An Index to the Website
may be found by clicking here.



New WordPress Blog!

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



In This Town Youíre Still Alive

January 27, 2013

Tags: Spearfish SD, Family: George, My Poem: In This Town Youíre Still Alive, Poetry

The park in Spearfish, South Dakota

. . .
When Tam and I were in Spearfish for Gaydell Collier's memorial services, I showed her some of the places that were special to me and to George when we lived there. We drove by his "little green house"-- which has now been remodeled into a much larger and more modern home-- and along the creek and pond below it, now cleared to make a lovely park.

Here's a poem I've been working on for several years about an experience I had the last time I did a workshop in Spearfish.


In This Town Youíre Still Alive

You liked to walk down
from our little green house
to this mountain creek,
followed in parade
by Loki the white poodle,
the black cats Janet and Jacob.
Youíd lean against a tree
in sunlight, watching as the cats
pawed sparkling water.
Someone poisoned the dog;
the cats vanished.
We moved away.
You died.

Years passed. Today I walked
by that water at sunrise.
Two ducks slid into an eddy,
paddled in place. I found the treeís
stump, its heart a dark hollow
filled with snow crystals.
Leaning there, I watched
the water sparkle
downstream.

Just now as I waited
for a green light
you drove an old blue pickup
through the intersection
just ahead of me.
A red headband held back
your gray hair. The earring
you always wore flashed light.
Two black Labs leaned against
each other in the back.

Maybe the part of me
that died with you
is here as well: just enough
to keep you company in this town
where we were young and loving.
I wash your shirts, write poetry;
you carve wood, build a chair.
Each evening we drink beer
on the porch of a small house,
while the stream passes.
Just enough.

* * *


Poem copyright 2013, Linda M. Hasselstrom

# # #

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Mother's Day

May 8, 2011

Tags: Mother's Day, Gardening, Family: Mother, Family: Grandmother, Family: George, Family: Jerry

Linda's grandmother, Cora Belle Hey and mother, Mildred Hasselstrom, in Hermosa, 1978.
. . .
Iíve spent this Motherís Day very pleasantly. I did some laundry, made a huge pot of green chile, read a bit, and wrote a bit. And I planted nasturtium seeds among the radishes and lettuce in the herb garden. I also moved a few plants into my rock garden, decorating it with shells and rocks and other objects Iíve picked up here and there on my walks for years. A dozen bright aqua insulators from the old telephone poles wind like a stream through the sandstone, agate, quartz and other stones.

Seeing the sand dollars and other shells I picked up on beaches in Manzanita, in Maine and in Scotland, a spoon George carved from bone in a bowl Jerry carved from a pine burl, all brought back good memories that flowed through the warm spring air like the songs of the blackbirds and meadowlarks.

Wherever I was during the past few days, I have wished a ďHappy Motherís DayĒ to every women older than I am that I encountered. Several of them sounded surprised as they said ďThank you!Ē

Many women, on this day, have been presented with corsages and cards, taken to dinner, saluted with roses or carnations in church or in restaurants, and in various ways remembered and thanked for giving birth. I, too, have been remembering my mother, who died in 2001, my grandmother (the only one I ever met) Cora Belle Hey, and various women who treated me as well and taught me as much as any mother could have. Then, too, Iíve been remembering my four step-children, and the joys of sharing their lives.

And Iíve been thinking about all we women who, for one reason or another, are not mothers. The reasons vary. Some of us chose not to have children for a variety of reasons: because there are too many people on the planet; because we believed we might have important work to do; because we believed we would not be good mothers. Some of us tried and failed. Some of us have lost children at various stages of their lives, from conception to adulthood.

Iím not suggesting that we declare a Step-Motherís Day, or Bereaved Motherís Day. Just donít forget that weíre here too, and we have made contributions to the world in other ways.

# # #

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O Holy Night on the Prairie: Remembering John Lennon and Others

December 8, 2010

Tags: John Lennon, My Book: Land Circle, Family: George, Family: Mike, Badlands, Black Hills, Cattle, Ranch: Chores, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Fireworks, Ranch: Description, Ranch: Wildlife, Silas Lester House

. . .
Driving to town today to have the stitches removed from another operation for squamous cell skin cancer, I was reflecting on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor day on December 7. And then the announcer noted that December 8 is the 30th anniversary of John Lennonís death, and I remembered observing a moment of silence for him on the first anniversary of the shooting. Thirty years: George and I had been married a year and were happily settling into our lives on the ranch.

Here is an excerpt from my book Land Circle mentioning that first anniversary, 29 years ago.


O Holy Night on the Prairie

Folks who are used to bustling, fur-wrapped shoppers and greenery hung with lights would see the wide prairie that stretches in front of me as a bleak place to spend Christmas. The grass is a mountain lion pelt-- not one color, but gold, fawn, red, brown, and colors for which no name exists-- blended into each other over the rolling hills. A few limestone outcroppings studded with pale green lichen, and a scatter of white and granite-gray boulders decorate the scene; there are no trees, no green, cone-shaped evergreens that mean Christmas to many. In the deeper gullies, an occasional bare cottonwood shows a white, lightning-stripped trunk against the grass; buffalo berry and plum bushes stand naked in narrow crevices beside ground-hugging juniper bushes blending green and bronze.

In the eastern distance are the Badlands, pink, gray and blue spires a finger's width above the horizon, made higher this morning by mirage which is rapidly spreading, to disappear as the sun comes up dull gold. To the west rise the Black Hills, a handsbreadth of tree-covered hills, rising in five distinct ranges and glowing blue in the morning light.

Here, while Christmas songs play on the pickup radio, I see nothing at all to remind me of the season. The grass is short, because we graze these distant pastures in summer, and bring the cattle closer to home in winter. I am making a last survey, picking up salt blocks and fence panels, to be sure gates are closed against the neighbor's buffalo. When I turn homeward today, I will be shutting the door on this part of the ranch until spring, when we'll bring cows and young calves here to graze through the summer.

A coyote slips down a draw, glancing back over his shoulder. Except for his quick movement, a flash of white at his throat and a nearly-black ridge on his spine and tail, he would be invisible against the grass. My eye catches movement again, and I turn to see thirty antelope run over a hill, white rump-patches flashing. One pauses, silhouetted against the sun.

The gray limestone of Silas Lester's house has descended a little more toward the ground this year; the blank windows look like half-shut eyes. The house was never finished; dry years came, and Silas sold his land for two dollars an acre to my grandfather, who took the risk and stayed. The spring Silas found and enlarged still runs gently from the hillside, into a tank George and I dug into the hillside and covered with wood chips to keep the water from freezing. I open the gate to it, so the wild animals can safely drink, and leave a few chips of salt nearby; a really thrifty rancher would take them home to the calves, but I like to think of the antelope and smaller creatures-- porcupines, skunks, mice-- enjoying the rare treat of salt this winter.

Another year has passed. Some years George and I made this final trip in deep snow, laughing as the pickup plunged into a drift, apprehensive when it dropped too deep and the tires spun. We've shared picnics here under the talking leaves of the cottonwoods in summer, shoveled together when the pickup was stuck in winter. Feeling a little foolish, we shut off the motor and observed a worldwide moment of silence in honor of John Lennon a few years ago, then sang his songs on the way home, and didn't feel foolish at all.

The chores we did together I now do alone. The Christmas songs on the radio mean the solstice is near, when the days will almost imperceptibly begin to lengthen. Now the sun has risen far south; it will make a shallow arc in the southern sky all day, and the moon will shine in the south windows of the bedroom tonight.

We started a tradition a few years ago, when Michael came in a dry summer with a trunkload of fireworks; it was too dry to shoot them then, so we saved them for his winter visit, and fired them on New Year's Eve. Last year, I did it alone; this year, I may invite friends to share the ritual. On Christmas Eve I will join my cousin and his wife and their children, one my godson, in church. I attended the same church when I was five years old, and my mother sang in the choir. It's famous for its massive organ, and as the tones swell into the familiar "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful," I-- who have been anything but a faithful churchgoer-- will find myself in tears. The organ tones express to me the largeness of the land, rising over the small minds and bodies of the people who live upon it.

Slowly, as Christmas passes, snow falls, grouse mate with bell-like calls in the winter night stillness, the days will grow warmer, and spring will come. If we get spring rains-- which have not come for three years-- the tawny grass will show a hint of green at the roots in April and by June the hills will be rich with new life.

"I believe in the Israelite," sings a low voice on the radio, backed by the sound of bells, and I wonder. Surely no one who sees the seasons turn as I do, who observes the prairie's stillness in this season of rest, and the inevitable coming of spring life, summer's lushness, the harvests of fall, and the chill of winter again and again, can fail to believe that all is arranged as it should be. That no matter how great are our personal sorrows, the world is proceeding in an orderly fashion. That we are all part of a great cycle, and our job is to help the earth in its turning, to keep it pure and beautiful and clean for those who will surely come after us.

# # #

Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land was published in 1991 by Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado.
This essay appears on pages 171-173 in the original edition, and on pages 191-194 in the Anniversary edition of 2008.

For more information:
Read all about my book Land Circle on this website page.

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Never Discard a Written Draft, or Finding Metaphor in Harvest

September 29, 2010

Tags: My Book: Roadkill, My Book: Bitter Creek Junction, My Poem: Clara in the Post Office, My Book: Dakota Bones, Poetry, Writer's Almanac, Writing Suggestions, Draft of Writing, Journals, Gardening, Herbs, Food Dehydrator, Family: George, Zucchini, Tomatoes

Tomatoes on the food dryer.
. . .
Several people have just written emails to tell me that this morning, September 29, Garrison Keillor read an old poem of mine, ďClara: In the Post Office,Ē on Writerís Almanac. I got to hear him the first time he read the poem, not long after my book of poems Roadkill was published; I believe this may be the third time heís read it, so itís good to know he likes it. Iím sorry that the ďbuy nowĒ link on his website leads only to Amazon.com, but at least readers will see the titles of many of my books. And I was inspired this time to send him a copy of a newer book of poetry, Bitter Creek Junction, hoping that he might like something a bit more recent.

All this fits in with what I was thinking this morning about the value of saving drafts of everything you write. While Keillor was reading an old poem of mine that still inspires him, I was crumbling some oregano I dried in 2007, putting it into a jar to put in my kitchen spice rack. The oregano smells strong and fresh, much better than anything I might purchase-- and probably was harvested more recently.

In the spring of 2008, we moved back to the ranch, so my oregano was newly started. I harvested some in 2009, but not much, allowing the plants to grow and become more vigorous. Now they are not only strong in their first location, but Iíve moved them to an herb garden, so I should be able to harvest a lot next year-- but I still have a jar or two of the 2007 left, so I wonít have to buy any.

I planned ahead for this hiatus of herb harvest: my herbs in Cheyenne were vigorous, and I knew we were moving, so I spent a lot of the fall of 2007 cutting stems and hanging the plants from the curtain rods in my sewing room in the old house, where they received considerable heat during the long fall days. I planned ahead, and am reaping the rewards.

Writing doesnít always allow me to plan ahead, but it has taught me to save, so I can see a metaphor here. My journal goes with me everywhere, and I am constantly taking notes. I donít always know what those notes will become in my writing. Maybe they will be nothing, just notes taken about something I was doing or thinking. But sometimes, I find that a thought leads me back to notes taken on a particular day, and I draw details out that become a poem, or a paragraph in an essay.

In the same way, I dried that oregano in 2007 not knowing what it would become, but knowing Iíd use it. This morning I added some to tomato sauce I am making from some tomatoes that have been ripening in the basement since I thought we were going to have a frost a week or so ago. (Meanwhile, on the plants, more tomatoes are ripening; the thermometer has dropped to 38 degrees, but no lower.) The food dryer was built by my husband George using plans purchased from Living Foods Dehydrators (he built the food dryer long before they had their DryIt.com website!). Made of plywood and plastic screen suitable for food preparation, it is heated by 4 lightbulbs wired so they can be switched on individually to adjust the heat.

Today Iím also drying zucchini; a friend gave me more than we can use fresh. I sliced them evenly, arranged them on several wire trays in the dryer, and switched on all 4 light bulbs. The temperature outside is a cool 62 degrees, so I moved the sliding top of the dryer almost closed, and keep checking the thermometer on the top shelf. I like to keep the temperature between 90 and 110 degrees for most-efficient drying. The dried chips will be great for winter snacking, or I can add them to soups and stews.

Besides making several gallons of tomato sauce, Iíve dried pounds and pounds of tomatoes, though they are a little trickier than many vegetables because of their high moisture content. I slice them as thin as I can, laying the slices on an old oven grill over a bowl in the sink, so some juice drips out of the slices. I catch the juice in a bowl and drink it or use it in soup.

Then I spray the screened trays with oil, or lay sheets of Teflon paper (available from Living Foods Dehydrators) on the trays, alternating sides to improve air circulation. Iíve found that the tomatoes donít darken if I donít put them on the bottom two trays. I keep the temperature high for a day or two, sometimes three. Some folks season the tomatoes with spices or salt. (The book Dry It Youíll Like It, also available at DryIt.com, offers good information on drying practically anything.)

Our dry climate certainly helps the dehydration process, though since the food dryer is close to my washing machine, I usually avoid hanging wet clothes on the indoor clothesline while Iím using the food dryer. The finished slices taste intensely of tomato, and look like stained glass.

Iíll confess to not liking any incarnation of green tomatoes Iíve ever tried, and I do believe Iíve tried them all. Instead, I ripen tomatoes on the vine or in newspaper-lined boxes in the basement. When I find tomatoes too grasshopper-gnawed or damaged to use, I toss them into the compost. So not a tomato is wasted.

Similarly-- back to that metaphor Iím working on-- I often look into my poem draft binder and find a fragment of a poem that didnít work. But because I havenít thrown it away, I can look at it again. Sometimes my attitude has changed, or Iíve gotten more information; I can often resume work on an idea that may be years old, and nurture it into completion.

# # #

For more information:

Website for The Writer's Almanac to read my poem "Clara: In the Post Office."

Although my book Roadkill is now out of print, "Clara" may be found in my book
Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom

Living Foods Dehydrators website www.DryIt.com

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Birthday Week (Complete with footnotes!)

July 18, 2010

Tags: Birthday, Family: Jerry, Family: George, Black Hills, Waterfalls, Cattle, Gardening, My Book: No Place Like Home, Friend: Suzan

. . .
I was not feeling well on my actual birthday. (1)

But Jerry and I went for a lovely drive: up to Roughlock Falls, where we enjoyed a picnic, and then walked the fenced sidewalks to look, with hordes of other tourists, down at the falls. As is my habit when visiting the Falls, I explained to Jerry (quietly, so no one else could hear) how George had showed me how to walk behind the falls the first and every time we visited there. (2)

We sat on the benches at the top of the falls, feeling the spray on our faces, while Jerry smoked a cigar. I watched people arrive, peer over the edge for 30 seconds, and leave. Some took pictures. The longest anyone spent looking at the falls was less than a minute.

Back in the car, we drove for several more hours on well-maintained gravel roads, looking at the cows grazing on the national forest, mostly alone with our thoughts and the scenery. Sometime during the drive, I began to explain to Jerry my concept of the Birthday Week.

I believe this to be a unique idea (3), based on the fact that age encourages us to a deliberation in our actions. We are not merely slow because we canít move faster; no, we are often contemplating the feeling of every move, what it will mean to our bodies. Perhaps we are remembering past experiences. Hmm. That leap hurt. I wonder if it will hurt that much if I do it again. I used to be able to jump that far a hundred times a day.

In order to properly celebrate an important milestone such as a birthday, particularly after more than six decades of birthdays. one cannot be limited to a mere 24 hours, or the much shorter span of twelve hours during which most of us are awake. Even the twelve hours is frequently interrupted by a nap or two, so our time to celebrate our natal day becomes even more brief.

In addition, of course, few of us in our sixties are willing to celebrate quite as vigorously as we did at younger ages. I like to do something special, see friends, call more friends, dine well, open gifts-- far too much excitement and activity for a single day.

For that reason, then, Iíve begun to introduce the concept of a Birthday Week. You will notice that the week of my birthday was tentatively blocked on the list of "Available Retreat Dates," so we would schedule no retreats during that time. Weíd planned a more extensive trip, but when that didnít work out, I chose to celebrate in smaller increments.

The drive on my actual birthday was terrific, a restful day of enjoying the Black Hills at its most beautiful and serene, since it was a week day. I wasnít feeling well enough for much dinner, but managed to scrape up the energy to open a lovely collection of presents. (Among other things, Tamara gave me potting soil, walls of water, and mystery books; Jerry gave me tomato cages and 8 pounds of salt water taffy. Jerryís folks gave me a gift certificate to a gardening catalog: do you see a theme?) I spent the day after my birthday quietly but the sense of relaxation allowed me to search some storage and finally find the letters Badger Clark wrote to me in 1957; more on that in a later blog.

Then on the third day of birthday week, I called a friend my age and we chatted for an hour about our lives, including recalling our friend Winston. Her father raised Winston, a beautiful Hereford bull, on his ranch near Newcastle, WY, and his children rode the bull the whole time he was growing up. By the time my father bought Winston, he was a massive breeding machine, with the white curly face and immense circle of horns that mark a true Hereford. I loved taking my friends to the corral to see him, and then casually climbing on and riding him around. Naturally, like the self-centered little monster I was, I allowed my playmates to think I was responsible for the bullís kindness, but his innate Hereford gentleness kept him calm.

That afternoon, Jerry and I continued our policy of getting acquainted with the near neighborhood and I took him to see the Norbeck Information Center in Custer State Park, an incredible building created by the Civilian Conservation Corps out of native rock and ponderosa pine. We dropped into Coolidge Inn, and I signed copies of my books for sale there, though the clerk was not at all sure I should. Then we dined at the Game Lodge. Sadly, the kitchen couldnít manage to cook my buffalo steak the way I wanted it, so Jerry ate most of it.

On my fourth day of birthday week, I went to 4 garage sales and an auction/estate sale, spent $1.36 and acquired enough pots and peat pots to fill my greenhouse needs, possibly forever. Then I had lunch with good friends and lots of laughter, and sat in on a private showing of the recent paintings of my good friend Tom Thorson.

As the sun was casting long shadows, a UPS truck roared up the driveway bringing the complimentary copies of the newly-issued paperback edition of No Place Like Home. The cover has been made darker and more dramatic, the spine is a prairie-sky blue that makes the title stand out, and the back cover features my photograph plus the usual collection of great things said about the book. In this case the quotations are from Judy Blunt (whose book Breaking Clean is great writing about ranching) and Booklist.

To top off the day, we got a cooling trace of rain. Now, on the fifth day of my birthday week, Iím going to till the garden; celebrating my birth also means proving I can still do some of the work I love. I plan to call another old friend today for a long chat, and have lunch with a high school classmate next week, just before my birthday week officially ends.

I might note that oneís endurance also builds as one ages, so a week of celebrating a birthday becomes possible. One does not, however, celebrate with the excessive consumption we might have achieved in our younger days.

Calm, quiet delight in living is the theme. May you all experience the same, aging happily.

++--++--++--++--++

Footnotes to Birthday Week:

(1) I have reluctantly concluded that the reason for the illness might be because I ate a large quantity of raw red onion in a tuna salad sandwich the day before. The discovery that eating something in particular causes heartburn and a sleepless night is one of those things about aging that nobody ever mentions when we are young. I now know why some of my relatives wore those twisted smiles when I chomped onto a hamburger with raw onions when I was about nine.

(2) I wonít detail the technique of going behind the falls here, lest I encourage some reading daredevil to do it and draw down some official wrath on their heads. A few people walking under the falls didnít seem to hurt the falls much, but if one person were seen to do it, others would surely follow and someone might get hurt. George and I were doing this before Political Correctness started trying to make it illegal to do dangerous things. And it wasnít really very dangerous. Standing under the falls, out of sight of all but the most alert observers above, was incredible. Leaning back against the damp walls, I could feel the thunder of the water pouring over the edge above us, feel the chill of centuries in the wet sand under my feet. I know I started a poem about it, but donít believe Iíve ever finished it. I'm glad to have had the experience and perhaps enjoy the fact that few others will.

(3) I thought Iíd invented the birthday week until I received my annual birthday call from my friend Suzan, who has been my friend for about 50 years. "Humph!" she said. "Iíve been doing that for years. Birthday Eve, Birthday Week. Lately Iím plugging for a Birthday Month!"

# # #

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Wild Onions on the Roof

June 5, 2010

Tags: Great Plains Garden, Friend: Cindy Reed, Wild Onions, Death Camas, Teaching, Family: George, Rendezvous

. . .
The Great Plains Native Plant Society hosts the Claude Barr Memorial Great Plains Garden on part of my ranch. The visitor center, currently under construction, is a reconstructed log cabin moved from its original site some miles east of here. The roof is "gumbo"-- a thick clay natural to this area, that sets up almost like concrete.

In her early-June, 2010, report to members, Cindy Reed, president of the GPNPS wrote: "I could see that some struggling weeds had sprouted on our roof, so I went up the ladder and began pulling them. There are many wild onions . . . delivered in the gumbo last fall. I left the onions, but removed the beggar ticks and such, in the fear that in the usual manner of such annuals, they would respond to their dry lives on the roof by producing as many seeds as they could even if they themselves are only the smallest of plants. Depauperate is the word. The onions don't appear depauperate, or at least not yet-- they don't have much for a root system, so it will be interesting to see if they survive."

I particularly like the fact that the wild onions are sprouting on the roof. I used to earn the ire of the buckskinning mothers at Rendezvous because when their kids followed me around camp, I'd teach them how to tell death camas from wild onions by eating some-- and send them home stinking.

The teaching evolved by accident. When I took the solitary walks I enjoyed, carrying my journal and camera, I would often be followed by children who wanted to know WHY I was looking at the plants, WHY I was writing, WHY that plant looked like that, WHY the bear had scratched that tree. And they'd been warned by their parents not to eat death camas, but they weren't sure why, or what it looked like. So I showed them that death camas and wild onions do look a lot alike. Just looking might not be enough to distinguish them, but a wild onion crushed in your fingers smells and tastes like super-powered onions. Death camas just smells like a crushed green plant.

Once they knew, they'd delightedly pick wild onions to take home to their mothers for stew, and eat a few on the way. Some of the mothers were horrified; even brushing their teeth didn't get rid of the smell-- it oozed out their pores for days. And of course the kids were thrilled to know something the old mountain men knew.

In commemoration of that lesson, one of those kids later planted a wild onion from the Big Horn Mountains on George's grave.

# # #

For more information:

The Rendezvous Page on this website

The Great Plains Garden Page on this website

Great Plains Native Plant Society website

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My Brush with Fame: Charlton Heston

February 2, 2010

Tags: Family: George, Family: Mike, Rendezvous, Brush with Fame, Charlton Heston

. . .
When Charlton Heston's party arrived in the La Veta buckskinning camp to publicize his new movie The Mountain Men (made in 1980), armed dog soldiers (campers who served as voluntary police, just as they did in plains Indian tribes) stopped the retinue at the entrance. George returned from the gate a few minutes later shaking his head. "Dog soldiers won't let them in without authentic attire. Have we got some extra clothes to loan them?"

Shortly, Heston strolled into camp wearing his clean buckskin costume from the movie, looking like a beginner. Lines of dusty men in skins black with the grease of a hundred fires hooted and guffawed, repeating legends about men who divorced wives who washed their leathers.

Behind Heston, smiling feebly, came his crew. One woman wore my skirt with her own off-the-shoulder blouse while another had belted George's shirt for a very short-- and historically inaccurate-- dress. Several men had pulled borrowed leather pants over shorts but were wearing flip-flops or sandals. Everywhere, camera lenses three feet long poked out among the mismatched clothes and fringe.

That summer George's son, Mike, was thirteen and a mirror of every sullen teenager I'd known. We'd grown testy about his behavior in another camp earlier in the summer. On the rare occasions when Mike showed up for meals, he gobbled dumbly and departed. If I mentioned firewood, he glared, lower lip pushed so far out I giggled until he stalked off. In daylight, we might spy him in a lump of other gawky juveniles trailing slim girls in buckskins around camp. He usually crawled into his bed roll after we were asleep. We tried to tell ourselves we didnít smell liquor on his breath.

But when the dog soldiers summoned everyone to the central fire to welcome Heston to camp, Mike materialized, grabbing my sleeve. "Charlton Heston! Can you take his picture for me? Pleasepleaseplease? I'll give you anything."

Fired by the zeal of every mother whose teenager actually speaks to her, I plunged into the crowd, butting elderly women and trampling toddlers. In the center, I braced myself against the jostling herd and craned my neck, looking for Heston. A man so tall I couldn't even see over his leather-covered shoulder pushed me aside.

"Hey!" I yelped, trying to push him back. "Out of my way! I've got to get a picture of Charlton Heston for my son."

A voice behind my ear murmured, "Tell him to turn sideways; you can look through his ears."

The man in front of me turned and said quietly, "Pay no attention to my son. And my apologies, ma'am." Charlton Heston-- yes, Iíd yelled at the actor himself-- took my arm and pulled me up beside him. "Now, son,Ē he said, handing my camera to the man who had spoken in my ear, ďtake a picture for the lady. "

Just then, Crazy Bear, one of the campers who had been most antagonistic to Hestonís visiting camp, interrupted the formal ceremony, insisting the actor sample a ceremonial stew. When Heston dipped his knife into the pot, he lifted out an old moccasin. Other rendezvous folks surrounded Crazy Bear and dragged him aside; Heston merely smiled at the insult.

Oh, and I was out of film. No, I didnít get a photograph of Charlton Heston.

That afternoon, the movie folks erected a screen in some trees near camp so that we could watch Heston's movie from the comfort of our camp. It promptly blew down.

Heston rented the La Veta drive-in, announcing that all buckskinners would watch the movie for free. Approximately five thousand people stampeded through the dust to the parking lot and drove, whooping and hollering out the windows, to the outskirts of town. Boisterous souls set the mood, firing black powder and blanks.

As vehicles with old flags and mink hides flying from the antennas pulled into neat rows at the theater, cars full of local families roared away, spraying gravel.

Dozens of us ran for the refreshment stand to beat the crowd. When we pushed through the door, the teenage crew behind the counter stopped giggling and flattened themselves against the back wall, faces pale. As soon as we started ordering junk food, though, they realized we were only human.

We enjoyed the movie immensely, though we gleefully spotted plenty of anachronisms and inaccuracies. When one of the characters uttered good lines, the audienceís ki-yiiiiii, wolf howls, and guns could no doubt be heard all over town. When we spotted vapor trails or power lines in the background of scenes, we groaned and honked our horns.

Several police cars cruised by during the film, and when we left, a couple of them were parked casually beside the road into town, as if to ensure that we turned toward camp.

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For more information:

The Rendezvous Page on this website

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