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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.
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.
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.
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.
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"
To see Linda read her poem "Make a Hand"
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.
# # #
click here to send an e-mail message to Linda.
If this link does not work-- some web-browsers are incompatible or perhaps your computer is blocking pop-ups-- copy and paste this email address into your email system:
or send Linda a letter:
Linda M. Hasselstrom
PO Box 169
Hermosa SD 57744
August 27, 2013
Hollyhock Dolls made by Linda, August 2013.
. . .
I've always thought of hollyhocks as a settlers' or pioneers' flower-- without any particular evidence except having seen hollyhocks, along with hardy roses, growing beside shallow holes that may indicate the cellar of an early-day home. I surmise they were popular because they grow easily but I've also read that the stems can be used as firewood.
To my utter delight, I've just learned that the hollyhock was one of the first plants brought to the new world. I intuited those pioneer women planting!
In deference to the women who planted hollyhocks on this prairie, I've tucked seeds into likely spots around the retreat house, Homestead House, and into the stony ground on all four sides of my Windbreak House since moving back to the ranch. Most years, they have done well on the north, east and south, but very few grew on the western side of Windbreak House, blasted by the afternoon sun. But this year the western seeds received extraordinary rain, so the older hollyhocks some on the west side have nearly reached the deck railing.
When I lived in Cheyenne, I spent fifteen years making our corner parkway a display spot for native species, growing as many varieties as I could of flowering plants adapted to the arid climate. I wanted to demonstrate to other residents that their yards could be beautiful without pouring expensive city water into the ground.
So I grew purple coneflower, gaillardia, bee balm, several cacti, columbine, evening primrose and Shasta daisies. I planted Jerusalem cross, chamomile, oxalis, currant, lamb’s ear, lupine, flax, rose mallow, delphinium, snapdragons, penstemon, sweet peas, Siberian iris, wild flags, hyacinths and crocus. I grew butter and eggs, salpiglossis, myrtle, Centaurea, buffalo gourd, plains coreopsis, common sunrose, low poppy mallow, rose mallow, larkspur, pyrethrum, statice and campanula. And more.
Finally, nostalgically, I transplanted my grandmother's pink peony to a spot beside the front gate. Behind the windbreak fence, a tall plank structure, I planted hollyhock seed gathered from my grandmother's and aunt Josephine's plants. Many of the other seeds I deposited in the ground there did not grow, but in the back alley, the hollyhocks reached rose to eight or nine feet, peering over fence, their sturdy stems providing shelter for the birds and stalking cover for the neighborhood cats.
When I've passed the house in recent years, I note the parkway is overgrown and untended. But the hollyhocks grow sturdily in the alley.
* * *
Hollyhocks, native to central Europe and China, are part of in the hard-working Mallow (Malvaceae) family, which numbers more than two hundred flowering plants including such unlikely cousins as cotton, cacao, marsh mallow (yes, it is the original source for the confection), okra, painted ladies, hibiscus and rose of Sharon. What these diverse specimens have in common is that their flowers all have a central column of joined stamens. The hollyhock genus (Alcea) includes about sixty specimens.
Looking up any aspect of this history could send one wandering among in nomenclature highways and paths of origins. You might disappear for weeks. And I haven't even mentioned the hollyhock weevil and the medicinal uses.
Remains of the plant have been found in an archaeological dig in the grave of a Neanderthal man buried more than 50,000 years ago.
The common name "hollyhock" is very old and also has no clear history. One source says the word comes from "alkaia," the Greek word for mallow. Others say it originated with "holy" and "hoc," an Anglo-Saxon word for mallow.
Some say the "holy" was added because it was brought to Britain by the Crusaders in a salve for sore horses' hocks; in that regard, it was also known as Hockleaf. The Spaniards called it Joseph's Staff, and, to continue these religious references, it’s also known as Saint Cuthbert's Cowl, probably as a reference to the hooded shape of the flowers.
St. Cuthbert was an Anglo-Saxon monk and hermit who sounds like a fine fellow but I found no suggestion that he knew about or used hollyhocks.
* * *
Hollyhocks are easily grown from seeds and do well in poor soil and dry conditions. This time of year, and especially this year, you might stroll casually past your neighbor's tall hollyhock staffs and slip a seed pod or two into your pocket. I generally plant new seed in fall, water it generously for a week or two and then forget it until next spring when the plants pop up and surprise me.
Put the seed where you want the plants; they’re hard to transplant because of a long, tough taproot. I usually scrape a shallow trench, no more than an inch deep, sprinkle the seeds liberally, cover, stomp the earth down and then water. The plants will be tall, so I place them close to buildings for background. With our wind, they often lean and lean and lean until they nearly reach the ground, so I like to put them near fences for support. The big, showy blooms, some frilly and double, range in color from white through red and yellow, peach and almost black. The blooms open in succession starting at the bottom of the plant and moving upward, so you can collect seed at the bottom while blooms at the top are still opening: a good way to be stung or at least buzzed by the local bees.
The plants are short-lived. Some authorities say the plant is biennial; others consider it perennial, perhaps because it spreads its seeds so widely that new plants return year after year in the same area. Experts say they like hot, dry weather, which makes them ideal for this climate.
* * *
Medicinal uses may have made the plant popular with pioneers. One modern source suggests drinking an infusion made of flowers and leaves to aid in urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal and respiratory ailments. The same source recommends the leaves as a poultice for chapped or dry skin.
The thick mucilage, the gluey protein produced by nearly all plants, is said to be soothing to the throat and mucous membranes, thus good for coughs, colds. Cacti and flax seed are better-known sources of mucilage. And I recall the word being used for a particularly nasty glue when I was a child; much more stuck to my fingers than to anything I was trying to affix.
* * *
Testifying to its Asian origins, the hollyhock is part of the official seal of the Shogun of Japan and the name of a Japanese soccer team; Kyoto hosts a hollyhock festival yearly.
* * *
One day, as I drove down the street in Cheyenne toward the driveway, I saw an elderly woman and two little girls standing among the tall hollyhocks in the alley, where they would be hidden from the house by the privacy fence. Hmm, I thought.
When I strolled around the corner, there was the owner of the house next door with two little blonde girls. "Oh," she said, flushing red. "I hope you don’t mind. I’m showing my granddaughters how to make hollyhock dolls!"
"I absolutely do not mind," I said, "and thank you for reminding me."
* * *
Have you ever made a hollyhock doll?
Here’s a source of endless entertainment that requires almost nothing in supplies, does not employ technology and is guaranteed to keep participants away from the computer or TV screen.
Simply pluck a hollyhock blossom and turn it upside down. See? It’s a green-haired lady wearing a colorful dress, full skirt sweeping across the floor. When my mother wanted to make a little fancier doll, she tied ribbon or thread around just below the green sheath, making the doll’s waist.
I always thought these basic hollyhock dolls looked as though they had no heads. To remedy that, take a green seed pod or bud and fasten it with a toothpick above the skirt blossom.
Or pin in place above the first a second, smaller hollyhock or other flower blossom to create the look of a lady wearing a broad hat. You can stack several more blossoms below to make the skirt layered and more full. Or use a spent bloom to make a head with a tall headdress or long flowing hair.
The dolls don’t last long, but floating them in a broad bowl of water allows them to drift gracefully through your day.
* * *
Suddenly it occurs to me to do an internet search.
I was woefully wrong; these days, computers could figure into this entertainment. Not only are there photographs of hollyhock dolls, but step-by-step tutorials-- even a video!-- on how to make them. (Search "images for hollyhock dolls" for photos; see the Better Homes & Gardens website
for instructions; or take a look at www.DesignMom.com
. There’s even a site that sells fake ones but I’m not going to help anyone find it.)
Horrified, I picture little girls being lined up in front of a computer screen to learn the correct way to make a hollyhock doll.
However, several of the sites offer ideas new to me. For example, PremeditatedLeftovers.com
suggests pulling off the sepal of the first blossom to expose "eyes" and breaking off the stem to create a mouth.
Still I hope that somewhere grandmothers are demonstrating for their grandchildren. I hope children are left alone in the garden to use their imaginations to create the dolls. I'm sure there was a time when most little girls knew how to make dolls from hollyhocks. I hope the numbers are growing as young mothers learn from their computer time.
* * *
The key to success with hollyhock dolls-- as it is with so many creative enterprises-- is imagination.
Here comes the writing connection I always try to slip into these blogs.
When I began this essay, I had no idea whether or not I would find a link to writing. In fact, this was to be a break from reading manuscripts, a simple reflection on the innocent fun of long hot afternoons I spent with hollyhock dolls after my grandmother and mother taught me how to make them.
I waltzed those dolls all over my grandmother’s screened-in porch on hot summer afternoons. I don’t recall imagining their escorts, but I suppose I did.
Imaginatively, the dolls have turned into writing coaches. They remind me of my maxim that spending time thinking about your writing is probably as valuable as the time you spend making black marks on paper or on a computer screen.
Don't even think. Just sit, look around you, see what happens.
And handwork of any kind is good because it detaches you from the writing implement of the day. While doing something creative besides writing, you can think about your writing project. You'll find you work out all kinds of problems that had defeated you while you sat at the computer, fuming.
Relax, Breathe deeply. Imagine those little pixies with green faces whirling around the garden at dusk.
* * *
One source says that hazel buds, wild thyme, marigolds and hollyhocks were part of a recipe made in 1660 AD that enabled anyone who ate it to see fairies.
Or perhaps what they saw were hollyhock dolls, dancing in the wind.
# # #
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January 3, 2012
Grandmother Cora Baker Hey in the 1970s.
. . .
In my Home Page message recently I wrote that I’ve been trying to learn more about the lives of some of my ancestors as part of a new book project. I pointed out that the ordinary possessions from a life may be valuable aids to memory or even to factual research.
One of the items I mentioned was my grandmother’s recipe book:
Every blank page of her recipe book has been covered with recipes handwritten or clipped from newspapers, clues to the household’s prosperity and interests. Liver Sausage; canning beef by the cold method; chow chow and mince meat from green tomatoes. (Our short growing season probably meant they ate more tomatoes green than ripe.) Many kinds of cucumber pickles, beefsteak and oysters, venison mincemeat for pies, suet pudding, Bavarian cream, dandy ice cream, Jelly Roll, mustard and catsup, taffy, cracker jack, peanut brittle and cream puffs.
-- from “Looking for Grandmother”
Linda's Home Page Message for the Winter Solstice, 2011
Here is the recipe for that “dandy ice cream” mentioned in my Grandmother Cora’s recipe book.
Dandy Ice Cream --- Cora Baker Hey
1 quart milk
Let come to a boil
Mix 1 pint sugar and 1/2 Cup flour together
Add to boiling milk
Cook two minutes, stirring constantly.
As it’s taken from the stove, add beaten yolks of two eggs – keep the whites for later.
(I added a couple handfuls of chocolate chips while it was hot and made chocolate ice cream.)
When cold, add 1 quart cream, 2 stiffly beaten egg whites, and 1 tablespoon vanilla.
(If you toss in chocolate chips at this point, they don’t melt-- but they do sink to the bottom of the bowl.)
You need not have an ice cream freezer; just place ice cream in the freezing compartment of your refrigerator for six hours or so. Because the ice cream sets up very hard, consider freezing it in small containers so it will warm more quickly to be extracted from the container. We usually get it out of the freezer a half hour or more before serving.
I hadn’t seen flour as an ingredient in ice cream before, but an online search and our own experience proves that the ice cream has a smooth, custard-like consistency.
# # #
For more information:
"Looking for Grandmother" the Home Page Message for Winter, 2011
may be found in the Home Page Message Archives
if it is no longer on the Home Page.
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November 13, 2011
Linda's seed box.
. . .
For the past few days I have been doing what my grandmother called “redding up,” tidying and organizing several compartments of my life.
First I gathered up my gardening journal and the muddy, crumpled pieces of paper I’d been stuffing into it all summer. I read through the summer’s gardening notes from the beginning-- “3/12: planted radishes in greenhouse” to the end --“11/5: ate last fresh tomatoes, picked 10/16 and ripened on the windowsill.”
On 5/1 we ate the first radishes from the greenhouse, though they may not have been those planted in March. On 4/27 we planted half the potatoes; the harvest is in the basement of the retreat house, at least a hundred pounds. We planted them on the surface of the ground and covered them deeply in old hay mulch.
But my intent wasn’t to reminisce, but to collect information from the journal that will help with next year’s garden. The peppers and tomatoes I started April 1st didn’t do well since my greenhouse is unheated; I’ve learned from that mistake-- just as I try to learn from my mistakes in writing. On 5/28 I planted Habanero pepper plants in my cold frame but the season simply wasn’t long enough; they set on blossoms about the time of the first freeze and the cold frame didn’t protect them enough. Planting basil in my garden hasn’t worked; too many hoppers, so I planted it in pots on the deck this year and still have one pot growing vigorously in the living room after harvesting all we can use for pesto and drying plenty for winter use. The Early Perfection peas were blooming on 6/10 while the Alaska peas were still short; I was eating reliable Cherry Belle radishes.
As I read the journal, I make notes that will help me in 2012: “Plant turnips in center of garden and then till under for fertilizer,” reads one. And “Plant early perfection peas on tomato cages.” Research is as much a part of gardening as it is of writing, so I’m reading The Seed-Starter’s Handbook
by Nancy Bubel, a gift from Tam, noting her suggestions beside my own.
Once I’ve organized the notes, I draw a new garden plan, deciding where to move plants to fresh soil, deciding what to plant and what not to plant. I didn’t bother with sweet corn this year: we haven’t had a good crop in three years and it’s readily available in farmer’s markets so we support the local economy by buying it. I may give up on asparagus; it hasn’t thrived despite my best efforts-- a reminder that, just as in writing, I must sometimes decide that a project just isn’t working. I prefer to consider this an acknowledgment of limitations rather than failure.
I started eight varieties of tomatoes in my tiny unheated greenhouse and brought only about five varieties to maturity, so I wonder if my local nursery might start some of my favorite types. The Manitoba and Glacier did well and were especially tasty, perhaps even better than my favorite Early Girl.
Sorting the seeds I have left, I arrange them in my wooden seed box by the date I’ll plant them-- from a few weeks before our last average frost date of May 24-- and make notes on the seeds I need to buy, before tucking the seed box in my freezer. I’ve had good luck saving radish, pea and bean seed this way so I can buy bargain seed when I see it and count on a pretty good sprouting rate for several years.
Once that job is finished, I turn to the wire basket full of brown paper bags of seed I’ve been collecting since August, some domestic and some wild; gaillardia and goblin gaillardia; Echinacea and pot marigold; bread poppy. Wearing tough rubber gloves-- because Echinacea and gaillardia have prickly seeds and pods that can stay in your fingers a long time-- I crush the seed heads between my hands, separating the seeds. Gaillardia has a bittersweet, almost peppery scent that reminds me of the hint of frost at sunset on a September day.
I package some seeds to give the Great Plains Native Plant Society seed exchange and some for friends. Then I roll up the paper bags to hold the rest of the seeds and hang the basket in the basement, out of our way where the furnace will keep them dry. On cold winter days, as I prop my boots beside the furnace to dry, I’ll glance up and know they are waiting to be scattered.
Eyeing my spice cabinet while I wait for the pressure cooker at noon, I found a red bottle of ancient tarragon; I washed it thoroughly before refilling it with the freshly-dried herb. Juniper seeds! I brought them from Cheyenne where I didn’t have juniper trees. To add the savor of juniper to a venison or beef stew these days, I’ll just dash to the windbreak for fresh berries; the grouse and cedar waxwings won’t eat them all.
While doing these tasks, I often dash into my office to scribble a note on one of the two books I’m working on-- because “redding up” time is good thinking time, and thinking is writing. I can be quietly recalling how the tomato plants looked in July and suddenly slip into a thought that results in a paragraph. I keep the two binders holding the rough drafts of the books on my desk so I can make a note there or in the appropriate file on the computer.
Doing tasks that don’t require complex thought allows my mind freedom to consider the possibilities of both books, recalling relevant dreams or ideas I might not have written down thoroughly enough earlier.
Once I really start a writing project (or in this case admit that I had started thinking about a couple of different writing projects over the past three years), then in a sense I’m writing all the time. The key to collecting thoughts is to be ready for them. At home, I keep my larger journal at hand during the day and night for lengthier notes. When I’m in town, instead of juggling the bulky journal with my shopping lists, I reach for the tiny notebook I keep in a zip compartment in the back of my purse. When I come home, I enter those scribbled notes in the appropriate spot: “redding up” again.
Perhaps readers picture us writers sitting at our computers, writing long seamless sentences that flow smoothly onto the pages of printed books. Instead, writing alternates chaotic flurries of ideas with flat spaces featureless as bathroom tile, a stop-and-go business. We collect bits of memory and image and dialogue and story and imagination. We stitch this colorful jumble together, pricking our fingers often, into something that we hope resembles a quilt but which may turn out to be a rag rug.
* * *
“Redding up,” grandmother called it when she picked up our empty teacups (she made mine weak, with milk) and put them into the dishpan. Then she brushed the gingersnap crumbs off the old round oak table (I heard that the relative who took it painted it black) into her wrinkled hand and tossed them out the door. One of the hens pecking around the rock step would raise her head, murmur “Cluuuuuuck?” and dash over to tidy away the crumbs.
Grandmother would pour hot water from the teakettle always steaming on the wood stove over the dishes from lunch, add a little soap and a little cool water from a pitcher and wash while I dried them on a soft old dishtowel that’s likely still in my cupboard. Then she’d dry her hands, hang up her apron, nod with satisfaction and we’d sit down in our chairs to do a little reading before it was time to feed the chickens and gather the eggs. We’d read quietly together, the only sound the turning of pages, the shuuuuuush as the coals settled in the stove, the tick of cooling cast iron. Having done a little “redding up,” we felt comfortable, prepared for whatever came next.
I’ve never questioned the origin of the expression but I give in to the temptation to investigate online and find varied possibilities. Many people heard the term regularly somewhere in the south, though several Pennsylvanians quote their mothers as using it. One writer says it’s used in the Shetland islands and another quotes the Scots dictionary definition: “To clear (a space, or a passage) by removal of debris, undergrowth or other encumbrances.” Anyone who has listened to bluegrass music and musicians has some idea how deeply Scots immigrants have influenced Southern culture.
My grandmother was born Cora Belle Pearcey (or Pearcy) on October 9, 1891, daughter of Lafayette Pearcey and Jeannette Smith. At the age of 17 in 1906, she moved with her parents from Swann, Missouri where she was probably born, to Wheatland, Wyoming, by horse-drawn wagon. She was definitely a Southerner; when she spoke of black people, she used the Southern pronunciation “nigra,” which designated color while showing respect.
Smiling as I thought of the way her eyes twinkled behind her glasses as she “redded up” her little cabin, I’ve bustled around for several days feeling as if she just stepped into the other room to make us some tea to go with the gingersnaps she kept in her cookie jar. (And I wish I knew where that cookie jar went after her death.)
* * *
No doubt writers have had no trouble deciphering the metaphors. Redding up is part of writing as well as housekeeping. Going back over my gardening notes gave me an opportunity to organize the information I’d written down while I was busy gardening but had been too busy to fully absorb-- just as going back over a draft allows one to check for corrections as well as thinking about how the whole piece of writing is coming together.
We can check them off: learn from our mistakes; plan ahead; stay organized. A writer’s desk may look jumbled to someone else but if the writer isn’t organized she’ll waste valuable time when moments of pure inspiration strike. When I’m tired or feeling as if I’m doing too much, I may take a day to organize. Sorting through ideas may allow me to discard some and organize others in such a way that I can use them later if they don’t fit the project I’m working on now. And I may discover that an herb or an idea I’ve been hoarding can be replaced by something fresher and tastier.
Finally, of course, it’s easy to berate yourself for not writing when you spend the day looking at old notes or shuffling pieces of paper into files and drawers or sorting seeds or herbs and spices. But after I finished both those chores, I expanded the notes I’d made into this little essay, so I’m filled with the joy of having written. And I know that my garden, my spice cabinet and my writing files are neater and thus more ready for the serious work of growing and flavoring food-- and creating prose or poetry I can consider finished-- than they were this morning.
# # #
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May 8, 2011
Linda's grandmother, Cora Belle Hey and mother, Mildred Hasselstrom, in Hermosa, 1978.
. . .
I’ve spent this Mother’s 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 I’ve 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 “Happy Mother’s Day” to every women older than I am that I encountered. Several of them sounded surprised as they said “Thank you!”
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, I’ve been remembering my four step-children, and the joys of sharing their lives.
And I’ve 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.
I’m not suggesting that we declare a Step-Mother’s Day, or Bereaved Mother’s Day. Just don’t forget that we’re here too, and we have made contributions to the world in other ways.
# # #
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May 3, 2010
Grandmother's rocking chair is in use at Homestead House, my writing retreat.
. . .
This essay was first published in Manoa
, Summer 1997, Volume 9 Issue 1, pages 105-108.
* * *
When we moved into the four-square house on a tree-lined city avenue, I lugged the ugly oak rocker into the sun porch and covered it with grandmother's yellow quilt, just as I'd decently wrap an aunt caught outside in her undies.
Two years later, I carried the rocker into the back yard. Sunshine outlined the shape of the back, graceful as a handmade fiddle, but shiny gray paint masked the chair's oak skeleton, and the seat was a slab of three-quarter inch plywood.
First I yanked off the seat cushion, remembering when Mother bought the oatmeal-colored wool speckled with red and green, on sale of course. I hated the ungainly skirt she made for me to wear to high school. Thriftily, she turned the leftovers into a pillow stuffed with odd pieces of foam. She used roofing nails, driven crooked, to anchor the ugly contraption. When I yanked at the cushion, powdered foam drifted like pollen into the breeze.
I stared at the chair, thinking of better jobs: cleaning house, revising an essay. Stripping this relic would take hours. No wonder my ancestors slapped on a dozen layers of paint. I could paint it in an hour, park it on the porch to decay in peace, if not dignity.
Instead, I attacked with rough sandpaper on an electric palm sander. Gray paint dribbled down as powder, revealing raw oak etched with dark lines from the original stain. Probably the chair fell prey to my mother's infatuation with the 1950s craze for blond furniture, called "limed oak." When she married a rancher, she bought a massive dresser, double bed, and two dressing tables heavy enough to be real oak. The unnaturally pale finish made them look, I thought, remarkably like plastic.
Determined everything would match, she stripped a Mission Oak buffet, smeared white paint over it, then rubbed until the surface was dingy gray.
The buffet loomed over my childhood, half-filling our narrow dining room. Before family dinners, I knelt before it to get out mother's china and silver, while she scurried around the kitchen reciting the names of the patterns and promising that when I married, I'd choose my own. Drying the china after Sunday dinner, I'd kneel before the gray hulk again, vowing to restore its golden youth with oil rubbed gently into pure unvarnished wood. Some evenings, I'd open the bottom drawer and stare at Grandmother's crocheted tablecloths, wondering how her gnarled fingers could weave such loveliness.
Neither of my marriages produced china, so mother begged me to take hers when she moved to the nursing home. When I cleared the house for renters, I left the buffet and table in the house. An expert says the white paint penetrated the grain so deeply it can't be removed. My partner and I already had furniture.
But I couldn't leave the rocker. Each time I looked at it, I saw Grandmother's brown fingers curved around the knot of oak at the end of arm rests bulging like her muscular arms. During the summers I stayed with her, she'd sit in the rocker on the screened porch before she fixed supper. I sat on the slab of sandstone she used as a step, listening for bobcats and trying to catch toads. Grandmother said if I picked them up I'd get warts. I was looking forward to the experience; I'd never seen warts.
The chickens hurried to catch every bug in sight before the world went dark. I looked across the valley at the shadows running up the cliffs, plunging into the crevices like dark coyotes. The cliff tops shone gold for a moment, then went dark. The air chilled, tasting dusky and wild. A sliver of deep red appeared above the cliffs, swelling until I took a deep breath to scream, "Fire!"
"Red moon," Grandmother said. "Feels like fall all right, doesn't it?"
"Yeah. Can't I stay here instead of having to go back to town? I could go to school with John and Susan, and then maybe they wouldn't close the school."
"Oh, your mother wouldn't like that. She don't think our little school is good enough for you."
"Did you ever go to church, Grandma?"
"I wanted to go when the children were small, but it was such a trip with the buggy that we hardly ever did."
"It seems like church but different when I'm out here. God must really like the world."
She chuckled. "Walt always said he served God by taking care of this land, and I served Him by taking care of the children. Since Walt's been gone, when I walk around the hills here, I feel close to him and God both." Darkness wrapped comfortably around us. "About time to light the lamps I expect," she said as I jumped up, ready. "Be careful with the chimneys, and don't set your hair on fire."
I left the door open to help my eyes adjust, and felt around on the cupboard for matches. The dark smelled of fried chicken. A row of jelly glasses gleamed with white paraffin on the counter beside the wood stove.
I gently lifted the lamp chimney, turned the blackened wick up a little. Then I inhaled, struck the match on the side of the box, and ran it along the top of the wick. It caught at once and the blue flame flickered up into yellow. Eyes on the wick, I blew out the match and delicately turned the brass knob until the flame danced along the edge of the brass.
With both hands, I picked up the chimney by its fat belly and placed it on the lamp, holding my breath. Often the fire flared up and sooted the clear glass. Then I had to get out my polishing rag and start all over.
Instead, the flame fluttered into a soft radiance, so the eyes of the cookie jar squirrel glistened. The light brushed the brass bedstead. Above it, pictures of Grandmother's children and their children watched me like ghosts.
Sanding in the sunshine, I find circular scars under the gray paint, where someone removed the original finish with a drill sander. Maybe my uncle, who worked Grandmother's ranch. Suddenly he stands in my back yard as I first remember him, laughing with youth nearly fifty years ago. I hear this is the year he'll sell his cows, give up the ranching that has been his life since he came home from war to help his mother.
After the first day's sanding, my shoulders and wrists throb for hours. But the chair rocks lightly when I carry it outside the next day. Sanding, I lecture my grandmother for letting this travesty happen to a lovely piece of furniture. Grinding deeper into the chair's history, I uncover a dozen nail holes around the seat, evidence of several replacement cushions after the original disappeared. I notice the chair's feet do not quite fit the curve of the rockers, which aren't oak but softer pine.
Getting a sunburn I won't notice until evening, I study the chair, deciding it was not originally a rocker. Perhaps my Grandmother got it from her mother when she went West with her young husband to work for a logging company in Oregon. I'd seen a faded photograph of her at sixteen, just before she married Elmer Harry Baker, who became my grandfather.
For a moment, I can see a dark-haired girl sitting in a stately oak chair in my sunny yard. She holds a baby with golden ringlets-- my mother-- and gazes up at her husband, the grandfather I never knew. Beaming, he says, "Cora Belle, I can make that chair rock for you."
Elmer died when he fell in front of a moving logging train in 1913. Not long ago, I found his obituary in a couple of papers of the time, saying he was beheaded by the train. Just twenty-four, he left grandmother a widow with a four-year-old daughter and an infant son. She rode the train to the home of his relatives in Wyoming, a few miles from where I live now. I can picture the rocker swaying with the train's motion among her few possessions. She must have repaired its worn cushions, keeping the chair to grace her household as she married again, and bore two more sons.
Rocking gently through long summer evenings, crocheting and listening to her granddaughter read aloud, maybe she saw her young husband's face, recalled past joys. That’s what I plan to do, now that the rocker looks as I remember it from my childhood.
# # #
For more information:
Website for Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writers
Published by the University of Hawai'i
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April 5, 2010
. . .
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.”
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:
* * *
Custer South Dakota
9 February, 1957 [yes, for whatever reason, it's dated after the postmark]
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.
* * *
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!
* * *
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
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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March 17, 2010
. . .
This March the Black Hills National Forest asked for public comment on their recommendation to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to withdraw approximately 3,957 acres of National Forest System land from mining, to protect "cultural resources of significant interest" within and surrounding Craven Canyon in the southern Black Hills-- meaning the ancient pictographs carved and pecked into the canyon walls and the other archeological sites surrounding the canyon. The mineral withdrawal would also protect the plants and animals in the area.
Here is what I sent:
Thank you for sending the draft environmental impact assessment. I have studied it at length.
Some of my earliest memories are of walking down Craven Canyon to “the writings” with my grandmother, Cora Belle Hey. As we sat in the sun on a flat rock to eat lunch, she’d talk about the ancient people who once sat where we were. She came from a poor Ozark family and attended only a few years of grade school; I’m sure she never heard the phrase Mitakuye Oyasin ["We are all related"], but she knew those carvings were old and important, and she taught me to look but not touch. For hours, we’d speculate about the artists, who they were, what they were thinking as they chipped and painted. They were like us, she always said. I nearly became an archeologist because of those visits; instead I am a writer, an excavator of words.
My most recent visit was in November of 2008 with my uncle, George Hey, now 91. My grandmother Cora, his mother, taught him to protect those carvings. And on that trip, as on every single other trip I’ve made to the canyon, he pointed out carvings I’d never seen before. After living nearly 90 years in that canyon, if George is still finding new rock art, it’s hard to imagine what treasures may still exist in more remote spots in the proposed withdrawal region.
The Craven Canyon Mineral Withdrawal document notes, “The purpose of and need for action is to protect and preserve existing Native American cultural resources . . .” and later, “The most appropriate use for Craven Canyon and the purpose for its withdrawal from mineral activities are . . . to continue to serve the religious and cultural needs of Native Americans.”
George Hey told me about a time when a Native American encampment was created in the canyon. He went down to welcome the campers, including members of AIM, and found young Native Americans scrawling on the walls declarations like, ‘I AM AN INDIAN.’ He protested, and the mood of the people turned hostile.
My little white-haired uncle drew himself up and said, “That’s not right, to write on these walls. Those were your ancestors, and they were my ancestors. This place belongs to all of us.”
Those scribbled writings still deface one of the rock walls of the canyon, but my uncle is vigilant, and no new ones have appeared in years without his reporting the desecration to the proper authorities.
And that’s the important part of this irreplaceable cultural resource: it belongs to all of us. We have no idea what we might learn from what these ancient ancestors left behind. This is the Sistine Chapel of the Black Hills, of South Dakota, of the Great Plains. We wouldn’t allow mining exploration into our most sacred tabernacles, and it doesn’t belong here.
Every single person admitted to the region increases the risk of damage and loss. Both my uncle and Linea Sundstrom have mentioned several incidents of damage, in spite of the locked gates, my uncle’s vigilance, and heavy fines.
I first saw the drawings when I was five years old, sixty years ago. I remember the vividness of the colors, and the way the walls looked. I was once in the canyon, sitting below the big green floating antelope, when a pickup drove in and a man fired a high-powered rifle into the wall. I took a photograph in which his license plate was visible, but the local law enforcement officers weren’t interested in pursuing punishment. Only the Forest Service has been able to offer a measure of protection.
Every year, a few ignorant people manage to damage more of the art. Mining this region would create more roads, more access, and inevitably more damage of this kind. The area is remote; most access is still by gravel roads. And it’s broken and rough, so that even exploring with vehicles would do irreparable damage to the grass, the sparsely-covered hillsides, and the areas that might hold more caves, art, and camp sites. Extensive road-building would be required to mine anywhere inside the proposed closure, and once those roads were in place, they would allow public access into canyons, caves, and other secret spots still unexplored by archeologists.
As my uncle ages, it’s time for more formal management to protect this region. If funding does not allow for study at this time, I hope the site can be made as secure as possible, closed to public access. Limited public access might be possible after professionals have surveyed the area for more archeological sites, studied those sites already found, and provided for security for the archeological treasures that may exist.
Please choose Option 2, the only alternative in the draft environmental impact assessment that provides protection to all the cultural resources thus far recorded in the area, and new ones as yet undiscovered.
# # #
For more information:
Look for Linea Sundstrom's books, including Storied Stone: Indian Rock Art of the Black Hills
Some background information:
According to the draft environmental impact assessment:
There is a high potential for uranium and vanadium, a moderate potential for oil and gas, and a low potential for subbituminous coal in the proposed mineral withdrawal area. There is also a low potential for the mining of sand, gravel, clay and building stone, mainly because of the distances involved from Craven Canyon to a market for these products.
Alternative 1 -- do nothing. This would leave only 160 acres protected from a previous minerals withdrawal.
Alternative 2 -- withdraw 3,957 acres which would protect 100% of 46 known archeological sites of cultural and historical interest and would protect 621 acres of culturally significant viewshed. This would include 100% of the existing mining claims in the area in the withdrawal.
Alternative 3 -- withdraw 2,649 acres which would protect only 67% of 46 known archeological sites of cultural and historical interest and would protect only 473 acres of culturally significant viewshed. This would exclude 100% of the existing mining claims in the area from the withdrawal.
Once the Forest Service collects the public comments (the comment period closes in late March, 2010), they will make a recommendation to the BLM as to which alternative they suggest. The BLM will make the actual decision later this year.
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