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I've set up a new WordPress blog (with the help of my web-wrangler) because it gives me more options than the blog on this website, including the ability to post more photos, the ability to link with social media across the web, and a subscription service that sends a dandy version of the blog directly to your email inbox. Try it out.

Notes from a Western Life at WindbreakHouse.WordPress.com

You can continue to read the blogs here, however a few of the very long blogs under the category of "Writing: Where I've Been" will only appear on the WordPress blog.



An Index of Blog Topics
may be found lower down in this left-hand column so, for example, you can search for all blogs with "Writing Suggestions."

A dated archive of blogs is also available below the index.

Click here to jump to the index, or scroll down to see a selection of photos related to the blog posts.






Blacksmith or Wordsmith

Iron legs from yesteryear.

Smaller iron items inside.

The scrap-iron table.



Dust, Grass, and Writing

Like the native grasses, the roots of writing go deep and reach out in many directions.

Tough prairie grass roots splitting open a rock.

Green life may be found under dry debris.


Fringed Jacket Foofaraw

Turtle carved from bone.

Turtle made of silver.

Warrior Woman pin.

George's grizzly bear claw earring.

Powwow jingle cones made of tin.

Brass bell.

A tiny dream catcher.

Harley Owners' Group pin in honor of Jerry.

Wally McRae's cufflink and tooth.





South Dakota Poet Laureate? Not Right Now, Thanks.


"An older writer, conscious of his or her limited life span, may have specific projects in mind to complete. Thus, requiring that the Poet Laureate travel and teach extensively may exclude older writers regardless of their worthiness to hold the position."



Don't just click "like" about some political story you read.


Pick up the phone or write a letter and make a difference.



Ah! The Bathtub.

A brass hook on a nearby wall to hold my robe or a towel.

A removable wire basket stretches across the tub to hold my soap and sponges.



Windbreak House
Now on Facebook.


If you Like me on this Facebook page you'll get notifications of my newly-posted blogs as well as announcements about my books, writing retreats, and other events to do with Windbreak House.

www.Facebook.com/​WindbreakHouse

No kitten videos, but I post Tuesday Writing Tips, Wednesday Word Posts, and various other writing-related stories, announcements, book reviews, photos and the occasional joke.



Ah, Spring!


Want to know more about this critter?

See the Gallimaufry Page for more about the bird, including more photos, and some odds and ends that don't fit anywhere else on this website.



More Stories and Essays by Linda
may be found on this website.

* Home Page Message archives
Many of these essays have writing advice. All have photos, some have recipes, a few have poems.

* Poetry Page essays
Read suggestions for writing and performing poetry and the stories behind some of Linda's poems.

* Critter Stories
Brief stories and photos of birds and wildlife seen on Linda's ranch may be found on this page.

* Gallimaufry Page
Stories and photos that don't fit anywhere else.



Linda on YouTube

Nancy Curtis, publisher and owner of High Plains Press, recorded a couple of videos of Linda reading her poetry and posted them on YouTube.

To see Linda read "Where the Stories Come From"
click here.

To see Linda read her poem "Make a Hand"
click here

Or go to www.YouTube.com and search for Linda Hasselstrom.

You may also want to visit the High Plains Press facebook page where you will find these two poetry videos and much more about the many great western books-- poetry and non-fiction-- published by High Plains Press.

Thanks, Nancy!

# # #





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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog



When I Discovered Mari Sandoz

May 2, 2014

Tags: Writer: Mari Sandoz, Family: Father, Inspiration for Writing

Linda with Mari Sandoz sculpture, 2004
at the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center, Chadron, Nebraska.

. . .
No doubt it was my father who introduced me to Mari Sandoz, maybe by handing me a copy of Old Jules without realizing his resemblance to the title character. I clearly recall shivering because I recognized her home place; I knew the hills and plants and coyotes and buzzards and people who were the subjects of her fiction and nonfiction because they so closely resembled the inhabitants of the western Dakota prairie ranch where I lived. At five years old, I’d gotten a library pass and begun reading books, but that was my first realization that someone like her-- someone like me-- might write them.

Studying Western history and literature in college, I asked why her work wasn't included-- and only then realized that almost no women appeared as authorities in those studies. The writing lords of the same era were always men: A. B. Guthrie, Walter Van Tilburg Clark and Stanley Vestal. I found their views narrower than Mari’s, their writing competent but less stimulating.

Older, I learned to relish Sandoz's careful research and historical accuracy, even in her fiction. More important to me was her deeply personal knowledge of the grasslands, and her demonstration that in understanding a small community, one may learn and relate important universal truths. Likewise, she prepared me for being treated as a several minorities-- as a woman, a westerner, a grasslands resident, and a rancher-- by publishers.

When I began writing about my own life on the prairie, my father ferociously objected, and even quoted Old Jules, insisting that writers and artists are the “maggots of society.” But Sandoz hadn't quit writing, so I didn't either.

Sandoz also fought for respect as an expert in information unknown to many editors, publishers, and readers. She was an authority on homesteading the Nebraska plains because she’d lived it. So I've had to defend my knowledge as a working rancher to editors who have never set foot on prairie grass, never met a cow, never hefted a firearm. In both cases, editors felt free to contradict knowledge we gained from direct and sometimes painful experience.

When I read Mari’s collected letters, I kept saying, “Yes!” in agreement with her answers to readers who disagreed with her, lectured her, and asked her for help. When my pile of mail threatens to bury me in a paper avalanche, I quote her: “I either answer letters or write books-- never both.” Yet Mari wrote hundreds of letters, offering friendship and encouragement to other writers, and perhaps gaining validation of her work, and relief from the solitude of writing. I've tried to emulate her generosity as well, helping other writers, especially those in the very minorities where Mari and I found our writing selves.

By the time I read Crazy Horse, I’d had my own strange experiences while researching the strange man of the Oglalas; and at the Custer battle site, I’d argued with authorities who at that time refused to stock her book The Battle of the Little Bighorn.

When Mari Sandoz died in 1966, I sat at a desk in a newspaper office and cried. I’d always fantasized that I might meet her, tell her directly that she was the only writer I’d found able to convey my feelings about the Great Plains and its people.

Still, though I never heard her voice, I have continued to learn from her, from her writing, her research, her letters, and most of all, her spirit.

# # #

Note: This essay was originally published in the StoryCatcher newsletter, May 2010.

For more information:

See the website for The Mari Sandoz Heritage Society at www.MariSandoz.org
The Mari Sandoz Heritage Society publishes the Story Catcher newsletter four times per year-- they are archived on their website.
Stories about people's connections to Mari Sandoz are a regular feature.

Also see the website www.SandozCenter.com

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Adoption Birthday: Remembering Judge Davis

August 14, 2013

Tags: Birthday, Adoption, Family: Mother, Family: Father, Judge Davis, Custer County 1881 Courthouse Museum, Childhood

Linda in 1949
As my mother took pictures of me playing in a ten-foot snowdrift outside our door, I wonder if she reconsidered the wisdom of moving from Texas back to South Dakota!

. . .
Today, August 14, 2013, I have been Linda Hasselstrom for sixty years. In celebration of what my family always called my “adoption birthday,” I am posting a note written in 2004.


Remembering Judge Davis
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Written for the Custer County Historical Society, June, 2004.


I was nine years old. I don’t remember my birthday that year, but a month later, on August 14, I was adopted by my mother Mildred’s new husband. A photograph shows me on adoption day in a ruffled plaid dress in front of the old brick courthouse, clutching a little white purse with [my] white shoes perfectly aligned. I’m smiling stiffly. Adoption was a new experience.

After the ceremony my legal father, John [Hasselstrom], bought me a gold ring I still have, and we all had ice cream. I didn’t realize that by becoming the daughter of a rancher I had changed the direction of my life forever. I didn’t realize I had pledged my soul to a ranch, to acres of tawny grass and dry creeks that would absorb my blood and sweat, as they had my father’s, and still look parched. I was still dreaming of prancing black stallions; now my dreams are full of waddling cows. [1]


When I wrote that passage in one of my first books, I’d been studying the photograph I described, discovering in it not only memories but information I did not consciously recall. Later, I realized that photographs merely freeze particular moments in time. A photograph exists only as a flat surface, without the taste, texture, smells of a genuine recollection. Moreover, the instant of the photograph, captured and looked at many times, may actually replace the memory.

Looking more carefully at that photograph helps me remember vignettes about the way my mother and I arrived at that place and time, having our images recorded by my new father, my mother’s third husband. Before that day, I had been fatherless. After it, I had both a real father and a biological one: an important distinction. And I had a trusted friend, something I have failed to appreciate until recently, more than fifty years later.

One of my earliest memories is of crouching under the kitchen table while Mother screamed and smashed my biological father’s liquor bottles in the sink. [2] (Mother had a ferocious temper, but she played it like a violin. A practical woman, she knew that when she was through being angry she’d probably have to clean up the mess, and it would be easier if the liquor ran down the sink instead of splashing all over the kitchen.)

I remember, later, sitting on my mother’s lap on a train, looking out into darkness, at the windows of lighted railway cars behind us uncoiling like a golden snake. My mother was doing something very traditional for women whose husbands have betrayed them: she was going home to her mother. We moved to Rapid City just in time for the Blizzard of 1949. As my mother took pictures of me playing in a ten-foot snowdrift outside our door, I wonder if she reconsidered the wisdom of moving from Texas back to South Dakota!

For four years, my mother worked to rebuild our lives. Divorced from my biological father, she called on her mother, Cora Hey, to live with us for awhile in Rapid City to take care of me; mother worked full-time, first in a bank, and then for a law firm. [3]

I spent most of each summer living with my grandmother and my uncle, my mother’s brother George Hey and his wife. I think Grandmother lived with us in winter through the year I attended kindergarten, walking me to and from the school each day. But eventually, she moved back to her home and I had to walk home, let myself into the house, and wait for my mother. Those experiences taught me a lot about independence and patience. And I learned to be the only girl I knew without a father– a situation considerably more rare in the early 1950s than it is today. [4]

Looking at that photograph, I was so sure my memory of the day was accurate that I wrote about my parents’ marriage and my adoption without looking for the supporting documents. [5] I wrote that my parents were married on Memorial Day weekend in 1952, and that I was adopted that same year.

Prompted by my promise to write about these events for the Custer County Historical Society, I did what I should have done in the first instance: check my facts. I learned that, contrary to my memory, my parents were married in 1952, and I was adopted more than a year later, in 1953.

On May 29, 1952, my mother and John Hasselstrom dropped me off at the home of my Uncle Bud (Cleo Truman) and Aunt Fern Hey, in Fairburn, and drove to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to be married. They always told me that they got to the Clerk of Courts office just as it was closing for the holiday weekend, and talked the clerk into issuing the license anyway. The documentation proves this is correct; the receipt shows they paid cash-- $2.25-- for their marriage license at 5:05 p.m. [6] They walked about a block to the First Congregational Church, where they were married by a minister whose wife was one of the witnesses. [7]

I don’t know where they spent the night, but I believe they may have visited the Wyoming Hereford Ranch outside Cheyenne before they came home. At that time my father was raising registered Hereford cattle, and we later visited WHR several times to buy bulls. Mother let me take photographs with her camera; I carefully annotated the pictures with the names of the bulls and the men who showed them to us.

The adoption day photograph shows me a particular moment in time from a particular day, and any story I tell about that day will be true to be best of my recollection research. But, now that I have done a little research, I realize that for nearly fifty years I have believed I was adopted only a few months after my parents’ marriage.

Knowing that I was adopted more than a year after my mother’s third marriage, I guess that John Hasselstrom was unable to adopt me right away because my parents needed to convince my biological father to give up his parental rights. [8]

Digging deeper among the facts, I find the final judgment in my parents’ divorce. [9] The document awards “care, custody and control” of Linda M. Bovard to Florence M. Bovard, [10] but acknowledges the right of R. Paul Bovard to “visit with said child at all reasonable hours, provided such visitation does not interfere with the welfare of said child.” The decree further required R. Paul Bovard to contribute to my welfare in the amount of $75.00 per month until I was sixteen, or until the court ordered payment to stop. According to my mother, these payments were never made. I remember receiving letters from my biological father, and I know that I answered them-- some of those letters were returned to me upon his death, when I was notified as his next of kin. [11]

A careful look at that adoption day photograph requires me not only to do research, but to reflect on my memories. My mother usually dressed me in ruffled, lacy pink dresses. Even at ten years of age, I hated pink, hated “fuss and feathers,” as my grandmother called it. Maybe we compromised on the plaid dress as being more practical for school. Our hopeful smiles on that adoption day hid the fact that we would disagree about almost everything for another fifty years. For the rest of her life, her gifts to me were usually pink and fragile; I immediately discarded them, or traded them for something plain, solid, and hard-wearing in earth tones. She never stopped trying to make me into a delicate little lady and I never stopped rebelling against her efforts. I once wrote, “Mother wanted a daughter who would be a lady swathed in silk, but I was born to love denim.” [12]

As soon as we moved to my father’s ranch, a year before my adoption, I had an excuse for being a tomboy instead of a lady: horses. From the moment of my adoption until I was nearly fifty years old, I was my father’s shadow, recreating myself in his image. [13] Boots, jeans, hats-- those were my work clothes, not pink ruffles. And my mother’s constant refrains were, “You’re not going out like THAT!” and “My God, when are you going to cut that HAIR!” After his death, when her memory failed and she stopped repeating these old songs, I missed them.

In the adoption photograph, my mother’s hair is still dark brown, smoothly curled. She is smiling at my father, who is taking the picture. The street was so quiet that day-- August 14, 1953-- that he could stand in the middle of it while he fumbled with the camera’s focus. [14] Nowadays, Custer’s citizens seem happy when the street is considerably busier.

Until my father’s death in 1992 and my mother’s in 2001, my family always celebrated the day I was adopted as my second birthday of the year. The photograph shows what we were wearing, and has led me down these twisted paths of memory, but it doesn’t show the most important thing that happened to me that day.

The document of my adoption states that the County Judge, having “examined all persons appearing separately and being satisfied from such examination and the report of such investigation that the child is suitable for adoption and the petitioning foster parent is morally fit and financially able to have the care and training of such child,” decreed that I should be adopted.

Oddly, those dry official words bring back a memory that is filled with movement and texture. I remember climbing the stairs to the third floor courtroom with my parents; I’m sure my father made a wry comment about being breathless. I only dimly remember what happened in the courtroom. Probably Judge D. Webster Davis sat in his judicial robes behind a high desk, while my parents and I stood below him. I’m sure Judge Davis took my parents aside and satisfied himself about those moral and financial requirements.

But what I remember most vividly about that day is what happened next.

The Judge instructed my mother and father to wait, and probably ushered them to a bench like a church pew in the hallway outside the courtroom. Then he walked away with me. I remember the sound of his robes brushing the floor, and I think he took my hand. I now know, because I have visited the courtroom, that we walked through it to his private chamber. I hardly noticed where we were going; I was caught up in astonishment, seeing my parents sitting, left behind. My father was leaning forward impatiently, his mouth pursed as if he’d like to object, while my mother stared after me. But they sat meekly on that bench because the Judge told them to. I was amazed that anyone had the power to make my mother and father do anything they didn’t want to do.

The Judge ushered me into a room that seemed dim, filled with dark oak furniture and perhaps dark drapes. We both sat, and he leaned forward so his face was level with me. I recall his voice as warm, comforting. [15] I believe he asked me to tell him about my life, about moving from Texas to South Dakota, and then from the city to the ranch. I think he asked how my mother treated me, and what I remembered about my biological father. I probably told him that though I wrote my dad a lot of letters, my mother said he never sent us money.

He asked me if I wanted John Hasselstrom to be my father. I imagine I told him what I’d told my teacher: that I was happy to be getting a horse and a daddy-- in that order.

And then he explained that if I didn’t want to be adopted, that I could stop the whole process simply by telling him so right then. He said that, although my parents had a right to decide to marry one another, and change my mother’s name from Bovard to Hasselstrom, that I didn’t need to change my name, or be adopted if I didn’t want to. I’m sure he told me that I was old enough to make this decision myself, and that he would wait while I thought about it.

I remember him turning away, to give me privacy to think, perhaps moving papers on his desk. And I’m sure, because he was so serious and so gentle, that I gave the matter all the thought I could manage, and told him that I did want John Hasselstrom to be my father. [16] I wouldn’t be surprised if I mentioned that horse I’d been promised, though I’m pretty sure I didn’t have one yet. But other photographs show that, besides the new house my father had built for us, we had a dog, and I had spent considerable time climbing trees: pleasures I’d been denied living in town with my mother. So I am sure that I was pretty convinced John Hasselstrom would be a good father-- as he turned out to be.

When Judge Davis was satisfied that I knew what adoption meant, he turned back to me with a slip of paper in his hand. “This is my name, and my telephone number,” he said, putting the paper in my hand. “Now, if you ever change your mind about this, you can call me and tell me so, and we’ll do something about it. If that man ever mistreats you, or if your mother hurts you, or you even have a question about how they are treating you, you call me. Anytime, day or night. I will help you if you just tell me.”

And he looked at me, and smiled. I can’t picture his face as I write these words, but I can feel the comfort of his words, and that smile.

Try to imagine the effect of these words on a ten-year-old girl who, for more than half her life, had been without a father. My mother worked hard and only in retrospect have I learned to admire how she managed to keep her dignity and respect as a working single mother in a time when such women were rare.

Mother had made serious efforts to find me a father while we lived in Rapid City; I have dim memories of several of the men she saw at that time. One of the partners in the law firm where she worked [17] took an interest in me, giving me a beautiful doll each Christmas. My mother put the dolls on a high shelf in her closet, and told me she was keeping them for my children. They became remote, unreal, as if they did not belong to me. [18]

A father seemed similarly unattainable. I had already learned from my mother-- probably in spite of her best intentions-- that men were not to be trusted, that they were the enemy, dangerous and dark and distant.

But when Judge Davis spoke to me, I trusted him. I knew nothing at all about him; I had forgotten his name until this promise to write my memories of him for the Historical Society sent me back to search for the relevant documents.

Still, I recall putting that scrap of paper carefully into the little white purse in the photograph, and cherishing it for years. I remember stepping back into that hallway with my head up, feeling the power of the robed man behind me, the confidence he’d given me.

Reflecting on what his gesture meant to me, I think Judge Davis must have been the first person, except for my mother, that I trusted after our terrifying midnight flight away from my father’s insanity. I never called Judge Davis for help. I wish now I had written or called him to thank him for his promise. If my mother had known about the piece of paper, she’d have made me write one of my labored thank-you notes.

I kept the conversation secret from my parents, and somewhere I lost the piece of paper, but I have never forgotten. I now believe that each time I have trusted someone without any particular evidence, relying on my instincts alone, it is because I saw in that person’s eyes the same promise Judge Davis conveyed to me: that his word could be trusted.

# # #

Footnotes:

[1] Going Over East, p. 3.

[2] Feels Like Far, p. 14.

[3] Feels Like Far, pp. 14-15. Mother worked for the firm of Whiting, Wilson and Lynn, which is currently Bangs, McCullen, Butler, Foye & Simmons, in Rapid City, South Dakota.

[4] Feels Like Far, pp. 14-16.

[5] Feels Like Far, p. 16.

[6] Laramie County Clerk of Courts receipt number 598586 for marriage license number 25127, May 29, 1953.

[7] The First Congregational church was then located at 208 W. 19th Street; the site is now a parking lot for a bank. The Minister was Lincoln B. Wirt, witnesses Florence Wirt and Josephine E. Simmons, possibly church secretary. For the past fifteen years, I have lived in Cheyenne, about 8 blocks from where my parents were married.

[8] If my biological father, R. Paul Bovard, objected to my adoption, his objections were probably set aside because he had contributed nothing to my support. A letter from Walter G. Miser, lawyer, of Rapid City South Dakota dated July 3, 1953, confirms that the District Clerk of Hidalgo County, Texas, confirmed my mother’s statement that he had paid nothing into the registry of that court since September 27, 1947-- four months after their divorce. The official adoption document states that my biological father had been notified of the pending adoption and failed to comment, that John Hasselstrom agreed to treat me “in all respects as his own lawful child should be treated.” That requirement created some interesting implications about fifty years later. See “Badger’s Daughter,” Feels Like Far, pp. 212-216.

[9] No. 15,602, in the District Court of Hidalgo County, Texas, 93rd Judicial District, dated May 23, 1947. My parents were married April 16, 1938 in the First Presbyterian Church of Morgantown, West Virginia.

[10] I’ve never known my mother as Florence, only as Mildred, which I understood to be her middle name. However most of the early documents show her given name as Florence. Her birth certificate, showing her name as Mildred Florence-- which is how she signed documents most of her life-- was not filed until December 4, 1940, when she was 31 years old.

[11] According to my journal, R. Paul Bovard was dead on arrival at Oceanside City hospital in San Diego, CA, Sunday afternoon, May 11, 1969. I received a telegram announcing his death the next day, along with a request to call the county coroner’s office. When I did so, I was told that as next of kin I needed to give permission for an autopsy. I was 26 years old and had not seem my father in twenty years. What if I don’t? I asked. His remains will be retained here until an autopsy is done, reported a dry voice. Indefinitely? I asked. Yes, he answered. I gave permission. A letter from the County of San Diego to R. P. Bovard’s brother Ike in Pittsburgh, PA, says his estate consisted of a “few items of clothing” which were “of no value and were abandoned,” a joint bank account with his brother “showing a balance of $6.77,” and cash in the amount of $14.17 “which will be absorbed for mileage charges, etc.” I did not receive a copy of the autopsy report or the death certificate, but his brother informed me that the cause of his death was heavy drinking combined with heavy medication. He was 61 years old. His body was cremated and the ashes were buried at the foot of his sister Ruth’s grave in a country cemetery in McVille, PA, beside his parents. I once visited the grave.

[12] Feels Like Far, p. 12. Actually, what I wrote was “Mother wanted a daughter swathed in silk, but I was born to denim,” and an editor altered the line without my permission.

[13] While I never thought of John Hasselstrom as my stepfather, I once referred to him in print by that description, and infuriated him. Feels Like Far, pp. 195-6. He was so angry, that later on, his memory damaged by undiagnosed strokes, that he left me nothing in his will.

[14] Among the adoption documents is my revised birth certificate, According to the Texas Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, State File No. 78951, I was born legitimate in the county of Harris, city of Houston, at 1911 University Blvd., though no hospital is mentioned. My mother was Florence Mildred Baker of Wheatland, Wyoming, and my father was John (no middle initial) Hasselstrom of Hermosa, South Dakota. My mother’s marriage to my biological father isn’t mentioned, nor is the fact that she was living in Houston with him at the time of my birth. A researcher without other information might wonder how a woman from Wheatland, Wyoming, and a man from Hermosa, South Dakota, managed to have a legitimate child in Houston, Texas. One clue exists: the birth certificate was filed August 28, 1953, more than ten years later. Perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t have children, since my bloodlines have vanished in the paperwork. And this information only raises more questions: Why did my mother give her residence as Wheatland, WY, (where she was born) when she had been living for several years in Rapid City, South Dakota?

[15] Recollecting now, it seems to me his voice was like that of James Earl Jones, the black actor-- but I wonder if I am merely substituting the sound of his beautiful voice for one I don’t really remember.

[16] Until the end of his life, I called John Hasselstrom “father,” never “dad,” and he called me “child,” which sometimes annoyed me in later years.

[17] Mr. Lynn, whose first name I should also research, though I knew him always as Mr. Lynn because that’s now my mother referred to him.

[18] When I got the dolls back after my mother’s death, I gave them to the Salvation Army without a pang.


# # #

For more information:

The Custer Courthouse of this story is now a museum in the city of Custer, South Dakota. You can climb the creaking wooden stairs, enter the court room, and peer in the door to the judge’s chambers.

www.1881courthousemuseum.com

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Giving Away the Saddles

May 8, 2013

Tags: Saddles, Family: Father, Horse Riding, Horse: Zarro, Thank You Letters

This is the saddle made by Charley Streeter of Buffalo Gap, South Dakota.
It was made for me when I was 12 years old. This photo was taken in the late 1980s.

. . .
Note: This blog was originally posted on January 12, 2013.
It is re-posted now with the addition of the thank-you letters at the end.


Recently I gave away my saddles: my father’s old Duhamel saddle, the saddle made for me when I was twelve by a saddlemaker in Buffalo Gap, and George’s, also an antique. They went to a family in the neighborhood, with two sons and a couple of nieces who may eventually grow into one or more of the saddles. The two boys have been wanting saddles of their own but the cost simply wasn’t possible. And the nieces, coincidentally, are descendants of a man who used to repair all our riding boots in his saddle shop.

When I showed the high school boy my father’s old-fashioned saddle, his eyes opened wide and he smiled so hard he must have strained a muscle. Suddenly I could see my father on his Tennessee Walking horse Zarro. And I seemed to see him smile at this long-legged kid, as tall at 17 as my father was as an adult.

Then the younger boy took my saddle in his arms-- the weight nearly felled him-- and with a determined frown hoisted it over his shoulder to carry it outside. He put it down on the ground while his mother opened their car-- but he put it down with the sheepskin lining against the ground. Quietly, the older boy corrected him: when you put a saddle down, you tip it over, so the horn rests on the ground, to keep from breaking or straining the tree inside and to keep the sheepskin lining clean.

After they left, I cried, thinking over long memories of riding with my father and George, but I smiled too, to know those saddles will be ridden and cared for by another family for more generations than I will live.

Later I realized that giving my saddles away is an admission that I am unlikely to ride a horse again. Of course I didn’t ride all the time we lived in Cheyenne but I always had my saddle oiled and ready.

I'd suffer plenty of muscle pain if I rode again but the worst part would be that I’d be riding a horse I didn’t train. Many of the times I’ve done that, I’ve regretted it: no one trained horses the way I learned to do from my gentle father. Horses are intelligent and sensitive and too many of the ones I’ve ridden that were owned by someone else had been treated so that they were untrustworthy. I’ve been kicked in the upper arm, thrown, rolled on.

No, I’m not likely to ride a horse someone else has trained and that means I’ve given up something that was of deep importance to me. The freedom of riding a horse here on the ranch has been unparalleled in my life; the sheer joy of moving in such harmony with a horse’s muscles and mind is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

I have made this choice many times in the past few years and giving away the saddles was making it again, more permanently. I’m nearly seventy years old but I’m not in bad shape. I could buy a young horse, train it, spend time riding. Or I could buy an older, well-trained horse and enjoy rides all over the pastures I still own. But I have responsibilities to my partner, to my dogs, to my garden and most of all to my writing. The time I devoted to riding would need to be taken from something else and I choose not to shortchange those other elements of my life. Most importantly, I’ve chosen to sit in this office chair and write about the life I lived, hoping to help inspire protection of the prairies and the ranching life so that other youngsters may know the life of freedom I knew on horseback.

When the family asked if they couldn’t pay something for the saddles, the teacher in me arose. In return for the gift, I asked only that the two boys write me their thanks. I reasoned that besides providing them with good practice in writing in general and in expressing gratitude in particular, the exercise would serve as an illustration that generosity is an important part of enjoying a satisfying life.

To prove my confidence was not misplaced, here are the letters I received.

From the high school student:

Linda, I want you to know how awesome it is to have a usable piece of history. Every time I use the saddle, I think about your Dad and the kind of hardworking but interesting person he must have been. Thank you for sharing your history with me!


From the grade school student:

Linda, I like character. The saddle I ride has that. Plus it has a neat story. A South Dakota author grew up having adventures in my saddle. Pretty neat.


From their mother and father:

Linda, Your husband's saddle has been used by __________ (two nieces who are neighbors). We do cherish the fact that you saw our children and extended family as keepers of your story in any form. We also love that you see them as responsible and caring enough to preserve some very fun saddles that would have stories to tell if they could talk.



# # #

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Writing Letters

April 15, 2012

Tags: Letter-Writing, Email, Family: Father

Does anyone save old family emails?

. . .
Many of the writers I know are quite proud of it.

“Oh, I never write letters anymore,” they say, nodding. “I’m just too busy. I email or text.”

Elsewhere, I’ve already confessed to how I changed my mind about computers when I realized how efficient they were for preparing manuscripts.

And I’ll even admit that when pressed for time-- let me rephrase that-- when PARTICULARLY pressed for time-- I may do a little recycling with a letter. I’ll write a letter saying what I’ve been doing lately and then change the "Dear____" part to fit the recipient. After I print it out, I add the personal notes at the bottom before mailing-- and I usually say, “Excuse the generic letter.”

But I stubbornly continue to write personal letters to many friends. Not only that-- but I hand-write some of them, proving that I am stuck in antediluvial times, sinking in the swamp of prehistory.

Here are some of my reasons.

I have only a few of my father’s letters, usually headed with the date and “At the breakfast table.” My parents lived in what is now my writing retreat house, which doesn’t much resemble the way it looked when they were there. The round oak table at which my father wrote is gone; the curtains he pulled aside to look out the window have been replaced by modern shades. The buffet on which he kept a dictionary so he could look up any word about which he was uncertain is in someone else’s home.

But when I see my father’s handwriting on those letters, I can picture him just as he was on those mornings, the blue eyes, the smile he never wore for photographs because he hated them. My mother is cooking breakfast in her blue bathrobe. He has been out and looked at the weather, recording the night’s low in his journal. He’s planning his day. And he’s writing words of advice and love and encouragement to his daughter.

These letters are particularly precious considering how his life ended, in anger and bitterness and confusion. Without seeing that strong handwriting, I might gradually let the good memories be submerged in the horrible ones. The handwriting provides an anchor; a typed copy of the letter would not be the same. Had he been emailing his thoughts, they’d have long since vanished.

Perhaps nothing I write to any of my friends is as important as those notes my father wrote and it may be that none of my friends keep my handwritten notes. That doesn’t matter either. I like the feeling of holding that pen and seeing the words flow onto the paper, even the recycled scraps I sometimes use for notes, tucking them into envelopes with a few clippings of news stories I can imagine discussing with my friends.

I like seeing in my mind’s eye my friends taking those envelopes out of the mailbox, slitting them open, sitting in their favorite chairs. My handwriting conveys my voice, my thoughts, my image in a way no computerized facsimile ever could.

And when I am hand-writing a letter, my mind slows down. I take time to form the letters, picturing the person to whom I am writing.

Fairly often, I discover as I scribble a thought that had been eluding me while I sat at the computer and pecked and stabbed and jabbed and dug and prodded the keys, a thought that could not be born as the cursor blinked.

So whether the post office is efficient or not and no matter how much it charges me for the privilege, as long as mail service exists, I’ll keep folding those letters, hand-addressing the envelopes and hauling them to town, thinking of the people whose handwriting will be on the envelopes I’ll get back in a few days.

# # #

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Sharptailed Grouse

February 2, 2012

Tags: Grouse, Birds, Ranch: Wildlife, My Book: Windbreak, Roadkill, Meat, Family: Father, Family: Uncle Harold, Recipe: Grouse

Sharptailed Grouse in the windbreak at Homestead House. Photographed by A.J. during a writing retreat, 2009.

. . .
Since my earliest days on the ranch, I’ve regularly seen coveys of Sharptailed grouse, Tympanuchus phasianellus though my folks and the neighbors usually referred to them as “prairie chickens.” The term probably dates from pioneer times because the chubby birds resemble chickens in size, habits and sounds. No doubt they were among the easiest game for settlers to hunt, providing a chicken for practically every empty pot.

And several types of chicken-like fowl native to the prairies made identification even more confusing. Sharptailed grouse are spotted brown and white and have short, pointed tails. Among their relatives are Spruce grouse, Blue, Ruffed, Gunnison Sage and Greater Sage Grouse; White-tailed, Willow and Rock ptarmigan and Lesser and Greater Prairie Chickens. All once thrived in North America. Ptarmigan live mostly in the north and northwest. Prairie Chickens prefer open prairie but the rest seem to like prairie cut with gullies where shrubs grow for cover and food sources. All are well adapted to the extremes of heat and cold the prairie offers but their numbers have been greatly reduced by humans and their accompanying guns and predatory pets (dogs and cats).

In Windbreak, I wrote about butchering and eating a grouse that we’d accidentally hit on the highway.

I asked George to stop, caught it–it was bleeding– wrung its neck and then realized I had just committed an illegal act beside a busy highway. We brought it home and Jim and Mavis were here so we added three game hens to the roasting pot and had the grouse for supper. I had to endure a lot of hilarity about eating roadkills but I told them that’s the only way we poor ranchers survive.
-- Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains, October 25, page 34

That brief reference fails to show my appreciation of the sharptails, either as residents of the prairie and part of the work force that conserves grasslands or as dinner. The mention does point to one of the dangers of life for the grouse, though I don’t see as many grouse dead on the highway as rabbits, skunks, coyotes and foxes.

Sharptailed grouse forage on the ground in spring and summer, eating mostly leaves, green shoots and flowers along with a few insects. Anyone familiar with the way chickens pursue grasshoppers and other bugs will be instantly charmed to see grouse leaping in the air to snatch flying bugs in the same way. In summer, more than 50 percent of the grouse diet may be grass, according to birdweb.org, though insects and especially grasshoppers are an important food. The diet of young grouse, say some sources, may be as much as 90% bugs. Experts indicate flower parts may make up 25 percent of the breeding-season diet, while in fall grouse eat seeds, leaves, berries, waste grain, buds, and flowers. In winter, sharptails often roost and graze in shelter under trees and bushes; significant winter foods include the dried fruit, seeds and buds of willow, cottonwood, chokecherry, plum, buffaloberry, juneberry, birch, aspen, rose and juniper.

Apparently open water is not essential to the grouse, which is good since many parts of our prairie don’t offer it. Instead the grouse satisfy their requirements from their food. Early in the season the birds cluster in groups of 5 to 10, perhaps families; later they join into larger coveys.

Like the better-known Greater prairie-chicken, sharptailed males dance and coo as the mating season begins; authorities say this causes the females to initiate the breeding cycle. Males return to the same dancing grounds, often located on open high ground each year, usually in March. There they rattle their tails, stomp their feet and display their feathers, beginning 45 minutes before sunrise and continuing for a couple of hours afterward. Females stroll through the furiously performing males, selecting one with which to mate. One source, landhelp.info, says females are “polygamous and probably promiscuous.”

Sharptailed grouse usually lay a five to seventeen eggs in a shallow depression in the earth under a shrub or thick clump of grass, often lining the nest with grass, leaves, or ferns. The young leave the nest shortly after hatching, but the hen continues to lead them to feeding areas.

Grouse look ungainly in flight, like balloons with wings, but hunters and other experts say that for a short distance they are able to escape hawks like the peregrine in horizontal flight. Often we spot the covey because one or more of them is perched in the top of the junipers, where the branches appear too slender to hold them, heads erect as they watch us. When one takes flight, they all do, chuckling and clucking in alarm. The flapping of their wings is miniature thunder in the sky as they head for the nearest cover, a bunch of trees or tall prairie grass.

Once, a covey landed on the power lines leading to our house. From the kitchen window I watched a routine that had me snorting with laughter as the birds tried desperately to balance themselves on the wire. Wings out, they leaned ahead and back as the wire swung madly. If one achieved balance, the one next to it flapped off-kilter and they staggered into one another. One by one they gave up and flew into the junipers until only one was left, still fluttering and unable to achieve balance.

My uncle and my father often exchanged reports of seeing the grouse, pleased to have them as part of their ranches’ wildlife. The prairie between the two ranches seemed to offer just what the grouse need in food, concealment and privacy. For winter shelter, they like groves of trees like the windbreaks around our houses, but in summer they range widely over the mostly treeless prairie. In winter they often roost in or under trees or deliberately allow themselves to be covered in snow. Often I have found round holes under our windbreak trees with wingmarks on each side. When they are ready to emerge, the grouse simply row upward with their wings and fly out the top of a drift.

Natural grouse predators are many; hawks, eagles, owls and coyotes all make a meal of the sharptails when they can. We often find flattened circles of grouse feathers near the windbreak trees, as killers no doubt creep close while the grouse are sleeping or eating.

Though natural predators take their toll, it’s humans who do the most damage to the sharptailed grouse, as they do to all other wildlife. Since two houses have been built between the ranches originally owned by the Hasselstrom brothers, I’ve been watching the animals’ habits. John and Harold used to compare notes on the herd of whitetail deer that would move east down our draw then circle through an area of small waterholes and trees and graze past my uncle’s place a few days later. “You should be seeing that old doe and her bunch today,” one of them would say. Now we rarely see the deer, because the new houses are directly in the path they used to travel. I often hear a dog barking at one of the homes but no stray dogs have shown up here, so perhaps it is not free to chase wildlife. My lessee, who lives on my uncle’s former ranch, often sees a covey of 35 of more grouse, as do we, so presumably they can still navigate the distance safely.

Once upon a time, I saw a flash outside my basement study window and heard a thud. I went outside and saw a grouse huddled under an outdoor table.

A week before, I’d been in the windbreak trees when a grouse shot past me at eyebrow level and dropped to the ground under the protective cover of the thick juniper branches. A northern harrier hawk veered up and away, its hunt foiled.

So I assumed this grouse had dived under the deck for sanctuary, though I couldn’t spot a hawk. For a half hour, I kept the dogs inside so the bird could rest and recover from its fear. But when it was still tucked under the table an hour later I crept close and touched it: dead. In escaping from the hawk, it must have been unable to slow down and hit the side of the house.

I skinned the grouse and soaked it in salt water overnight to get the blood from its traumatic death out of the flesh. Dismantling the grouse the next morning, I studied its architecture: the legs were small and thin and the wings had very little flesh. The breasts were huge–musculature for that swift flight. The flesh was dark red, much darker than turkey.

Years ago, after a successful grouse hunt, we had a half dozen of the birds. We’d found them in the juniper trees in a pasture and their crops were stuffed with juniper berries. I emptied the crops and, after gutting the birds, stuffed them with the berries, adding a tart flavor to the flesh.

Since only one grouse had been killed this time, I cut it up, splitting the breast and leaving the back in one piece and the legs connected to the thighs. I rolled each piece in a mixture of egg, milk and spices and then in flour and seared it quickly in a hot fry pan. Then I placed them in a casserole, mixed milk with a can of cream of mushroom soup and baked the dish at 300 degrees for an hour and a half, until a thermometer in the breast registered 170 degrees.

Grouse does not taste like chicken. I’d compare its rich flavor to tender venison or antelope harvested correctly, without time to be afraid. The meat was so rich and tasty that I didn’t need to eat much of it to feel satisfied. I mentally apologized to the hawk who probably missed its dinner but was grateful for the opportunity to make this bird’s death into an experience.

# # #

For more information:
For photographs, search “sharptailed grouse photos” on the internet.

www.lauraerickson.com provides videos of the grouse in their mating dance.

Several sites including www.junglewalk.com have recorded grouse sounds.

landhelp.info provides considerable information on managing resources so as to encourage wildlife on farms and ranches.

For specific information to help you identify one of the group, see www.allaboutbirds.org

Or look in a bird identification book such as The Sibley Guide to Birds, David Allen Sibley (Knopf).
I received a copy of this wonderful book for Christmas, thanks to neighbor and friend Tamara. It’s slightly possible she was tired of me calling to say, “I just saw a bird I can’t identify. It has a yellow breast and is kinda gray on top and . . .”

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Go With the Grain: Bread Therapy

July 12, 2011

Tags: Bread-making, Childhood, Family: Father, Family: Mother, 4-H Club, Singing Badly, Grinding Grain, Mental Therapy Alternative

Linda with hand-kneaded bread, 2009.
. . .
Bread is benediction, scenting the air with an aroma finer than blessed incense. To create bread-- mixing, kneading and shaping loaves-- is to forge a sacrament of consecration for a home and all who dwell in it.

Baking bread became an important part of my life when I was nine years old and my mother married a rancher. Avid to become a real country girl, I bought a red western hat to match my birthday cowboy boots, and joined 4-H. The Buttons and Bows 4-H Club was dedicated to teaching me how to preserve my young Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. Years and years and YEARS before yuppies discovered whole grain goodness, I attained the highest goal imaginable in our community by winning a purple ribbon at the State Fair for demonstrating bread-baking.

My narrow fame roused me to dreams of standing in a bright light while thousands applauded. Not long after my bread-baking success, I mounted the community hall stage to sing our 4-H club song, wearing a fringed blouse and skirt with a toy pistol strapped around my waist. My mother sang in a beautiful voice, but I was baffled by musical notes and never sang the same one twice. "My bones denounce the buckboard bounce," I bawled, "And the Cactus hurts my toes." I seem to recall yanking the cap pistol out of its flashy holster and firing it in the air as I quavered, "East is east and west is west and the wrong one I have chose."

Like my stubborn grandmothers crossing the plains, I forged ahead, making up in volume for lack of pitch. "Let's go where I'll keep on wearin those frills and flowers and buttons and bows." In the middle of my second shot at the chorus, I dared to look at my mother's face, and experienced a blinding bolt of understanding: I cooked better than I sang. My brief stage career was over when I stumbled down the steps; I vowed to dedicate myself to cooking.

My parents were determined I experience every advantage of country life; soon I was feeding caged rabbits and gathering eggs from a dozen hens. I learned to milk a cow and hoe the garden; it was several years before I realized that the tasks my parents advertised as "country experiences" were what other kids called chores.

Gnawing a sandwich at lunch one day, my father stared out the window; I'd learned to recognize such thoughtful pauses as a prelude to jobs guaranteed to enrich my adaptation to country culture. "My Maw," he finally announced, "baked bread three times a week. Why don't we ever have any homemade bread around here, Wife?"

Since my mother never learned how to bake bread, I was instructed to learn how. Soon I was baking bread once or twice a week. Using my mother's cookbooks, I devised a personal recipe that called for stone ground whole wheat flour. I bought a grain mill with my allowance, and traded butchering rabbits to a neighbor for organic wheat, already hulled.

Early on baking day, I'd scoop a double handful of slick dun-colored grains into a high-rimmed pan with a screen bottom. The wheat kernels were tinged with pink, like a tanned face blushing; I loved the silky feel of the fat grains running through my fingers. My father taught me how to winnow remaining hulls and mouse droppings from the wheat. We'd step off the back porch, backs to the constant breeze, and jerk the screen upward, tossing grain into the wind. The chaff and anything lighter than wheat blew away.

Back inside, I'd trickle a handful of grain into the hopper of the grinder permanently mounted on the kitchen counter, and turn the handle. Metal plates rotated, drizzling cracked wheat. I put each batch of wheat through the crusher three times, leaving a few tawny nuggets of grain. If I'd ground it another time or two, my flour would have been as fine as commercial varieties, but I liked a chewy texture.

Once the flour was ready, I'd scald a cup of whole milk, dipped from the jug in the refrigerator and dump the yeast into warm water. By the time the milk was hot, I'd have honey from a neighbor's bees, or dark molasses, in my big mixing bowl with chunks of butter I'd churned earlier in the week. The hot milk softened the honey enough to stir, until the mass was cool enough to risk adding yeast.

Adding the first cup of coarse wheat flour, I always debated with myself. The pale white flour my mother bought at the grocery store for pies and cakes smoothed the texture of the bread, making it rise higher in the pans, but I hated using anything store-bought. Sometimes I added wheat flour I'd milled a half-dozen times, until it was nearly as fine as the bleached kind. I saved the smaller grind for cakes and pie crusts, but my cakes never won prizes at the County Fair. "Tough!" the judges would write, slapping a white ribbon on the plate. Smug in the knowledge my cake was nutritious, I just smiled.

Once I'd added five cups of whole wheat flour, the bread dough was the consistency of concrete mixed for a bridge. Even if I gave in to my mother's pleas and added white flour, a double batch of bread dough was a weighty matter. I'd lift the ball out of the bowl and heave it onto the bread board, inhaling the fertile scent of yeast, the faint perfume of honey or molasses.

Bread dough is less predictable and only slightly less independent than a two-year-old child, and about the same weight. And like a child, if the bread is to develop a strong texture, it must be worked hard. I'd grab the outer edge, fold it to the inside and push with the heels of my hands; broken wheat kernels prodded my fingers. I'd rotate the globe of dough a quarter turn, fold and push, again and again and again. When my arms began to tire and the warm mass stuck to my fingers, I'd dip up a bit more wheat flour and scatter it across the board under the dough. I'd brush my sleeve over my forehead to soak up sweat, and begin again. Turn, fold, PUSH; turn, fold, WHACK; turn, crease SHOVE. My muscles hummed in rhythmic harmony with the natural world that provided the ingredients of that bread. As I pound and stretch the dough to its proper texture, my mind slipped into an ancient cadence. Tension subsided; my pulse beat to a simpler strain.

Up to my elbows in bread dough, I can let my mind meander. I can conduct rational and irrational arguments, THUMP the dough to emphasize what I should have said. I CAN analyze human and animal behavior while neatly folding and flipping. Decisions I've avoided for weeks have made themselves while I poke a finger into the shiny dough to check the tension.

No matter my mood when I began baking, kneading improved it. Baking bread is cheaper than other forms of therapy, like seeing a psychiatrist, drinking, or using drugs, and has offered me more consistent help. And I can eat the results; nibbling a therapist is always ill-advised.

Besides improving my mental health, blending dough provided as much exercise for my biceps and upper torso as if I'd lifted weights. Kneading makes me breathe deeply, pulling yeasty air deep into my lungs. When I finish, the dough is glistening and elastic, and both the dough and I are bouncy with vitality.

Once the dough is kneaded, it must be patted into a sphere and replaced in the bowl to rise until it doubles in bulk; waiting for its slow growth provides a chance to catch my breath and meditate.

I release any lingering hostility by punching the risen dough hard to drive air out. Briefly, I knead it again,; my breathing slows in rhythm with the strokes. Once I've shaped the dough into loaves and fitted it into my battered pans, I'm free to think again, or wash the baking dishes if I'm expecting company to eat my the homemade bread.

Baking, the bread scents the house with mingled fragrances; wheat smells nourishing, an incomparable odor, impossible to imitate. While waiting, I remove butter from the refrigerator to soften. The climax of the true bread-baking experience is the first taste. Tradition prohibits cutting the loaf; the true gourmet rips the end of the loaf away, burning her fingers. Cries of "Ow! Ouch! Yikes!" may punctuate the air; after all, some expensive therapists recommend screaming. Every pain disappears as I slather butter on a ragged mass of hot bread. Sorrows evaporate as the yellow seeps into a rich brown universe; the only problem is whether I can gnaw off a bite before the butter runs down my arm.

I open my mouth wide, and tear off a solid bite. The universe wobbles on its axis, then settles into an age-old throb of grace. Homemade bread.

# # #

written 1994; published on the Windbreak House website 2011.

For more information:
The recipe for Linda's hand-kneaded bread shown in the photo above may be found in the Home Page Message archives of this website.

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Bill Kloefkorn and The Rapture

May 30, 2011

Tags: Poet: Bill Kloefkorn, Poetry, Memorial Day, Hermosa Cemetery, Family Graves, Family: Father, My Poem: Memorial Day, Gardening, Lilacs, Rapture, Children's Worm Poem, Childhood, Ranch: Description, Ranch: Wildlife

Linda at the Hasselstrom plot in the Highland Park Cemetery, looking east towards Hermosa.
. . .
Part I. Bill Kloefkorn, poet

Bill Kloefkorn, the poet laureate of Nebraska, died at age 78 on May 19, after struggling for two years against an immune-deficiency illness. Doctors could name no specific cause of his illness, and find no cure.

The day I heard the news, I drove to Hermosa for the mail, feeling gloomy under a sky curdled with gray clouds. We’d already had three days of rain, a fine thing in this arid climate, but the lack of sun had made everyone glum. Discovering Bill’s poems soon after I returned to South Dakota after escaping from the narrow poetic confines of graduate school gave me the courage to write my own poems. I learned, in part from Bill’s writing, to tell my own poetic stories in clear language; to tell some of the complicated, funny stories that characterize real life. So I was feeling down because Bill was no longer part of the world, no longer writing.

Then the sun came out, and Roy Orbison belted out “Pretty Woman” from my car radio, and I pounded my hand on the steering wheel and sang along as usual and I could almost see Bill smile. I was still considering going to his funeral and memorial, to be held in Lincoln, NE, where he lived. Somehow, though, a thousand-mile drive to a funeral thronged with people who have known him for years didn’t seem right. I come from a long line of people uncomfortable showing emotion in public, and though I’ve worked against that in many ways by writing and by reading my work to audiences, some of the reticence prevails. I’m more comfortable writing about what he meant to me.

Describing Bill’s poetry in a way that would convey its joys to someone who has never read it is beyond my skills. But I can quote him and perhaps give a hint.

“Connections: A Toast” begins with “Here’s to the bur oak” beyond his office window, and works its way through toasts to books, to saints, to fine individual moments in his life and a few mentions of baseball, to Rosa Parks and a quotation from ee cummings to Crazy Horse and his supposed last words and Bach and Louis Armstrong and the bird perched in the bur oak:

“trilling with its unsplit tongue, one
steady and diverse and universal song.”

You’ll have to read the poem to get the full effect: pages 96-97, Fielding Imaginary Grounders, Spoon River Poetry Press, 1994. The theme of how, as the Lakota say, “we are all related,” may be universal to poets. (I’ve been working on my own “connections” poem.)

I bought Bill’s Alvin Turner as Farmer in 1974 when it was published by Ted Kooser’s Windflower Press. I probably met Bill and heard him read several years later. The poems I marked in the book concern the difficulties of farming; I was just beginning to write about ranching.

In poem 9 from that book, Alvin Turner tells of shooting rabbits to make nourishing food for his sick baby. After the child dies, he keeps shooting:

“The chamber of my .12 gauge
Like a little throat, coughing.”

In poem 11, he writes that the granary is full, and “the baby is solid as a tractor lug.” In 58, “I snag the strutted leg/ Of the most unmindful chicken,” Bill wrote.

“Now the manure is in bloom,” Alvin says, and “I roam my acreage like a sweet spy.” In 36 he speaks of his wife with her masher, “humbling the potatoes.”

And then in 14, “I love the boys like they were fanbelts. . . And brand new.” These were images I could feel, touch, taste, because they were part of my world too.

In 21, “I watched my father die,
Said yes to his request, and in that single word
Sent all my sinews, like a measurement,’
Around this quarter section.”

My own father made no such request, refusing to leave the ranch to me. But, as Bill wrote in 24:

“I stand alone at the foot
Of my father’s grave,
Trembling to tell:
The door to the granary is open,
Sir, And someone lost the bucket
To the well.”

I’ve often stood at the foot of my own father’s grave and given him reports on the condition of the ranch.

Lately, I’ve appreciated Bill writing about aging as he recorded with brilliance and sensitivity what age feels like. Here’s one of the results:

It's a slow dance, all right,
this business of slipping
from the quick to the numb,
but to be honest with you
it isn't as slow
as I believed forty years ago
it was going to be. I'll confess
what I know of history
is somewhat less than
voluminous-- but I think it was
Jefferson who said that
God shows his mercy
by taking away, one by one,
those passions we stake
our own and others' lives on,
so that when the time comes
we'll not have so much to let
go of.

From We Don't Get Around Much Any More by Bill Kloefkorn, published in The Laurel Review, vol. 30, no. 2 (Summer, 1996).

In the week since Bill died, I’ve been conducting a private memorial, collecting from the retreat house all of his books that I own-- maybe half of the 31 books he wrote and published-- and reading and re-reading, discovering poems I hadn’t remembered, and greeting old friends.

Here’s a fact that may encourage writers who are beginning later in their lives: Bill didn’t start writing poetry until he was 37 years old.


Part II. Highland Park Cemetery

The Sunday after Bill died, Jerry came with me to the Hermosa cemetery to do the annual cleanup, traditionally done the week before Memorial Day. I’ve written about this annual labor for the dead in my poem “Memorial Day,” saying, “They’re just bones to me.” Hoeing at the stubborn alfalfa growing on my grandfather Charles’s grave mound, though, I felt the shock moving up my arm, down the hoe:

“drumming to bones I’ll never see, deep
in the earth, deep inside my flesh.”

I’m now the last of our family to wear the name Hasselstrom, so the upkeep of these graves is my responsibility. Besides the Hasselstrom graves where my grandmother and grandfather lie, I need to care for the graves of their ancestors, and my grandmother’s first husband. In another part of the cemetery lie my mother and father, John and Mildred Hasselstrom, and my husband George Snell. Then there are the graves of Harold and Josephine Hasselstrom, my dad’s childless brother and his wife, buried in Buffalo Gap. My uncle and cousins still care for the grave of my mother’s mother, Cora Belle Hey, in Edgemont, and several uncles and aunts on my mother’s side of the family.

But on Sunday, I focused on the Hermosa dead. At some time, one of the Hasselstrom survivors was moved by inspiration to plant hardy lilacs on the sizable plot; the resilient bushes might survive in the yellow gumbo soil. Now, nearly a hundred years later, the lilacs have inundated not only most of the Hasselstrom grave but also a couple of Kimballs. My father knew the Kimballs, but while we do the right thing, hacking the lilacs away to expose their graves, I don’t remember a single anecdote.

The Hasselstroms weren’t the only ones to underestimate the vigor and buoyancy of lilacs: everywhere in the cemetery the bushes are thriving, washing like a green wave over older graves. Just below the Hasselstroms and the Kimballs, lilac stumps surround a homemade tombstone decorated with chunks of native rock like quartz, bearing the single name DOWNIE, lost for a generation.

My father, when we came to do this work on what he always called Decoration Day, used to say he was “exploring his future.” I’m starting to think about the practicalities of cremation.


Part III. The Rapture

Someone predicted that Saturday, May 21, would be the end of man’s days on earth, the end of the world, the day of what was called “The Rapture.” Wondering what Bill might have written about it, I could see his eyes sparkling at the challenge, the beginnings of a grin. I made a few notes, but nothing that resolved itself into coherency.

Then my brain was flooded with lines from an irreverent chant I first learned on the playground at Hermosa grade school, probably about 1954.

“Did you ever think when a hearse goes by
That you might be the next to die?”

The jingle rattles in my brain for days, the way mindless doggerel always does when you don’t want to remember it at all.

“They wrap you up in a bloody sheet
and bury you about six feet deep.”

The harder I try not to think about the lines, the more of them return to my mind. I can hear the shrill voices of my classmates as we screamed the words at each other.

“You’re okay for about a week
and then your coffin springs a leak.”

I don’t want to remember but I can’t seem to stop myself.

“The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.”

The chorus bubbles along in my brain when I’m visiting the cemetery with my inlaws, when we’re having lunch, when I’m trying to sleep.

“The worms play pinochle on your snout.”

When I wake up in the middle of the night, I can hear those ten-year-old voices warbling,

“They eat your eyes, they eat your nose.”

When I try to say something meaningful about the historic tombstones or the sunny, breezy day, my tongue tries to sabotage me.

“They eat the jelly between your toes.”

Why can’t I rid my brain of that silly rhyme? I sit up in the dark at 2 in the morning, thinking back over the past few days, searching for a reason that I can’t rid myself of the curse. Sometimes this works; once I figure out why I’m sleepless, I can decide on an action, and then sleep.

“A big green worm with rolling eyes
crawls in your stomach and out your eyes.”

The song gets worse. Much worse.

And finally I realize that Bill Kloefkorn is the master of the playground poem, the childhood memory turned into a story that can make the reader laugh or cry.

Though his memories of what he did as a boy in a small town in the middle of the nation differs considerably from what I did as a girl growing up in a rural community and going to school in a town of 100 residents, there are parallels. In his blasphemous, funny way, he memorialized the truth about playgrounds. I don’t recall ever encountering the worm song in any of his poems, but it wouldn’t surprise me to.

In the poem “Prove It” from his book Swallowing the Soap, Bill writes about seeing Bubba Barnes steal a comic book from the rack in the Rexall drugstore. The next day at recess, Bill confronts Bubba with the crime. When Bubba denies it, Bill clearly delighted in the opportunity to write these perfect playground lines:

I don’t have to
prove it, I say.
I know you did it
and you know you
did it. So, he
says, prove it, ass-
eyes. Just prove it.

What a poetic challenge recalling that little ditty has created for me as a writer! And making use of the rhythm of the worm song would add a lilt and a zip to any poem that began with its inspiration.


Part IV. And Rapture

I spent a few-- too few-- evenings with Bill and an assembled company of people interested in words, talking about writing, but I’ve heard him speak and read his poems enough so that I can call up his voice when I read his work. I doubt I will ever forget that voice, that ability to deliver a poem. If Bill Kloefkorn were here this Sunday morning, we might talk about the rapture that didn’t occur yesterday, explore the meaning of the word “rapture,” the ironies of that forecast and its result.

Thinking about rapture without Bill’s help, I turn to my American Heritage Dictionary.

“1. The state of being transported by a lofty emotion,” it says. “Ecstasy.”

And furthermore: “2. An expression of ecstatic feeling. Often used in the plural.”

And finally, “3. The transporting of a person from one place to another, especially to heaven.”

Rapture, 1: ecstacy:

Outside the window, rain falls lightly, and the prairie grass is as green as it ever gets. Twenty black cows graze below the hill, their heads staying down for long minutes as they fill themselves with the vibrant grass, driving winter’s cold out of their bodies. In my garden at Homestead House, the Alaska and Early Perfection peas are four inches tall. The leaves of the Yukon Gold potatoes are just breaking earth. My mouth waters, thinking how, in July or August, I will serve a bowl of new potatoes and peas with lunch.

Rapture, 2: expression of ecstatic feeling:

Star lilies are blooming, their white petals flaring out of the ground, tiny fountains of white silk. Yellow Nuttall’s violets-- my mother called them Johnny Jump-Ups-- wink among the curly buffalograss. Bluebells hang among the stems of the taller redtop, ringing gently with each breeze. Pale blue sky shimmers with sun and birdcalls.

Rapture, 3: transporting, especially to heaven

The air is filled with wings. Common snipes, redwing blackbirds, meadowlarks, sparrows, killdeer-- all are flying, zipping, diving, zooming, snatching bugs out of the air and whizzing back to their nests to feed the demanding nestlings. The bugs fly through the cool spring air, lifted up on gossamer wings to become part of the ecstacy and nourishment of spring surrounding us, raptured as life goes on.

# # #

For more information:
Linda's poem "Memorial Day" may be found in Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom,
Spoon River Poetry Press, 1993.

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Poetry in Daily Life

April 19, 2010

Tags: Poetry, Cowboy Poetry, Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Poet: Badger Clark, Poet Laureate, Family: Father, Family: Mother, Horse Riding, Horse: Rebel, Writer's Almanac

. . .
In 2009, I was asked to write about “poetry in daily life” for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering magazine. This is what I wrote.

The lines of quoted poetry are cited at the end of the essay.

* * *

One sweet mornin’ long ago, my mare and I were trailing cows and calves home from summer pasture near the Badlands, where the sharp crests dream in the sunset gleam.

My father’s green ‘49 Chevy pickup idled in front, while Rebel nipped slow cows on the tail, and I day-dreamed about riding wilder horses after faster cows.

I kin ride the highest liver
‘Tween the Gulf and Powder River


For my twelfth birthday, I’d gotten Sun and Saddle Leather by Badger Clark, South Dakota’s poet laureate and one of the finest cowboy poets ever. I began to hear “The Legend of Boastful Bill” in my head.

So Bill climbed the Northern Fury
And they mangled up the air


While I recited, Rebel twitched an ear, jingling her bridle to the hoofbeat rhythm. By the time the cows ambled home, I’d recalled most of the words. My father didn’t care for Bill’s methods:

I’ll cinch ‘im up and spur ‘im till he’s broke

but he could recite most of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Snowbound.” Mother preferred ballads:

Summer of 'sixty-three, sir, and Conrad was gone away--
Gone to the country town, sir, to sell our first load of hay.


She’d learned “Kentucky Belle” in grade school. When she was 91, we recited it together, tears in our eyes, reminiscing about the past, or, as Badger put it:

Men of the older, gentler soil

Poetry is part of everyone’s daily life. The advertising jingle you can’t get out of your head is someone’s best effort at making you remember. After 25 years, I can still see the blonde driving the pickup with this bumper sticker:

You’ve never lived
until you’ve loved a sheepherder


If you remember a line, it’s likely poetic. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called poetry “the best words in the best order.” Making a living as an itinerant writer, I drive a lot, remembering good lines to force the ads and bad jokes out of my brain.

Over the Springtime plains I ride,
Knee to knee with Spring


Poetry romps me through bleak regions with bad radio stations, keeps me from tuneless singing. With poets as passengers, I’m never alone. Badger reminds me:

I stand here, where the bright skies blaze
over me and the big today.


A day that starts with poetry is better than one without. Online, I often read www.cowboypoetry.com and The Writer’s Almanac. I hate going to town, but when I do, I warble:

We’re the children of the open and we hate the haunts o’men,
But we had to come to town to get the mail.


Badger lived just up the road, and answered my sixth grade letter [oops, I was guessing, because I hadn’t yet found the letter; I was in eighth grade] with encouragement to write, so I can almost hear him chuckle:

And we’re ridin’ home at daybreak--‘cause the air is cooler then--
All ‘cept one of us that stopped behind in jail.


Letters piled on the seat, I hurry home to my real work, declaiming as he did:

“Just a-writin’, a-writin’,
Nothin’ I like half so well
As a-slingin’ ink and English--
if the stuff will only sell.”


* * *

By Linda M. Hasselstrom
First published in the magazine for the 25th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering
Held in Elko, Nevada, January 24 - 31, 2009.

# # #

Quotations in the essay:

One sweet mornin’ long ago,
-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

the sharp crests dream in the sunset gleam.
-- from "The Bad Lands" (Badger Clark)

I kin ride the highest liver
‘Tween the Gulf and Powder River

-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

So Bill climbed the Northern Fury
And they mangled up the air

-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

I’ll cinch ‘im up and spur ‘im till he’s broke
-- from "The Legend of Boastful Bill" (Badger Clark)

Summer of 'sixty-three, sir, and Conrad was gone away--
Gone to the country town, sir, to sell our first load of hay.

-- from "Kentucky Belle" (Constance Fenimore Woolson)

Men of the older, gentler soil
-- from "The Plainsmen" (Badger Clark)

Over the Springtime plains I ride,
Knee to knee with Spring

-- from "The Springtime Plains" (Badger Clark)

I stand here, where the bright skies blaze
over me and the big today.

-- from "The Westerner" (Badger Clark)

We’re the children of the open and we hate the haunts o’men,
But we had to come to town to get the mail.

-- from "From Town" (Badger Clark)

And we’re ridin’ home at daybreak--‘cause the air is cooler then--
All ‘cept one of us that stopped behind in jail.

-- from "From Town" (Badger Clark)

“Just a-writin’, a-writin’,
Nothin’ I like half so well
As a-slingin’ ink and English--
if the stuff will only sell.”

-- inscribed by Badger Clark on a copy of Sun and Saddle Leather, and quoted in the Preface to the 1952 edition, written by “R.H., who is not identified in the book.”

# # #

For more information:

See my other blog posting about my childhood correspondence with Badger Clark ("My Brush with Fame: Badger Clark").

Western Folklife's website for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

The Badger Clark Memorial Society's website

Cowboy Poetry Website page dedicated to Badger Clark

Website for The Writer's Almanac
Garrison Keillor recounts the highlights of this day in poetic history and posts a short poem or two.

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My Brush with Fame: Badger Clark

April 5, 2010

Tags: Brush with Fame, Poet: Badger Clark, Family: Mother, Family: Grandmother, Family: Father, Cattle, Horse Riding, Public Appearance, Hermosa School, Custer County 1881 Courthouse Museum

. . .
My contact with Badger Clark was brief and by letter, but his influence on my life has been huge. I may have first encountered his poetry in the Custer County Chronicle newspaper where it regularly appeared during my childhood. My mother gave me my first copy of Sun and Saddle Leather in 1955, probably for my twelfth birthday. My first copy of Sky Lines and Wood Smoke is number 252 of 1000 from the numbered edition of 1958, and I believe my grandmother Cora Belle Hey gave it to me.

To memorize Clark’s poems, I practiced reciting them while moving cows to pasture. I’d read a particular poem two or three times before starting the ride. The rhythms-- iambic pentameter-- fit perfectly with the movement of the horse, and feeling that rhythm could sometimes help me find the line I was searching for in my brain. On days when the cows were slow, my father probably heard me bawling, “At a roundup on the Gily one sweet morning long ago” to make them move. A few years ago I was present when Paul Zarzysky momentarily froze while reciting that poem, Badger’s popular “The Legend of Boastful Bill” in front of a crowd in New York City; I was proud to be able to bellow the line to him.

I also recited several of Badger’s poems in declamation contests; my favorite, which I discovered still lurking in my brain and recited at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, a few years ago, might be “The Westerner.”

It begins,
My fathers sleep on the sunrise plains
and each one sleeps alone.
Their trails may dim to the grass and rains,
For I choose to make my own.


Mumbling this poem under my breath at key points in my life has helped me make my own trail.

Another of my favorites is “The Plainsmen,” (Men of the older, gentler soil,/ Loving the things that their fathers wrought) or maybe “From Town” (We’re the children of the open/ and we hate the haunts of men.) Of course, his most popular and best-known poem, “The Cowboy’s Prayer,” is often reproduced on place mats, t-shirts, mugs, and funeral programs as having been written by “anonymous.” This happened even during Clark’s lifetime, and he was philosophical about it.

Why was I writing to Badger Clark? From a reference in his letter, after much brain-cudgeling, I concluded I wasn’t merely writing as a fan. I believe that the seventh and eighth grade students of Hermosa Grade School, under the direction of Mrs. Anna Tubbs, put together a historical project in 1957. We interviewed older residents of the communities around Hermosa, recorded their stories, and made a scrapbook. We dedicated that scrapbook to Badger Clark, and made plans for the class to visit him. (In an effort to locate the original, I’ve now volunteered to catalog some collected documents at the Custer County 1881 Courthouse Museum.)

Here’s Badger Clark’s letter, postmarked Custer, SD, Feb. 7, 1957 2 p.m., and typed on a manual typewriter on paper with a simple letterhead:

* * *

Badger Clark
Custer South Dakota

9 February, 1957 [yes, for whatever reason, it's dated after the postmark]

Dear Linda,
Thank you very much for the honors you confer upon me by dedicating your scrapbook to me. It is hard for me to realize that I am becoming an old-timer, though not a pioneer. For so many years I have looked to older men as old-timers but now, all of a sudden, those men are gone and there seems to be nobody left but men younger than I. It is a strange feeling and someday, a long way ahead, I hope, you will experience it.

As I have written Mrs. Tubbs, I have no speaking engagements this spring and you are free to set your own date, but, as I told her, with a big crowd and a small cabin, it might be well to put it in April or May when, with good luck the weather will be warm enough for the party to spread out on the porch. I’ve entertained as many as twenty-five young people here in the house, but that’s about the limit. If you want to have a lunch and roast wieners, I have both a range and a fireplace.

Last, I want to congratulate you on being able to express yourself on paper. Writing and reading are both neglected arts in these days. The other day I heard of an eighth-grade boy, writing some sort of an exercise for school, who had to ask his mother how to spell “catch.” And every now and then I get a letter from a college graduate which contains misspelled words or bad grammar, or both. It is a pleasure to get a letter like yours.

Good Luck.

Badger Clark

* * *

Apparently my class was not able to visit him that spring, because his second communication to me is a 2-cent postcard postmarked 2 p.m. April 26, 1957.

* * *

Badger Hole, 25 April.

Dear Linda: I shall be away for nine or ten days during the first half of May and in fact it is hard for me to know just what days I shall be at home during the month. This is my busy season, you know-- commencements and the like, and I expect the last month of school will bring various special occasions for you. As it is so late, I believe we had better postpone our party until after school begins in the fall. The weather will be more dependable then, for one thing. That may look like a long time to you, but when you’re my age, you’ll know it ain’t, it ain’t, it ain’t!

B.C.

* * *

Badger Clark died that fall, September 26, 1957, at age 74.

. . .

Last summer, I was asked to record some of my thoughts about Hermosa history for the Hermosa Arts and History Association; I am, I realized, one of the older residents able to do so. And just as Badger predicted, while the date of these events may seem to be a long time ago, “it ain’t, it ain’t, it ain’t!”

# # #

For more information:

The Badger Clark Memorial Society's website
Find information on Badger Clark and his work, purchase copies of his books, and learn about visiting The Badger Hole, his cabin in Custer State Park.

Cowboy Poetry Website page dedicated to Badger Clark
This page includes a huge treasure trove of information about Badger Clark, including some of his poetry, an introduction to the 1922 edition of Sun and Saddle Leather, information about recordings of cowboy poets reciting Badger’s work and musicians who have set it to music, and much, much more. The site even includes my report on the first annual workshop in his honor I taught in 2006, with photos of The Badger Hole, and information on the movie about him, Mountain Thunder.


Resources include:

Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark
Edited by Greg Scott, published (2005) by Cowboy Miner Productions. This book (432 pages) includes all of Badger Clark's short stories; poetry, including more than two dozen previously unpublished or long out-of-print poems; essays; letters; and photos.

As of 2010, the Cowboy Miner Productions website is no longer active. For more information on this book:
Cowboy Poetry website's page for Greg Scott's book

For my review of this book:
Cowboy Poetry website's book review by Linda M. Hasselstrom

I am fortunate to have a copy of the first, 1935 edition of the Sky Lines and Wood Smoke, printed at “The Chronicle Shop” in Custer and copyrighted by Francis Case. I also have The Badger Clark Story, published in 1960 and now out of print, by Helen F. Morganti, a formidable newspaper woman and writer whom I knew slightly when I lived in Deadwood. I’m told this is available for $8 postpaid (quantity discounts available) from Black Hills Books & Treasures, 112 S. Chicago Street, Hot Springs, SD 57747 605-745-5545.

Also in my collection, and still available, is Jessie Y. Sundstrom’s Badger Clark, Cowboy Poet With Universal Appeal. $12.45, postpaid. Make checks payable to Jessie Y. Sundstrom and send to send to: The Badger Clark Memorial Society, Box 351, Custer, SD 57730-0351. This book (about 65 pages) includes much personal history for Badger Clark, three poems, photos, and a bibliography.

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