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



The Pipestone Meat Cutters Cap

January 22, 2012

Tags: Pipestone Meat Cutters, Public Appearance, Southwest State University, Friend: Dave Pichaske, My Poem: Butchering the Crippled Heifer, Poetry, My Book: Land Circle, My Book: Dakota Bones, Butchering, Beef, Meat

Linda wearing the Pipestone cap.
. . .
Folks tend to stare when I wear my black corduroy cap labeled PIPESTONE with the crossed butcher knife and sharpening tool on the front. Of course, the cap came with a story.

The occasion was one of the many readings I’ve done at Southwest State University in Marshall, Minnesota. The reading took place after 1991, because the poem that occasioned this story was first published in Land Circle that year, and in 1993 appeared in Dakota Bones, published by Dave Pichaske, who still teaches in Marshall.

The poem I read that evening was “Butchering the Crippled Heifer.” This is not an easy poem to read or to hear. I consider it an important poem because it raises difficult questions about meat-eating and expresses the ideas in graphic images. I love to read the poem because it is dramatic; several people who have commented on it mention its strong religious overtones. Still, before choosing to read it, I try to determine if I will have the kind of audience that will appreciate the poem’s complexities.

At the end of my reading for the evening, people gathered around me to comment and to have their books signed. I noticed the quiet man wearing the Pipestone cap, but I couldn’t make out the insignia. Finally he was able to approach and did so with his cap in his hand.

He really appreciated the poem, he said, because very few people, even or perhaps especially people who eat meat, understand what it’s like to kill a bovine and to butcher it. He believed that I understood and respected the process-- as he did, because he was a professional meat cutter, his skills represented by the symbols he pointed out on the cap: a butcher knife and a sharpening steel. And then he said that because I understood, he was naming me an honorary professional meat cutter-- and he gave me the cap.

I wore it the rest of the evening. Sometimes I wear it when I’m reading the poem, and tell the story with pride.

Here’s the poem.

Butchering the Crippled Heifer

First:
           aim the pistol at her ear. Stand close.
           She chews slowly, eyes closed. Fire.
           She drops. Kicks. Sighs.
           Cut her throat and stand back.
           Blood bubbles and steams.

Then:
           wrap chain around each ankle,
           spread the back legs with a singletree.
           The tractor growls, lifting;
           the carcass sways.

Next:
           drive the knife point in,
           open the belly like tearing cloth,
           the blade just under the skin.
           Cut around the empty udder.
           Don't puncture the stomach.
           Sheathe the knife and reach in.
           Wrap your bare arms around the slick guts.
           Press your face against warm flesh.
           Find the ridge of backbone; tear the
           membranes loose. Hold the anus shut;
           pull hard until the great blue stomach bag
           spills into the tub at your feet.
           Jerk the windpipe loose with a sucking moan,
           her last sound.

Straighten.
           Breathe blood-scent, clean digested grass.
           Plunge one arm into the tub, cut loose the heart,
           and squeeze the last clots out; slice the liver
           away from the green gall, put it all in cool water.
           Eat fresh liver and onions for supper,
           baked heart tomorrow.

Finally:
           Cut off the head and feet,
           haul them and the guts to the pasture:
           coyotes will feast tonight.

Then:
           pull the skin taut with one hand,
           slice the spider web of tissue with care.
           Save the tail for soup.
           Drape the hide on the fence.

Let her hang:
           sheet-wrapped, through three cool October days,
           while leaves yellow and
           coyotes howl thanksgiving.

Cut her up:
           bring one quarter at a time to the kitchen table.
           Toss bones into the big soup kettle
           to simmer, the marrow sliding out. Chunk
           scraps, pack them in canning jars.
           Cut thick red steaks, wrap them in white paper,
           labeled for the freezer.

Make meat:
           worship at a bloody altar, knives singing praises
           for the heifer's health, for flesh she made
           of hay pitched at forty below zero last winter.
           Your hands are red with her blood,
           slick with her fat.

You know
           where your next meal is coming from.


Copyright Linda M. Hasselstrom

# # #

For more information:

Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
published by Fulcrum Publishing.
This poem may be found on pages 317-319 of the 1991 edition (cloth)
and on pages 356-358 of the 2008 Anniversary Edition (paper).

Land Circle is a featured book on this website. Click here to read all about the book.

Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom
published 1993 by Spoon River Poetry Press (now Plains Press).
This poem may be found on pages 54-55.

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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 Lennon’s 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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Heat Wave on the Highway

August 16, 2010

Tags: Air Conditioning, My Book: Land Circle, Driving

. . .
Here is a follow-up to my blog about Fan Conditioning-- an excerpt from my book Land Circle.

This is the essay as it appears on my computer; copyediting may have changed it in small ways when it appeared in Land Circle, pages 261-263 in the original edition published 1991, pages 291-294 in the Anniversary edition of 2008.


Heat Wave on the Highway

Not long ago, I was speeding down highways in a seventy-mile-an-hour crosswind, my hair tangling in my glasses, spitting bugs from my teeth, and pulling bee stingers from my bare knees, while radio voices agreed the temperature was 105 degrees. I suddenly realized why people stared as I staggered into the ladies' room at rest stops to scrape bug juice off my glasses. I realized why people looked startled when I stuck my entire head under any faucet I met. I realized why I was seated next to the kitchen door even in truck stops. The door beat a rhythmic tattoo on my shoulder as waitresses dashed in and out. My ears quivered with shouts: "Roast one for three, Mac; hold the mustard on the doggie."

I'm the last one. I'm the zoo specimen, the relic, the survivor who may be captured, dissected, and interviewed. Driving to Devils Lake, North Dakota, I've passed 2,342 cars, trucks, campers, and busses, and several dozen monster tractors growling in roadside fields. I also met eighteen motorcycles with riders peering grimly through windshields decorated with dragonfly wings. Only eighteen of those vehicles didn't have air conditioners.

In fact, I'm not sure some of the motorcycles weren't air-conditioned. The modern machine has radio headphones, tape players, wraparound windshields, and so much other gear that the riders may have weather control, too. Or else those black leather outfits are fiendishly clever refrigerators; how else could they stand the heat?

The air smothered my nostrils with the odor of hot rubber, touched my taste buds with rotting silage and overheated fish; swathed me in fine dust, ashes from a prairie fire, stinging herbicides. I smelled ammoniac cow manure, choking diesel exhaust, the sharp tang of oil wells and aging roadkills, delicious roasted-on-the-stem sunflowers, nourishing vegetable gardens, peppery marigolds, resinous pine trees, bracing sagebrush, newly cut lumber, piny smoke from timber fires in a distant national park, acrid gum weed and goldenrod, sour sweat, cigarette smoke, tarred roofs, brake and radiator fluid. My unprotected skin felt blasts of hot air from the underside of passing trucks, the chill of a river bottom in arid butte country, and the slimy humidity of a swamp. My face was stung by biting gnats, my arms and knees by bees. My left arm has the distinctive red chevron of folks who drive with an elbow out the window, a once-common badge of honor now rare. Come to think of it, my elbow is probably rare as well, or possibly medium-well.

My nose quivered and sneezed and twitched all day long. My brain was busy sorting, identifying, and cataloging scents--when I wasn't counting cars. I was never bored; I was too busy being alive. But I was alone in sensing that rich tapestry of pasts, presence, and futures. I was the only person to realize a pocket of cold air swept across the highway near Bismarck, making the grass shiver for an instant, causing a horse to turn its nose north and think of winter. I experienced life today more nearly the way animals experience it all the time: as a total sensory experience, washing over my entire body, brushing every nerve, stimulating every inch of skin and each hair follicle, awakening old instincts long before my brain could make sense. All the other drivers sat in gleaming metal boxes that distinctly resemble ornate coffins, and breathed dead air sanitized for their delicate nasal passages.

I'm the last of a noble race of hardy men, women, and children who struggled to reach these plains as pioneers, walked behind a team dragging a plow through the tough soil. They are our ancestors, part of us, but we have consigned their experiences and triumphs to history, and grimace to think of their hardship. Great Plains dwellers once proudly scorned air conditioning in our houses and cars. We sneered at people rolling down highways with windows closed and frost on the dashboard. We pitied them; they were only tourists; they hadn't the strength for our heat. We thrived on it, climbed on clattering tractors that literally boil to gather hay on 110-degree days. We commented that folks with air conditioning can't smell blooming alfalfa, the green tonic of fresh-cut hay, hear meadowlarks and redwing blackbirds trilling from fenceposts. An old plains joke said a real farmer could taste the difference between Texas and South Dakota dust; we proudly compared flavors blowing through open windows wherever we drove. Now only I am left to tell the tale.

I'm no hero; I surrender. Since one can't quickly air-condition one's aging foreign car in the middle of North Dakota, and I couldn't give up my open window, I improvised. I created an air conditioner by filling a plant mister with water. Now I air-condition myself: squirt my hair, blouse, skirt, ankles, and sandaled feet. The hot wind does the rest, changing my personal climate in seconds from tropical to temperate.

My air conditioner has unique advantages; almost anyone can afford it. It's portable-- I take it with me when I walk the dog-- and cheap to repair or replace. It even has luxuries: I can wash windows, water my dog, and shoot flies buzzing against the windshield. I can soothe an itching foot without taking my attention from the highway, or cool bee stings. Try that with yours. Owners of air conditioning often whimper about cold heads and hot feet; I can independently cool selected portions of my anatomy. I've considered taking revenge on any passersby who burst into hysterical laughter by firing a stream of water to blotch their dusty windows.

Every new invention has disadvantages; I plan stops to avoid strolling into a cafe dripping water, and one truck driver laughed so hard he nearly drove into the ditch. Like all inventors, I'm sure I can overcome these minor obstacles.

# # #

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

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