscape,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 22, 2024,