Prairie Sky
A Pilot's Reflections on Flying and the Grace of Altitude
W. Scott Olsen
168 pages
6.125 x 9.25
25 illustrations

Formats available:
Paperback   $19.95 TR
ISBN: 978-0-8262-2007-3
E Book   $19.95 TR
ISBN: 978-0-8262-7304-8

About the Book

“It’s almost like ballet. Preflight. Starting. Warm-up. The voices from the control tower—the instructions. Taxiing. The rush down the runway. Airborne. There are names for every move. The run-up. Position and hold. Every move needs to be learned, practiced, made so familiar you feel the patterns in every other thing you do. It’s technical, yes. But there is a grace to getting metal and bone into the sky.”

Prairie Sky is a celebration of curiosity and a book for explorers. In this collection of contemplative essays, Scott Olsen invites readers to view the world from a pilot’s seat, demonstrating how, with just a little bit of altitude, the world changes, new relationships become visible, and new questions seem to rise up from the ground.

Whether searching for the still-evident shores of ancient lakes, the dustbowl-era shelterbelt supposed to run the length of the country, or the even more elusive understandings of physics and theology, Olsen shares the unique perspective and insight allowed to pilots.

Prairie Sky explores the reality as well as the metaphor of flight: notions of ceaseless time and boundless space, personal interior and exterior vision, social history, meteorology, and geology. Olsen takes readers along as he chases a new way of looking at the physical world and wonders aloud about how the whole planet moves in interconnected ways not visible from the ground. While the northern prairie may call to mind images of golden harvests and summer twilight such images do not define the region. The land bears marks left by gut-shaking thunderstorms, hard-frozen rivers, sweeping floods, and hurricane-size storms. Olsen takes to the midwestern sky to confront the ordinary world and reveals the magic--the wondrous and unique sights visible from the pilot’s seat of a Cessna.

Like Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic work Wind, Sand and Stars, Olsen’s Prairie Sky reveals the heart of what it means to fly. In the grand romantic tradition of the travel essay, it opens the dramatic paradoxes of self and collective, linear and circular, the heart and the border.


W. Scott Olsen teaches at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where he also edits the literary magazine Ascent. He is the author of numerous books, including Never Land: Adventures, Wonder, and One World Record in a Very Small Plane and Hard Air: Adventures from the Edge of Flying.


“Scott Olsen takes the travel essay into the air in the most spectacular way—this is a collection full of grace, style, lyricism, and sharp cloud-level insight. The beauty of Olsen’s work is that he gives us a new way of seeing— he allows us to be both ‘above’ and ‘inside’ at the exact same time.” —Colum McCann, winner of the National Book Award and author of Transatlantic: A Novel

“In his very bones, Olsen is a bird. His writing soars, swoops, circles and dives just like his beloved little Cessna 172. I don’t care how many times you’ve been on a plane, you’ve not flown until you’ve read Scott Olsen.” —Mark Jenkins, field staff writer, National Geographic


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