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The dinosaurs retired the field. Hole-hiding, seed-snuffling mammals poked their snouts into the ash-filled sky and realized they had accidentally inherited everything.

There was a race to fill the void opened by the departed dinosaurs and the sloths won. This was on the other side of the ice age. The sloths were not the fastest, not by any measure, but the race doesn't always honor the fastest. The opposite, in fact. Ask a cheetah about lions. No. The sloths were not fast--they were sloths--but they were the largest. At least some of them. Up on their haunches, these mega-sloths were so tall that only trees could compete with their height. Nothing hunted them. Nothing even tried. Gargantuan, the ends of their forepaws draped with dagger-length claws, sloths had come to the apex of their particular pyramid. They ate what they liked, went where whim took them, mated infrequently because their young almost never died.<!-- more -->

Then men came to the frost-tipped plains that had once been icebound but were now merely tundra. They sloths were not impressed. We are suited to the land, the sloths boasted, immune to cold and fang, but the men had spears and a horrifying coordination between their numbers and the sloths were killed and eaten and then gone.

Men usurped the plains and killed off most everything larger than a dog and what remained--bison and the shyest bears--were either forced to the fringes where the men weren't, or kept as a sort of self-filling larder. This is the land and we are the land, the men said, meaning that the land was them, but another race was already in progress, again not for speed, but this time not for size either.

The new men had steel and they dressed in steel instead of feathers. They were armed with muskets and they carried smallpox bred in far-off hive-cities. This is our land, the sloth-and-bison-hunters said, we are formed to it and it to us and the newcomers didn't love the land, or even see the land, except as a commodity. The land it not beautiful to them. They will not know what they have lost. The new men had not grown against the land, but by steel or disease they took it anyway.

The new men named the land. Kansas and Oklahoma. They disinterestedly slaughtered the bison and had no memory of sloths that overtopped trees. They laid down poor farms and wrung out the land with cotton that had no business growing in the Midwestern desert. The cotton did grow for a while, but then the rains didn't come and the men turned to a new creature, larger than sloths, called the Bank. The Bank's size couldn't be measured in units of length and it didn't eat anything that the land produced. The men borrowed from the Bank, then they prayed to it, hoping to survive, but the rains didn't come for the third year running and there were no crops and the loans came due. This is our land, the farmers said as the sheriffs and bulldozers came to evict them, Grandpa fought the Indians here, killed the Indians here. Grandpa died on the land, his bones are buried in the land. We can't leave here. Grandpa’s in this land.

Now the Bank owned the land and became a creature of the land, investing itself into the land. It thought itself immune to races of all sorts. Even insects were not allowed on the Bank's land, only cotton, only corn, only cattle but the Bank was too large for the land. It drank so much water so that rivers never met the sea. Insatiable, the Bank sucked more water from aquifers that had formed in the time of the sloths until the aquifers were gone. The Bank's only predator was itself and it died of thirst. Of worse things, symptoms of that thirst.

The men who remained took the land again. At first they were armed with remnant silicon, then only steel, then hides and feathers once again. They were farmers with nothing left to grow and ever fewer. No one took the land from them because the land no longer had anything to offer, not without a long rest.

Farmers, in desperation, in ignorance, became hunters, then scroungers, but there were no sloths, no bison. We could have loved the land better, the men said. All along we could have loved it better. Learned too late, the lesson could not save them.

Wind inherited the land and the race was delayed for a time. Then a rabbit, not large, nor quick, nor clever, but accepting of death, a rabbit who somehow bred itself around the radiation--was perhaps encouraged by the radiation--sat up on its haunches, checked the sky and sniffed, considering its options.

[Note: This is written with a half-apology to John Steinbeck. I agree with the man almost completely and yet infuriates me as I'm reading. You're too pat, Mr. Steinbeck, though I like your prose.

That said, what follows will make a lot more sense if you've read The Grapes of Wrath recently. Which you probably haven't._

I don't strive for relevance.]