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

Gleanings III: Dumpster Diving

Chickens at Tam's place eating Linda's unusable tomatoes, fall 2011. Yum yum.
These are the hens that supply eggs to each writer who comes to Windbreak House Writing Retreat.
. . .
Here’s an instance of gleaning from the ranch past.

When I moved back to the ranch with my second husband, I kept hens for meat and eggs, feeding them vegetable peelings and the neighbors’ grain. They roamed a large fenced yard in front of their tiny, insulated house near my garden, and ate trimmings from the vegetables I harvested, and table scraps from my kitchen.

One day, leaving the supermarket parking lot, I realized one dumpster was overflowing: wrapped heads of lettuce had lifted the lid, tumbled across the asphalt. I slammed on the brakes, and filled my pickup bed, then piled the excess outside the chicken yard, and fed the ladies a head of lettuce a day for weeks.

Every time I went to town after that, I passed the trash bins after shopping, and collected discarded lettuce, radishes, turnips, potatoes. My chickens gathered clucking at the gate when they saw my pickup, and their egg yolks turned a rich yellow.

Once, a store clerk dumping bottles of salad dressing questioned me, but when I explained that I feeding my chickens on waste he shrugged and went back inside.

After Mother’s Day, I filled the entire bed of my pickup with carnations, and collected a friend who rode in back of the truck flinging flowers as I drove down the street, tossing them into open car windows at stop lights. We detoured to the poorest part of town and handed a fistful of carnations to every woman we saw.

Then one day I pulled up to my dumpster and saw a clerk standing on a ladder beside it, stabbing the packaged heads of lettuce with a long knife and pouring bleach over them.

“Why are you doing that?” I asked, perhaps a little hysterically.

“Management says people have been taking this stuff out and eating it, and they’re afraid somebody will get sick and sue us,” he said.

I suggested that people hungry enough to eat out of dumpsters probably didn’t have the number of an attorney at their fingertips, but he wasn’t the manager, and he was, as he reminded me, “just doing his job.”

When I got home, I called my extension agent. Bleach wouldn’t hurt the chickens, he said; in fact, it ought to eliminate stomach parasites.

I kept collecting vegetables, but I also wrote letters to the chain store’s management, urging them to donate the food to the shelters and other good causes in town. Eventually, the trash containers were empty of vegetables when I made my rounds, so perhaps my gleaning chickens helped change wasteful policies. I tried to explain to them, but they couldn’t keep their minds on my speech. They kept eying the grass in the pen, snatching grasshoppers. Gleaning.

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Mother's Day

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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