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

A Little Light Reading: Suggestions by Wendell Berry

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The 3/20/15 issue of The Week features a book list chosen by Wendell Berry, who is one of the nation’s strongest advocates for wise land use to save our lives as well as being a poet. If you love the earth and haven’t read Wendell Berry, start today!

Berry recommends six books that inspired his thinking, including an account published in 1911 of the organic farming practices in China, Korea and Japan, Farmers of Forty Centuries, F. H. King. How did the people keep their land productive for 4,000 years? Not with pesticides and herbicides, but by returning all “wastes” to the soil, leaving the fertility cycle intact.

Of the books Berry cites, I can recommend the following:

An Agricultural Testament, Sir Albert Howard. Published in 1943. Howard argues that farming can last only if it obeys the laws of nature. “Mother Earth never attempts to farm without livestock,” he wrote. “There is no waste; the process of growth and the processes of decay balance one another.”

Home Place: Essays on Ecology, Stan Rowe, insists upon the importance of the ecosphere (not just the biosphere) as context of our lives. Rowe writes that we should “live on the annual interest and leave the land’s capital alone.”

Nature as Measure: The Selected Essays of Wes Jackson. Berry says this 2011 book addresses “The problem of agriculture” and the prospects for practical solutions.

A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold. This, of course, is one of the bibles of wise stewardship. Leopold’s ethic is simple and clear: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."

On a large scale, the problem of how we treat our land is complex, because companies who “use” the land in some way want to make a profit. But at the very least, we who occupy a small portion of the earth can do a great deal toward improving the world by following Leopold’s ethic in our lives as much as possible.


Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

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The Black Hills Yesterday and Today, by Paul Horsted

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I’m so glad that I finally bought this book!

Paul Horsted spent four years of intense work visiting archives, museums and photo collections to glean some of the early images of the Black Hills region, in which he includes the area “within view of the Hills, including towns like Newell, Belle Fourche, Wall and Sundance,” as well as towns that boomed and died, like Cyanide and Crook City. He even included Hermosa, which is often absent from books about the scenery of the Hills.

From the work of about 50 different photographers, he selected images that showed significant scenes in the Hills. The original photographers included Eastman, William Henry Illingworth, Rise Studio, Stanley J. Morrow, and many unknowns. And then, incredibly, he located the spots from which those photographs were taken and provided a modern view of the same scene.

That’s amazing enough, but he didn't stop with the photographs. He included the date of the original photo, if possible, credited the photographer and collection, provided GPS readings for the location (unless it was on private property or in a few other instances). Furthermore, he added field notes, which included descriptions of what he encountered while locating the photograph, or other observations he made.

The photographs are delightful; Horsted hauled his camera to the top of rugged cliffs so we don’t have to climb there in order to see the sights these early photographers observed. In some cases he placed his camera’s tripod in the precise location where a photographer had taken a photo a hundred years before.

I studied each photo and learned so much about the Hills. But my favorite part of the book is the field notes, because of Horsted’s generosity. He says things like, “It is a beautiful place to have a picnic lunch and ponder the changes that have taken place in more than 100 years of Black Hills history.”

Additionally, he notes where changes have taken place since the original image, or since his own photograph. He explains how he balanced on roofs and dangled from rusty ladders to capture a shot. When photographing from streets, he was occasionally threatened by cars, and in Newell, SD, he was nearly run down by a thrashing machine.

He adds travel suggestions like this, “When you go to Deadwood, be sure to stop at the Adams Museum behind the depot. It is a treasure trove of Deadwood history that could easily occupy a few hours.”

A handy index helps the reader quickly locate favorite photos. Many of the images in the book are available as prints.

The Black Hills Yesterday and Today was published in 2006; I never should have waited this long.


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For more information:

To learn about this and other books by Paul Horsted, visit his website at www.dakotaphoto.com

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Death Sentences by Don Watson

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I just discovered a book that I highly recommend to folks like me who cringe at the language of politicians, daily newspapers, radio announcers and others.

Death Sentences: How Clichés, Weasel Words, and Management-Speak Are Strangling Public Language by Don Watson. (Gotham Books: 2005.)

If I deface a war memorial or rampage through St. Paul’s with a sledgehammer I will be locked up as a criminal or lunatic. I can expect the same treatment if I release some noxious weed or insect into the natural environment. It is right that the culture and environment should be so respected. Yet every day our leaders vandalize the language, which is the foundation, the frame, and joinery of the culture, if not its greatest glory, and there is no penalty and no way to impose one. We can only be indignant. And we should resist.


Here’s another significant statement:

Wherever demagogues and bullies went, there also went obfuscation, pomposity, and doublespeak. . . . Civilized society depends on the exercise of common sense, which depends upon our saying what we mean clearly enough for everyone of reasonable intelligence to understand. The political point follows from the general one Ben Jonson made. ‘Language springs out of the most retired and inmost parts of us, and is the image of the parent of it, the mind. No glass renders a man’s form and likeness so true as his speech.’

Democracy depends upon plain language. It depends upon common understanding. We need to feel safe in the assumption that words mean what they are commonly understood to mean. Deliberate ambiguities, slides of meaning, and obscure, incomprehensible, or meaningless words poison the democratic process by leaving people less able to make informed or rational decisions. They erode trust.” (p. 120)


Don Watson, who is Australian, goes on:

That is why we should not vote for any politician who says, for instance, there are no quick fixes more than three times a year. Punish her for banality and the contempt for us that it implies.” (p. 137)


And he adds a glossary of words and phrases that should be banned from our language. The list includes (but is not limited to) the following:

Action/actioned/actioning, bottom line, closure, commit/committed/commitment, core, customer, deliver/deliverable, empower/empowered/empowerment, enhance (and all its forms), event, going forward, hopefully, impact, implement, input, in terms of, issue, outcome, point in time, prioritize, product, scenario, strategic in any form, and workshop.

Thank you, Don Watson.

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