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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Index of Blog Topics

e.g. Fiction, History, Magazine Articles, etc. goes here
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Notes from a Western Life
Ranging Far and Wide on the High Plains and Beyond
Linda M. Hasselstrom's Blog



Dust, Grass, and Writing

March 20, 2015

Tags: Grass, Writing Suggestions

Green grass sheltered by limestone rock.

.
I’m on the deck trying to convince myself the weak March sunshine is warmer than it is when I notice the pickup in the field, hauling hay to the cattle. Dust rises behind the tires, swooping up and then spreading out, reminding me how very dry the weather has been for the past three winter months. We are three-quarters of an inch behind our normal one and a quarter inch of moisture for the year. During this month of March, now slightly more than half over, we have had only a trace of moisture.

Yet when I look at the hillside close to my house, I see green grass several inches tall. How can the grass be growing when the ground is so dry?

The answer lies in the native grasses surrounding my house: buffalo grass, blue grama, big bluestem, redtop, and others that have been adapting to this area for millennia. These grasses can tolerate heat, drought, and soils that would be inadequate for more tender plants. These grasses have probably even evolved to fit this particular slope, rich with limestone rock, and to the way the wind blows snow across the ripples in the ground.

The thin roots of buffalo grass, for example, go deep, reaching down as much as five feet for buried moisture. The roots of blue grama are in a dense mass in the top two or three feet of soil, compact to provide efficient use of moisture. Up to 80% of the roots of redtop are found in the top two inches of soil. So these grasses complement each other, utilizing all the moisture that falls, whether it’s scant or abundant.

Immediately I can see the writing simile or metaphor. Some who looked out over this prairie today would find it uninspiring, covered with the gold of dried grasses except where vehicles have left dusty tracks. This morning my mind felt the same: covered by the dried debris of ideas I haven’t pursued, failed possibilities grimy with too much handling. Without inspiration.

Similarly, if I only scan the prairie and turn away on this early spring day, I will miss its subtler beauties. Sitting at my writing desk, if I concentrate on the dust and desiccation and immediately give up, I may miss possibilities.

Standing on the deck, thinking, I hear a cry and see the resident kestrel drop out of sight below the hill, pursuing a blackbird or sparrow as relentlessly as I sometimes follow an idea.

Like the native grasses, the roots of writing go deep and reach out in many directions. These roots may be so thin they appear delicate, but they have strength to draw life-giving moisture from the soil. I’ve learned that I need to be patient. I may begin writing with no clear idea of where I am going, simply describing something I’ve seen, or responding to a news item. I may write and write and write-- and suddenly the subject will present itself, will draw the sustaining moisture out of soil that may seem dry and unforgiving.

Here’s the tricky part. No matter how dry your personal prairie looks, you must start writing. You must start following those roots down. If you think, “I’m writing SOMETHING VERY IMPORTANT” you may choke yourself, and become unable to go on: surely your thoughts are too trivial to be worth recording.

Don’t be afraid to be trivial. You have to start somewhere, and every root may reach down to necessary moisture, and up to a strong blade of grass.

This essay began with two simple observations: dust rising behind a pickup, and grass growing green, two pictures that contradicted one another. Those two sights led me to one of my main themes and interests, native grass and its ability to withstand drought and abuse. I've written about this subject often in attempts to persuade readers to save native prairie grasses, but this time my thoughts turned to writing and the comparison emerged.

Each of us contains “native grasses,” possibilities rooted deeply in childhood or our pasts, events that are the foundation of everything we are. From those deep roots we can write endlessly, following their twisting course down into the rich soil fertilized by our years of experience. Or we can follow the roots up to the stalk that is our present and our future, reach into the clear air of tomorrow. Either way, taking time to look at the landscape around us, whether it’s literal or imaginative, can start the writing we need to do.

Flannery O'Connor, in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, said, “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.”

Ignore the dust. Follow the roots.


Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

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The Diversity of the South Dakota Grasslands

February 5, 2014

Tags: Spiders, Grass

A male Theridion pierre spider found on the Fort Pierre National Grassland. The tiny spider was discovered by L. Brian Patrick, an arachnologist from Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, SD. [photo courtesy L. Brian Patrick]

. . .
Recently I read that an arachnologist from one of South Dakota’s small universities, Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, discovered a new species of spider on the Fort Pierre National Grassland. Named for the grassland, the Theridion pierre spider is one of more than 500 species confirmed and announced in a six-month span.

Experts believe only 10 percent of spider species, and in fact all animals on earth, have been documented by humans so far, says the discoverer, Brian Patrick. He thinks he may identify as many as five new species from the spiders he has already trapped in the area.

Patrick has also found spiders in his traps whose find in South Dakota is the farthest west, east or north they've ever been documented. That's because few scientists are working on the sparsely-populated northern Great Plains, says Patrick, who is probably the only arachnologist working in the state. "It's not very sexy to work in South Dakota," he said. Big grants are usually given to study new species in places such as the rain forests of Borneo.

"I'm poor; I have to work in my backyard. Turns out my backyard is pretty fertile," he said. He added that "another common misconception about the prairie is that it's a two-dimensional environment, unlike rivers or forests where completely different creatures can live at different depths and heights." The researcher said in talking with colleagues, he's learned that, "I always have more diversity in my grasslands than they do in their forests."

I'm so delighted to see this story for several reasons. First, the local newspaper gave it prominent placement; I can't help think the management is reminding readers that they should not be so hasty to encourage "developments" that include mining and paving the prairie. Second, this is more confirmation for the fact that we haven't begun to discover what rich knowledge the prairie might still conceal.

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For more information:

See the article in the Rapid City Journal.

See the article in the Capital Journal, Pierre SD.

See the article in the Sioux City Journal.

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Prairie: A Natural History by Candace Savage

May 2, 2012

Tags: Book Review, Writer: Candace Savage, Prairie, Grass, Cattle

I’ve just written a cover comment for Candace Savage’s next book, Geography of Blood, which prompted me to return to the first book of hers I read, Prairie: A Natural History, published by Greystone Books, Canada, in 2004.

The photos in this book are so beautiful it’s easy to skim over the writing; that would be an error because Savage’s writing and research are excellent. If you think the Great Plains are flat and featureless, this is the book to introduce you to their excellent variety.

Grasses, notes Savage, “have migrated to every continent except Antarctica and have diversified into about 10,000 species.” Of these, some twelve dozen distinctly different native grasses naturally occur in the Great Plains!

Because the climate here is more variable than it is almost anywhere else on the continent, including periods that are much wetter or much drier than the long term, these grasses need to be adaptable. And they are, “able to dial their metabolism down when conditions are unfavorable for growth and speed them up when the weather improves.”

Grasses, she notes, are not passive, blowing idly in the wind but “lean, mean growing machines, designed to make the most of limited and unreliable resources.”

Therefore, the first rule of living in grasslands should be to preserve, not destroy, this rich resource. And yet to create cities and subdivisions we pave and plow it wildly, planting tender non-native grasses we call “lawn” and spreading poison to keep the useless little blades alive against huge odds constituted by the climate, predators and nature.

Savage also faced head-on the folks who insist that bison are the most perfectly adapted grazing species for the plains and should replace cattle. “.... bison and cattle are fundamentally alike. Removing wild American bison and replacing them with tame Eurasian cattle-- though a stunning act of hubris-- was ecologically relatively neutral.”

Management is, of course, the key. “Fortunately, even when confined by fences, cattle help to maintain patches of vegetation. ...and this effect can be enhanced by implementing an appropriate regime of management.” By manipulating the variables-- number of cattle, season and duration of grazing and rest-- “ranchers can manage the prairie to provide an array of habitats. The best and wisest land managers do exactly that because they understand that rangelands with a natural diversity of vegetation will outproduce and outlast those that are reduced to homogeneous spans of grass.”

Want to know about the prairie? Get the book. Go through it at least once just to enjoy the photographs of expanses of grassland, gorgeous and rare water elements and the native wildlife. And then sit down and read it for the information.

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The Importance of Grasslands

January 15, 2010

Tags: Northern Prairies Land Trust, Grass, Birds

. . .
The best articles I've read about the importance of grasslands is written by John H. Davidson, president of Northern Prairies Land Trust, and appears in the Winter 2010 issue of Saving Land, the publication of the Land Trust Alliance. I urge everyone to read the complete article.

Davidson notes that "Land conservation priorities have favored visually dramatic resources-- mountains, lakes, forests and shores," but neglected the "more visually humble but no less vital resource" of grasslands of the North American prairie.

The complex prairie ecosystem, says Davidson, are repositories of an "ocean of carbon." "We must ask whether it makes sense to spend fortunes on attempts to control releases of carbon from coal-based energy plants and cutting of tropical forests while simultaneously releasing an immeasurable ocean of carbon by plowing up our prairie," says Davidson. "In Nebraska and South Dakota, less than 2% of tallgrass prairie remains," and the mixed and shortgrass prairies that lie to the west are being plowed at an "alarming pace;" an estimated 80% of shortgrass prairie has been converted to crops. The federal system of encouraging plowing native grasses by offering financial payments to corn and grain farmers, says Davidson, is partly responsible for this loss, as is industrial farming, with its resultant increase in grain prices which encourages livestock growers to plow prairie and turn to confinement meat production and genetically modified seeds.

Prairie birds are declining more swiftly than any other birds in North America (www.stateofthebirds.org), and inland floods are increasing, all due to the loss of prairie. The World Wildlife Fund describes the Northern Great Plains as "one of the least protected places on earth."

Northern Prairies Land Trust is working with private ranchers and other landowners in eastern Nebraska and South Dakota to protect native grasses, with more than 100 active projects covering nearly 20,000 acres of unbroken tallgrass prairie. Northern Prairies is working to protect riverside wildlife habitat, wetlands, farms, ranches, and open spaces near cities and towns. Visit www.northernprairies.org to learn more about this important organization.

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For more information:

Northern Prairies Land Trust website

State of the Birds website

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