The Gallimaufry Page
A jumble of stories, poems and photos that don't fit in elsewhere in this website.
What does the word "Gallimaufry" mean?
Black Hills Raptor Center
Linda wrote this story to help publicize the BHRC annual "Art on the Wing" fundraiser, but the story stands on its own.
Sanson Ranch Buffalo Jump
Linda took a tour of the new addition to Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota.
Ikebana Created for Windbreak House
Explanation and photos.
The Place I’ll Never Know
Linda's essay is subtitled: Some thoughts on learning how to be a nature writer.
The Garden House
A photo-filled story of the history of the small building near the Homestead House garden.
What Does the Word "Gallimaufry" Mean?
Linda is a writer and she loves words. Though you can probably guess the meaning of gallimaufry by the context, Linda would like you to look up the definition-- preferably in a paper dictionary (rather than going directly to the word electronically) so that you will notice and learn other interesting words as you page through the G's.
Gainsay . . .
Galantine . . .
Galimatias . . .
Gallimaufry . . .
Gallinipper . . .
Gallinule . . .
Galoot . . .
They're all great words to know.
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. . .
Black Hills Raptor Center: the Life Work of Birds of Prey
The life work of Elise, a magnificent red-tailed hawk, is to soar over the grasslands searching for mice, voles, garter snakes and other food so her species can live.
Maggie Engler’s job is to help you and me understand how much Elise’s life means to ours.
Maggie and her co-founder John Halverson have created the Black Hills Raptor Center to help birds of prey like Elise survive and recover from human-caused damage. The center is allowed to house only birds that can never be released into the wild.
Because these birds can no longer hunt to live, they help BHRC educate us about the birds of prey -- raptors -- whose life work of rodent control coincidentally protects our food supply.
If you eat grain in any form, you have dined on mouse waste.
Mice eat wheat, corn, oats, rye, barley and other grains humans use in cereals, bread, pasta, grits, tortillas-- and beer. Because they don’t see well, mice mark every step of their journeys with urine and excrement, so they are able to sniff their way home. In one year, a pair of mice can produce 908,544 offspring. Each pair of mice that lives one year will eat 8 pounds of grain between them, and spread their filth in another 22 pounds.
“So,” says Maggie, “we should love anything that eats mice.”
Birds of prey-- eagles, hawks, falcons and owls-- contribute enormously to mankind’s welfare, besides being charismatic megafauna with majesty, power, and grace. Eighty percent of these birds, so vital to human interests, die before they are a year old.
Maggie and other volunteers introduce the BHRC birds to the public in 160-170 programs a year for preschool through college classes, community groups, visitors to national and state parks, conservation camps, outdoor expos, and sports shows in and around South and North Dakota.
“I can teach any topic through birds,” says Maggie, because “raptors capture the human heart like no other birds.”
(The Black Hills Raptor Center story continues below the "sidebar.")
SIDEBAR: "Art on the Wing" --- an annual fundraiser for the Black Hills Raptor Center
We saw Elise in action at Art on the Wing, a fund-raiser held September 20, 2014 in the Dahl Arts Center in Rapid City. Local artists spent the afternoon portraying the BHRC raptors; the public was invited to observe. At day’s end, the new art was sold at auction to benefit BHRC’s capital campaign to build a permanent facility.
Besides Elise, the artists observed Phoenix the ferruginous hawk, Icarus the great horned owl, Hendrix the American kestrel, and two Eastern screech owls, Little Red Riding Hoot and Big Bad Wolf.
Here’s the schedule for Art on the Wing
2:30 to 4 pm
Watch the artists create an original piece in 90 minutes, using the avian ambassadors of the Raptor Center as models.
Silent auction and time to take a closer look at the raptors
Vote for People’s Choice, using dollar bills as your ballot
Take home your favorite piece during the live auction
Artists who attended the 2014 event included: Jim Green, sculptor; Petty Detmers, sculptor; Bob York, western artist; Rae Schneider, colored pencil sketches; Terry McTighe, painter; Tommie Leenknecht, painter; DeDe Farrar, painter; Shaila Peterson, painter; Jackie Kreibel, painter; Mary Jo Marcy, mixed media; Jim Hatzell, sketches and Laine Golliher, sculptor.
For more information:
See the BHRC website at www.blackhillsraptorcenter.org
See the BHRC Facebook page at Facebook.com/Black-Hills-Raptor-Center
Trained as a naturalist, interpreter, and environmental educator, Maggie holds a B.S. in Natural Resource Management from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and has done this work for thirty years in various capacities. Like the abused birds she has rescued, she has known enough troubled times to identify with the hardships humans have caused the birds. Maggie also teaches preschool, and tutors people with dyslexia. In her “spare” time she takes care of the other raptors, handles correspondence for BHRC, communicates with volunteers, and writes grants.
Maggie, John and the volunteers do all this public education without a building that the public can visit to see the birds and contribute to their welfare.
Her vision of the nonprofit Black Hills Raptor Center is three-fold, with the birds of prey serving the first goal of educating people about the natural world.
In the future, Maggie hopes that the center will rehabilitate injured raptors, returning them to live out their lives as wild animals and take their necessary place in the food chain.
“We can’t do rehab because we don’t have the space to construct the necessary enclosures,” explains Maggie. Science has not proven that rehabilitating common species, such as great horned owls or red-tailed hawks, does anything to impact the local population for the good, but rehab connects with the minds and hearts of people who learn to care about these wild birds.
“When we can return an injured bird to the wild, we can bring people a step closer to nature and a world they are too far removed from,” Maggie notes. “The educator in me rejoices.”
The center also hopes to participate in research expanding scientific understanding of the role of raptors in the environment. South Dakota is home to seventeen species of daytime (diurnal) raptors including two species of eagles, bald and golden; one of vultures, the turkey vulture; the osprey, and five kinds of hawks, red-tailed, ferruginous, Swainson’s, broad-winged and rough-legged, as well as five of the North American falcons, the American kestrel, merlin, prairie falcon, peregrine falcon and gyrfalcon.
South Dakota’s raptor riches continue; the state is home to all three of the North American accipiters (hawks with short, broad wings and long legs particularly suited to fast flight in wooded areas): the northern goshawk, Cooper’s hawk and sharp-shinned hawk, as well as nine species of nighttime (nocturnal) raptors: great horned, eastern screech, burrowing, long-eared, short-eared, northern saw-whet, flammulated, barn and snowy owls.
Maggie says, “I want people to be able to visit, to see the raptors, take part in a program, to watch a release, to walk trails while learning how to enhance wildlife habitat, to enjoy water features for songbirds and learn how to set up bird-feeding stations.”
Currently, Maggie and her co-founder John Halverson house the birds at their homes. “John is awakened at sunrise every morning from March until June by a male kestrel shrieking for a mate,” says Maggie. “He needs to get some sleep.” At John’s house, Hendrix can have the supplemental heat he needs to survive in winter.
The expertise to create the center is in place, but BHRC needs to raise enough money before spring to buy building materials. A professional fundraiser has offered to teach the Center’s board how to conduct a capital campaign during the coming months.
The new building will generously expand the services BHRC is able to offer, including adding one or both species of eagles as avian ambassadors. “Everyone wants to see an eagle,” Maggie explains, but the birds cannot be kept, even for educational purposes, at any site not open to the public. Moreover, the building will allow volunteers to begin rehabilitating raptors for release into the wild.
With a location where the public can actually see and participate in raptor care, BHRC will draw more community support, volunteers and donations. Current BHRC sponsors include Reptile Gardens; the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; Black Hills Corporation, a diversified electric and gas utility company in Wyoming and South Dakota; and McPherson Auction and Realty.
And Icarus works for her keep even when she’s not appearing in classrooms; her sterilized pellets provide a hands-on guide to what a great horned owl eats, and are available for $1 each.
Money isn't the only way to help the Raptor Center. The website (www.blackhillsraptorcenter.org) provides an ever-changing wish list of items needed, currently including hand tools, garden hose, postage stamps, bleach, detergent, a weed whacker and boxes of sandwich baggies used to store meat processed for bird food.
In addition to voluntary contributions, the Center has recently received money collected as fines from individuals who broke federal law by killing raptors.
Maggie, herself a hunter, says that while raptors do eat pheasants, grouse, ducks and geese, the hunting is not enough to damage a healthy population. A golden eagle may take a lamb, but most of its diet is ground squirrels, rabbits, and prairie dogs.
“Besides,” she says, “good ranch managers know how to protect flocks and herds from predators, including raptors, non-lethally. A person who poaches raptors has not studied the full ecosystem; that person is only looking for a quick fix for a much larger problem. Sometimes they are simply filled with hate at any living creature that does not provide a profit for them.”
When raptors are intentionally killed, the human population loses the best mouse traps in the world, and a predator that has evolved to keep populations of prey animals within the carrying capacity of the local environment.
Now, thanks to the current USFWS agent for the western Dakotas, the fines imposed on raptor-killers will help the populations of the birds they slaughtered. For several years, restitution paid by poachers of raptors has gone into the Dakota Eagle Restitution Fund. Rehabbers could apply for these funds for help in raptor rehab efforts; BHRC recently applied and was granted some of these funds. In addition, two recent cases were adjudicated so that the restitution was paid directly to the BHRC to assist in construction costs.
More than a hundred people a year ask BHRC for help with an injured bird, but all Maggie can do now is assess each bird’s condition before taking it to a facility with the necessary permits to provide medical care. The closest permitted facilities are in Sioux Falls or Watertown in South Dakota, and Cody, Wyoming. Many injured birds don’t live long enough to reach help.
“Mouse school” will enable the birds to learn to hunt so they can survive in the wild. In these mews—bird enclosures--the lower walls will be encased in sheet metal so that live mice released into the rooms cannot escape. In this way, the birds will learn to kill their own food, never seeing the humans who deliver it, and thus be kept from associating food with people—the imprinting that ruined Elise for life in the wild.
How much does it cost to feed a raptor for a day? Little Red Riding Hoot, who weighs about five ounces, can eat up to three mice a day in the coldest winter months at one ounce each, or 60 percent of her body weight. Unfortunately, wild caught mice are not an option since they might carry disease or poison that would kill the educational birds. One domestic mouse costs 95 cents. If Hoot eats 3 mice daily for a cost of $2.85 during 60 days of winter, that winter diet costs $171. If she eats two mice a day for the rest of the year (305 days) her total year’s food bill is $750.50 for 790 mice.
As a comparison, John explains that he weighs 160 pounds and loves homemade macaroni and cheese. But in order to eat in proportion to Hoot’s dietary requirements, he’d have to eat 96 pounds of macaroni every day.
Food for all six raptors at BHRC totals about $282 a month, or around $3,384 per year.
Maggie and John are not alone in their attempts to rescue raptors; a dozen or more volunteers from this area regularly offer help of various kinds. Rabbit breeders at the Central States Fair, for example, often donate unsold rabbits to BHRC for raptor food. One woman was so horrified at the idea that she bought several rabbits to save their lives-- until Maggie explained the raptors’ need. Now that the woman understands the importance of feeding the birds and the convenience of using unwanted rabbits, she contributes to the BHRC in several ways.
No central clearinghouse for information on wildlife rescuers exists, but the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association (nwrawildlife.org) estimates that 75% of the hundreds of thousands of animals cared for are affected, almost always negatively, by human activities.
The Black Hills Raptor Center will finally offer South Dakota citizens an opportunity to apologize for that human damage by helping individual birds of prey.
(c) Linda M. Hasselstrom, 2014
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For more information:
See the BHRC website at www.blackhillsraptorcenter.org
See the BHRC Facebook page at Facebook.com/Black-Hills-Raptor-Center
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Sanson Ranch Buffalo Jump
Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
Recently I was able to join a Wind Cave National Park tour of the Sanson Ranch, including the buffalo jump. I highly recommend taking this hike, which is not difficult but leads to some spectacular country as well as providing a view of local history.
The ranch is closed to public access [in 2013] so you can’t go without a guide; inquire at Wind Cave National Park headquarters eleven miles north of Hot Springs off Highway 385 at 26611 US Highway 385, Hot Springs, SD 57747-6027; Visitor Information: 605-745-4600; Fax: 605-745-4207; or by email from the website, www.nps.gov/wica.
The website provides hours of operation plus a special section on Sanson Ranch Information. The ranch is closed to the public while planning goes on, but you can see photographs and other information.
The website summarizes the Sanson family ranching operation:
Carl Sanson and his family ranched this area for 105 years. Terrible weather, fires, and personal tragedies were just some of the many hardships he faced. However, like other ranchers, he cared for and protected the land and had many wonderful experiences during his lifetime. Carl said ranch life in the Black Hills was “next-year country.” If things were bad one year, he hoped for things to be better the next year. The Sanson family operated the ranch from 1882 until 1987.
Carl knew about the tipi rings and the buffalo jump, although he admitted that his family’s farming operations disrupted some of the tipi ring sites.
Our walk took us from the Sanson family home and corrals uphill past a beautifully constructed root cellar and across a creek, avoiding the poison ivy and studying more beneficial native plants. We approached the buffalo jump by moving up a slight rise that hid the cliff from sight as the ranger described how the prehistoric Indians built brush fences and waved buffalo robes to make the bison run toward the hidden cliff. The drive lines are visible in the grass: long rows of stone aimed at the precipice.
Buffalo can, as Carl might have said, "spin on a dime and give you nine cents change," so the Indians had to get the animals moving fast enough so that even if the lead animals sensed the danger, the weight and momentum of the running herd behind them would push them over.
For people with no guns, this was the most efficient method they could devise of killing large numbers of animals so their flesh could be harvested and stored. But it must have been brutal: buffalo with broken bones piled at the bottom of the cliff as hunters moved to kill them. (For more information on this method, look for the Head-Smashed-In jump site in southwestern Alberta, Canada.)
Being able to stand on a place where prehistoric man hunted, then where pioneers created a ranch while respecting their predecessors, is a powerful experience. I could hardly bear to look at the map depicting what the site would have looked like with houses.
I was especially happy to see Carl and his family recognized by the park service since Carl Sanson was a great influence on my life as a horsewoman. He helped advise a horse club that a friend, Mikkey Murphy, and I organized when we were teenagers. Patiently, Carl worked with a dozen horse-crazy kids, teaching us how to respect our horses as well as to get the best performance from them. He also hauled our horses around when we were short of qualified drivers and stock trailers.
My father, for example, believed horses were to be used for work rather than entertainment, so while he usually hauled my horse to the meetings, he wasn’t especially encouraging. Carl understood that we teenagers regarded our horses as good friends and encouraged us to treat them as such.
With the help of Carl, who probably drew on his experiences as a polo player, we devised a number of intricate maneuvers to execute at rodeos and fairs. The one I remember most vividly, because I was so badly injured while doing it, began when we lined up facing the audience in the arena. My friend Mikkey and I were on opposite ends of the line, carrying tall flags which we shoved in front of our boots in our stirrups, braced against our knees.
Then we broke the line in the middle and each half rode toward the other. We had to be careful with spacing so each half of the line passed through the other. As the line of riders moved from a walk to a trot to a full gallop, the riders on the end, Mikkey and I, went faster than anyone else. So when, on one pass, we accidentally crossed flags, the impact nearly ripped both of us out of the saddle. Both of us kept our seats, but the slam of the flagpole against my knee hurt so badly I thought I might faint. Still, we completed our maneuvers and rode from the arena.
When I eventually lowered myself from the horse, my knee was so swollen I couldn't get my jeans down to look at the damage. Carl found some ice and packed it on to reduce the swelling. A doctor later told me I’d torn the knee cap loose and ripped some of the cartilage. This was the same knee my horse Oliver later tap-danced on, so it’s never been right since.
But when any of us had horse wrecks, Carl was there to pick us up, dust us off and tell us-- firmly but kindly-- to get back on those horses. When his horse was gored by a buffalo roundup in Custer State Park, he stayed in the barn with the horse, night and day, doctoring its wound, until it recovered.
But Carl, that generous man, wanted the National Park Service to have the land, so I find it especially fitting that the ranch on which he lived his rich life has become part of our national and state heritage.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House, Hermosa, South Dakota
August 5, 2013
# # #
For more information:
The Wind Cave National Park website may be found at www.nps.gov/wica.
Wica is short for WIndCAve and has nothing to do with the practice of wicca.
Find the Sanson Ranch information at this web page.
There you will see a view of the buffalo jump taken from the valley floor, which will give you a better idea of how high it is.
For more about Carl Sanson, read Jessie Sundstrom's book Carl Sanson: Black Hills Rancher, published in 2009; it’s available at the visitor center in Wind Cave as well as at several other Hills locations.
My friend Ken Steinken wrote about his visit to the Sanson Ranch soon after its acquisition in 2011.
"Up-close Look at Wind Cave's Sanson Ranch"
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Ikebana Created for Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Writer Faye Schrater, who spent a week at Homestead House working on a book, created an art piece especially for the house in Ikebana, the ancient art of Japanese flower arrangement.
Eventually the ikebana will fade, so a photo of it will go in the Homestead House album.
Faye wrote an essay to go with the photo, which is posted here with her permission and our appreciation.
* * *
The theme of ikebana is life. Within the endless flow of time . . . plants achieve a beautiful harmony at each moment. We also are an essential part of this flow of life.
I walk the land, eyes and heart open for material to represent Windbreak. I collect for three days. I create Windbreak House Ikebana.
Grandmother cedar: This strong central branch, resplendently berry-pregnant, sets the mood and represents Windbreak House Retreat. Her bare twigs and brown needles offer a truth: we are strong and beautiful without being Cosmopolitan-model-perfect. Grandfather cedar flanks Grandmother, supporting without domination: some men do freely encourage and support women writers.
Cottonwood and native rock: Standing to the side slightly behind center, these represent the yard at Homestead House. They balance and anchor. Cottonwood signals water in the West and reminds us to anchor in life-nourishment. Native rock, Mother Earth whose eons-long erosion created the soil, grounds us.
Grasses: Placed in front, drawing the eye to cool green fire, these represent the prairie. Grasses reach skyward and wind dance, reminding us to dance our writing with sacred intent.
Weathered plank: Resting across the front, it holds a white quartz cairn marking the path to Windbreak, Linda’s wisdom and our writing. Within the plank a knot manifests branching.
* * * * *
Mindful, heart open, walking, thinking and not thinking; stronger images surface. For the initial ikebana, I placed a thin, three-forked cottonwood branch at the back. It was weak and the arrangement unbalanced . . . but that was what I had. The next morning I walked anew and found the chunk of cottonwood bark. Strong elements--plants or words--give strength and balance to our creations.
Summer Solstice 2012
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The Place I’ll Never Know: Some thoughts on learning how to be a nature writer
By Linda M. Hasselstrom
According to the inscription, I bought The Place No One Knew on April 29, 1968 for my first husband, probably as a gift for our second anniversary.
The book consists of photographs of Glen Canyon by Eliot Porter with his description of the canyon before it was flooded in 1963. Each photograph is accompanied by text, often quotations from the works of writers or politicians about the West. The book begins in a fashion I find typical of many Sixties environmental manifestoes: "Glen Canyon died in 1963 and I was partly responsible for its needless death. So were you."
At that time, we were graduate students at the University of Missouri in steamy Columbia. Almost at once, I began using the thin Sierra Club book with its glowing Eliot Porter photographs as a refuge from reality, staring at the picture of a waterfall in Cathedral in the Desert. I could imagine myself there, feel the fine mist on my parched skin, feel the sandstone against my back as I sat in the sand. “Remember these things lost” said a line on the facing page.
The book drew me out of my self-absorption and into a broader awareness of the world and my responsibilities to it. To be fair to my youthful self, though, I had a lot to be absorbed about. Married just two years to the man I supposed would be The One True Love Of My Life, I had moved from my South Dakota ranch to the south. In that part of Missouri, local people still remembered which county fought on which side in the Civil War, and made judgments accordingly. Sometime during our first year together, he started one or more affairs with other women, changed majors from Literature to Philosophy, and began singing jazz in a bar. I worked two jobs so we could support his three children from the first marriage he’d promised to uphold when he was a Baptist minister. We were always broke, but I bought him a fine suit and a ruffled shirt for his bar gig. His clothes cost more than our groceries every month. Like most folks, I lived through all this, and still remember the shocks, but this was my immersion education into other cultures, other viewpoints, other ways of directing the world. As is the case with everyone, events I recall and some that I don’t helped create the person and the writer I am today.
I must have heard the word “environmentalist” during those years in Missouri, but I hadn’t begun identifying myself as one. My background was in ranching, and I’d grown up learning that protecting water, grass and wildlife was part of my job. Involved in my new life, I was busy teaching journalism at a women’s college, and trying to sort out my feelings about the war in Viet Nam. My viewpoints broadened exponentially. For the first time I did many things: met and formed friendships with black people; read books on political subjects; marched against the war; helped edit an underground newspaper, and sampled drugs, though sometimes that was an accident. Besides “expanding my horizons” in beneficial ways, I did plenty of stupid things, but I learned that most of them weren’t irrevocable. I could and did recover from temporary idiocy, but I learned not to do particularly destructive actions more than once.
Still, the photographs stayed in my mind, becoming part of my personal definition of what it meant to lose part of ourselves, an irreplaceable part of our heritage.
Meanwhile, life went on. With that first husband I moved back to South Dakota to “repair our marriage.” When it ripped apart on the rocks of his constant infidelity, I retreated–as I thought of it then–to the family ranch. There I learned more about ranching while teaching myself to write, and discovered a passion that would last. During the next thirty years, I shed the husband and thousands of possessions, but I kept the book. And I learned that coming back to the ranch offered healing for the wounds I carried.
Defiantly, I began to call myself an environmentalist, and to discuss with my father and other ranchers how our attention to the land made us stewards who should be respected by other folks who cared about their surroundings. Nationally, groups such as The Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Earth First! were making headlines--and beginning to understand how much money could be made– by informing the public how finite is our little world. Many of these folks sneered at ranchers and farmers and called us enemies of the land where we had spent generations making a living while conserving the unique ecosystem of the grasslands.
Those who made headlines talking about Nature, we ranchers began to say, were those who had never lived here and never depended on the land for their income.
Joining several local activist groups, I spent thousands of hours and drove thousands of miles volunteering on specific projects: trying to get a gold-mining company to stop dumping pollution in our creeks; trying to stop loggers from clear-cutting the sharp slopes of the Black Hills; trying to create mineral severance taxes that reflected the real profits these companies made. Our efforts did help stop an international company from building a uranium mine, mill, and waste dump in the southwestern corner of the state–though a drop in the price of uranium helped. State tourism officials suggested several times that I “go back where I came from.” Doggedly, I kept reminding them that I’d lived in South Dakota since I was four years old, as if length of residence determined one’s right to comment on the place.
Our most violent, uninformed, and vicious opposition usually came from people who lived in the neighborhood and knew my relatives, people who should have worked with us to protect our mutual home. A couple of people whose voices I recognized from acrimonious public meetings left death threats on my answering-machine tape, saying I was responsible for their menfolk not getting jobs in the uranium industry. I called them back to explain that I really didn’t influence the price of uranium and that if I handed the tape to the FBI they’d be in real trouble, but they didn’t believe me in either case.
Sometimes in my writing I pointed out the irony of these attitudes flourishing near Mount Rushmore, the Shrine to Democracy.
Still, reading newspapers and books written by environmental activists from other regions, I never felt the sense of kinship I felt with my neighbors, even the antagonistic ones whose fear of change I could understand. Little of what I read about the “wilderness” or “Nature” or the “environment” related to the grasslands where we lived; most of the fighting that drew media attention occurred over spectacular desert or mountain landscapes. Eventually, I stopped describing myself as an environmentalist when it seemed that the term had come to designate people who offered judgments about the fate of a region without every having lived or earned a living there.
I began to fear, though, that I would live to see the center of the nation become a focus for the kind of development and controversy occurring elsewhere. As Glen Canyon dam had drowned those glowing walls in water and sludge, the grasslands would be submerged in asphalt by people who had no understanding of its worth. When it was too late, they would wail and lament and publish beautiful picture books about what it had been like. Paradise thrown away.
Now, forty years later, coffee table books with gorgeous photographs of the plains appear yearly from the savvy publishers who see what’s happening. Some of my friends are writing the lush descriptions for those books.
After returning to the ranch in South Dakota, I began to write about the issues I thought were important, began to try to convince residents of the Great Plains that we need to protect our lands. Meanwhile, state officials advertised the state as the perfect location for companies that wanted honest, hard-working employees willing to take low wages without complaint. These folks used to own or work on farms, explained the promotional literature, but were losing them to multinational corporate farming.
Once, during my wild youth, I even fell to my knees on Glen Canyon Dam Bridge. As tourists stared, I hollered, "All we need here God, is one little precision earthquake." They edged away from me on the bridge, looking over their shoulders. Apparently few of them recognized the words of the Mormon activist Seldom Seen Smith in Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang.
I never accepted invitations to make a float trip over the wonders Porter had pictured; I didn’t think I could stand it. Through the years, I didn’t pay much attention to the controversies over the dam and arguments over removing it. Instead, I focused my attention on the country where I lived and worked, where, I believed, I might actually accomplish something.
Occasionally, I paged through the book, shaking my head. I tried not to think about sludge filling those cathedral canyons, but the images crowded into my mind: condoms, soft drink cans, water ski fragments, plastic forks. Reading articles about garbage and the bulging, gurgling landfills that surround our cities, watching as city streets fill with junk tossed away by thoughtless consumers, I mourned both the beautiful places and the ordinary places that had once been lovely. Not only under the waters behind the dam, but everywhere, trash seemed to reign.
Some environmentalists, I think, began to relish those ghastly fantasies, to fashion them into clubs, weapons with which to bludgeon ordinary people, trying to drive them toward environmental activism. Many times, it seemed to me, people who counseled us to consider consequences before we acted were shouted down, battered about the heads and shoulders with the latest environmental disaster. Some environmentalists seemed to abhor the idea of compromise so deeply that they loathed even a reference to any view that opposed their own of The Right Way To Do Things. Glen Canyon Dam became a heat-seeking missile blowing away differing opinions.
Finding the book after yet another move, this time from Cheyenne, Wyoming, back to the South Dakota ranch I now own, set me thinking about the forty years it has been in my possession. For nearly a decade, drought has been pounding the West, but the development hasn’t been slowed by thoughts of the future. Developers busy selling “ranchettes” don’t seem to care about the folks who think they are going to live happily in those subdivisions scattered on the horizon, miles from the nearest town. The uninformed new residents who are planting trees around their grasslands homes, watering those ugly green lawns, don’t realize that the blowing dust and firestorms of the past few years are probably only the beginning. Soon they are likely to be perched on dusty little knobs surrounded by dead sticks. If gas prices keep rising, they may be packing their lunches for the long hike to their jobs in town.
We’ve grown comfortable with our greed, grown accustomed to having anything we want without considering the consequences. Stuff a check to that environmental group into the mailbox on our way to work in the SUV while talking on the hands-free phone. Those news stories of fires burning entire herds of cattle, of forests flaming and subdivisions turned to ash, didn’t happen in our neighborhood. A lot of environmental organizations are so rich they keep lobbyists in Washington to whine permanently about the latest problem. Turn the page. Change the channel.
In 2005, when drought had pulled the reservoir level down ninety feet, Jim Stiles, long-time editor of the Canyon Country Zephryr, one of the strongest voices for the environment in the southwest, took a boat to Lake Powell. He located the approximate position of the Cathedral in the Desert and floated over it. Two years later, when drought had dropped Lake Powell another sixty feet, Stiles went back with Rich Ingebretsen, the president of the Glen Canyon Institute, which wants to breach Glen Canyon Dam. They parked the boat and walked in. “The dark desert varnish had not faded in 40 years,” Stiles wrote. “The striations that were so clearly visible” in the photograph on p. 159 of the book were just as sharply defined. “And it was still there,” he said, “just waiting for Nature to expose the rock and for us to return.”
Edward Abbey had said that the cathedral and the other wonders of Glen Canyon weren’t gone, that they were in “liquid storage” and he was more right than he could know. “Nature was already at work” said Stiles, and though they came upon old beer cans, ropes, other debris from the “motorized recreation,” what surprised them was “how little garbage there was. The Cathedral in the Desert, without any help from us, was, in the most tranquil way imaginable, restoring itself. All it needed from us was time. And there’s the rub.
As Stiles noted, the spring runoff was massive, and the reservoir has risen, so Cathedral in the Desert may never emerge again. By May of 2008, houseboats were again floating above it. But “for now,” Stiles noted, he could take comfort in knowing it really is down there, “waiting for an enlightened future to let her shine again.”
“You can’t go home again,” says the famous warning, and since I’ve tried, I know what the warning means. Looking at a photograph of my first husband with his latest wife (number five?) I feel nothing but pity for her. I finally paid off the thousands of dollars in debts he left behind. I buried his neglected dog. I can even admit that our seven years together provided me with much that I still value, though most of it’s intangible. For one thing, I can recognize the type of male he represents at forty paces. For another, I’m still in touch with his children, who say they have two mothers and no father.
But I am living again on the family ranch where I grew up. Similarly, I can still relish my vintage copy of The Place No One Knew. Recently, researching the history of the dam, I discovered that the Sierra Club had originally opposed the entire dam-building project that included Glen Canyon. Believing it was more important to keep dams out of Dinosaur National Monument, the group participated in a deal: gave up Glen Canyon so as to look more reasonable to the nation’s public. So the dam was already under construction when David Brower visited the area, and produced the book in a frantic effort to stop the work– too late.
This trip back in time has strengthened some lessons I’d learned in a dozen other ways in sixty years of life. The story provides several useful lessons for women, environmentalists and --particularly--writers.
Despite the glorious photographs, the Sierra Club made a deal that might be described as less than honest. Was the book funded by guilt? Beautiful photographs and hyperbole did help educate us, but also warn us to beware pretty pictures and purple prose. I’ve never joined the Sierra Club; never will.
Guilt, I’ve decided, may not be a good motivator, especially these days. “Glen Canyon died in 1963 and I was partly responsible for its needless death,” wrote David Brower. “So were you.” Such language brought in thousands of memberships and made the group one of the most powerful lobbying agencies in the nation. Did it also make people buy the book and then have another drink or another toke because they weren’t given a viable option for action?
When reading or writing an environmental story, I try to pay as much attention to the details as I pay to the sounds of an autumn day in areas where I know rattlesnakes might lie. And for the same reasons: failure to pay attention can be dangerous. Who’s telling the story? What connection do they have to the characters in it? Is there a profit of some kind to be made? What do I, or what does the story’s writer, know about the place where the story takes place? It’s easy to accuse, to hurl blame, but often difficult to really pin down a cause.
Ask yourself if knowing who’s responsible is as important as offering a solution, suggesting ways we might fix what’s wrong. Do you use your energy for blame? Or remedy?
Also, I try to consider the likely consequences of a story, try to understand as much as I can about the history of a problem before yelling protests or loading the weapons, figurative or otherwise. Let’s not say the damage is permanent, or the place is completely ruined for all time if that may not be the case. Let’s look at the alternatives, at similar cases. Above all, let’s allow the reader some way to participate in this story, or in creating a cure for this situation. Offer some good cheer along with the dose of cough syrup.
Maybe we should spend more time learning from the universe than trying to make decisions about it. And perhaps we should have more confidence in nature. I suppose its sexist to refer to Mother Nature, so I must say that perhaps, left to its own devices, nature can repair the damage we’ve caused more quickly than we think.
That doesn’t mean we should stop fighting environmental disasters caused by human greed. “Oppose,” said Abbey. “Oppose the destruction of our homeland by these alien forces from Houston, Tokyo, Manhattan, D. C. And the Pentagon. . . . God bless America, let’s save some of it. Love the Land–or Leave it alone.”
And we can’t stop writing about what’s gone wrong. But let’s also write about what’s gone right with humans and nature. Let’s celebrate the successes.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to enjoy the places where we live, to carry that enjoyment with us into our writing, so that it speaks to the people who might be persuaded to help us. Another Sierra Club book of the same era, also featuring photographs by Eliot Porter, was titled by an apt quotation from Henry David Thoreau: In Wildness is the Preservation of the World. The two books stand side by side in the bookcase closest to my computer, where I can refresh myself with their pages when the work grows depressing.
Abbey said it too: “Enjoy our great American West–climb those mountains, run those rivers, hike those canyons, explore those forests, and share in the bounty of wilderness, friendship, love, and the common effort to save what we love. Do this and we will be strong, and bold, and happy, we will outlive our enemies . . .”
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, South Dakota
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The Place No One Knew: Glen Canyon on the Colorado. by Eliot Porter, David Ross Brower and the Glen Canyon Institute. 1968, abridged. The Sierra Club.
The History of Glen Canyon Dam by Richard Ingebretsen, www.canyoncountryzephyr.com Feb-March, 2002
In 1981, the environmentalist group Earth First! launched itself by unfurling a three-hundred foot plastic "crack" along the front of Glen Canyon Dam. In 1996, the movement to drain Lake Powell began to gather momentum when the national board of the Sierra Club, under David Bower's urging, adopted the position that Lake Powell should be drained.
"All we need here God, is one little precision earthquake."
---Seldom Seen Smith, from The Monkey Wrench Gang, quoted on the “The Edward Abbey 1982 Western Wilderness Calendar,” my favorite calendar of all time; had "B. Traven's birthday" about once a month. Completed in 1964, Glen Canyon Dam bridge is 1,721 feet long and about 700 feet over the Colorado River. Before the bridge, it was a 192-mile drive to the other side of the canyon.
“The brief but wonderful return of Cathedral in the Desert,” Jim Stiles, July 16, 2008, Writers on the Range, High Country News, www.hcn.org
Ed Abbey’s remarks were edited by Daniel J. Philippon and published as “Edward Abbey’s Remarks at the Cracking of Glen Canyon Dam” in Inerdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 11.2 (Summer 2004), Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, pp. 161-166.
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Garden House History: A photo story
The garden house, which stands just southeast of my writing retreat, Homestead House, has a long history.
This small house was the kitchen of Anna and John Lindsay’s house.
I first saw it when I was about nine years old. My new father, John Hasselstrom, took my mother and me to visit these neighbors whose place was visible to the east, along the railroad tracks from ours.
Jerry and I visited the site today [July 3rd, 2011] and I took some photos.
I remember nothing else but Anna’s smiling face, and how sparkling clean that kitchen was.
The house was tall and narrow, with two bedrooms over the living room. The kitchen, with a small open porch, jutted out the north side of the house, and may have been an original homestead cabin.
Today I was surprised to see the concrete path still there, after nearly a hundred years of weather wear and grazing cattle. The path leads from the back porch to the well on the right and the cellar on the left.
After we bought the Lindsay place when John Lindsay retired, we hauled the building to our ranch, put a fourth wall on it, installed a little Warm Morning wood stove, a bed, a shelf and a mirror over a washbasin with dipper and pail and called it a bunkhouse. Several hired men seemed happy in it while I was growing up-- until my mother grew unhappy about cooking for them and the last one got drunk and drove through several hundred yards of fence.
Through all these transformations, it remained “the bunkhouse” until the spring of 2008 when I returned to the ranch and it became my garden house. I kept the table built for my magazine layouts, installed some rickety shelves for tools and the dozens of pots and plastic jugs I’ve accumulated for protecting tender garden plants. Jerry built hangers for my garden tools. My modern Mantis tiller sits in a corner. I moved in another antique table and a couple of chairs so that I, or a writer visiting Homestead House, can sit and read or write in the rough little building. On the floor a couple of different linoleum patterns from Anna’s day are still visible.
Whenever I enter it, I see Anna’s long face smiling; perhaps she knows her kitchen is still serving a useful purpose and maybe it pleases her to see the evidence of hard work there. I wonder if she ever had much chance to sit quietly and think in that kitchen.
She was active in community organizations; she and John were charter members of the Urban chapter of the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, the nation’s oldest agricultural organization. Her writeup of their lives in the community history is well-written, telling not only about the Lindsay’s lives but about the history of the school district and Grange. She wrote about the Blizzard of 1949, and a huge grass fire in 1950 that burned from the old Hasselstrom place clear to Fairburn. During that fire, Anna carried all the belongings she could move into the old cellar, afraid the house would burn. Anna named the neighbors, wrote about the church, about how she and John supplemented their income by “working outside” the ranch. When they paid off the mortgage, they went out for a steak dinner. “The poor times, the depressions, and the wars,” she wrote, “made us all equal.”
Linda M. Hasselstrom
July 3, 2011
Hermosa, South Dakota
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For more information:
More bits from the little building’s history appear in
“Second Gate” in Going Over East
and in “Dear John: How to Move to the Country” in No Place Like Home
The Lindsay story appears in the Hermosa history published in 1969-70, titled Our Yesterday’s (yes, the apostrophe is used incorrectly). Included are photographs of John and Anna, of the house and of the Urban Sewing Circle, of which Anna was a member, holding up a quilt in the yard with the cattle shed in the background.
Website for the National Grange Organization
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