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Land Circle Writings Collected from the Land All About the Book

What's Here?

Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land was originally released in hardcover in 1991
and in paperback in 1993, by Fulcrum Publishing.

The "Anniversary Edition," a paperback, was published in 2008.

What New Material Is Included in the "Anniversary Edition"?
Linda explains the new dedication, and more.

Work Boots and the Sustainable Universe
Read the rest of the story about the Red Wing boots. Photo of the actual boots included.

Picking Buffalo Berries
A brief excerpt from the book with a photo.

Linda Answers Some Questions about Land Circle.
What's the anniversary? How has Linda's writing-- and her life-- changed since the book was first published?
What does Linda think about the fame of her essay "Why One Peaceful Woman Carries a Pistol"?
Includes a touching story about how some readers responded to the "Aurora Borealis and Bells" essay.

What's With That Juniper Tree?
The author photo of each edition shows Linda with a juniper tree.
Read the story of the windbreak-- planting, irrigating, rock mulching. Compare photos from 1991 and 2008.

Excerpts from Land Circle on Linda's Blog (this link will take you to the Blog Page)
Essays and poems from the book have been reprinted in Linda's Blog on this website.

  • Heat Wave on the Highway may be found in the August, 2010 archives or under the index topic of air conditioning.

  • O Holy Night on the Prairie may be found in the December, 2010 archives or under the index topic of John Lennon.
  • The poem At the Balloon Races in Custer, South Dakota may be found in the January, 2012 archives or under the index topic of balloons.
  • The poem Butchering the Crippled Heifer may be found in the January, 2012 archives or under the index topic of beef.

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What New Material Is Included in the "Anniversary Edition"?

A "Note from the Author" about changes since 1991 when the original edition of the book was published.

A Foreword by Dan O'Brien (author of Buffalo for the Broken Heart, The Rites of Autumn, others).

An introduction to the new edition, by Linda M. Hasselstrom. The original introduction is also included.

The "Acknowledgements" section has been moved from the front to the back of the book and Linda has added some "Notes on the New Edition."

A new author bio and photo are included.

Linda writes:

Note that there was no dedication in the original edition; now it’s "to the survival of the shortgrass prairie," because the survival of the shortgrass prairie seems ever more precarious as more people move into it without a glimmering of understanding of its requirements, beauties, or dangers.

None of the essays are changed, but I updated the "Additional Resources" at the end of the book so it’s still a good place to look for books, periodicals, products, and regional organizations working on the issues of conservation so that you can become as involved as you wish to be.

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Linda's Redwing boots, spring 2009

Work Boots and the Sustainable Universe

In 1991, the first edition of LAND CIRCLE was published, ending with the essay "Work Boots and the Sustainable Universe." I’d spent considerable time writing that book, doing research, collecting footnotes, and I was frustrated by the lack of attention being paid to sustainability at the time by the media, but also and perhaps especially by environmentalists.

So for this final essay, I write in what I now consider my most successful style: an ordinary human being reflecting on ordinary matters. In this case, I focused on my work boots, and used them as a metaphor for the way we treat our environment. (I encourage writers to read the essay, and study how that metaphor works.)

On pages 333-334 in the original edition of the book (pages 373-374 of the Anniversary Edition), I described buying the most recent pair, not long after George died, for $135, and how that seemed like a lot of money.

Then I described my previous experiences with buying cheap work boots, and how George persuaded me to buy Red Wings, adding "(This is the only commercial message which will appear, and no one could pay me enough to say this if it weren’t true.)"

I went on to describe my work boots, starting with the first pair in 1974 that cost me $65, the second pair that cost $83. I described, in the succeeding pages, what I put those boots through: rattlesnake strikes, cacti and general abuse.

After the book was published I joked with friends about the possibility that Red Wing would lavish some award on me for my impromptu advertising, but I made no effort to bring the book to the company’s attention. Several years later-- two, perhaps?-- I received a letter from an executive with the Red Wing company thanking me for my endorsement, and saying that I should go to the nearest Red Wing store and get a free pair.

By that time, I was living in Cheyenne, Wyoming, but I wanted the store where I’d bought the boots I wrote about to benefit, so I kept the letter until I was next in Rapid City. Then I visited my local store and explained the situation. The owner was, perhaps understandably, skeptical, so I brought out the letter. I walked out with a new pair of Red Wing boots.

Since I didn’t live on the ranch full time again until my recent move home in 2008, that free pair of boots is in great shape, but I expect them to start showing more wear soon.

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Linda picking buffalo berries, 1998.

Picking Buffalo Berries

On one trip [over east to check cattle], we decided to look at the buffalo berry bushes that grow in a limestone crevice beside the trail. Sometimes rain water collects in pools in the rock and stays; like soup stock, it grows thicker and more vibrant with life all summer. . . .

As we walked toward the spot, we began to see rust-colored clusters at the top of the head-high bushes: berries! Technically the buffalo berry is Shepherdia argentia, a perennial member of the oleaster family, which includes the Eurasian tree called Russian olive. The shrub is seldom more than six feet tall, though one source says it can grow to twenty-five feet. I've never seen any that tall, even on the north slopes they favor, but perhaps with more water they would do better. The leaves are modestly silver on one side, gray and scaly on the other, and the dull brownish flowers appear in May and June. . . .

. . . The secret of buffalo berries is this: it's impossible to eat them from the bush, because they pucker the mouth the way a slug shrivels when salted. They are the ideal harvest berry, because you get what you pick; you are not tempted to consume the crop before you get home.

Their hidden weapons make buffalo berries the elite among wild fruit. The thorns can be up to six inches long, all scientifically placed so that you cannot pick a single berry without puncturing naked hands. Even leather gloves don't save you from injury. Some experts say buffalo berry pickers should wait until the first frost loosens the berries, then spread a white sheet on the ground under the bushes, and shake the branches vigorously to dislodge the fruit. When I've tried that method, I've returned to the bushes after first frost to find them bare. The ground under them was decorated with a few shriveled berries and millions of grouse footprints. . . .

The only really effective way to pick buffalo berries is to put on elbow-length leather gloves, a long-sleeved denim jacket over a long-sleeved shirt, and tuck the bottoms of your pants firmly into your boots to keep some of the ticks from crawling up your legs. Then grit your teeth, because the worst is yet to come. The berries are firmly stuck to the branches, so you have to jerk them off. On the other hand, they hang in clusters; each determined jerk should give you about ten berries. Then all you have to do is get them into the bucket without dropping the whole bunch. . . .

. . . Buffalo berries are symbolic, to me, of the answer to the question all plains people are eventually asked. . . "Why do you stay here?" . . .

. . . These tart little berries on hidden, thorny bushes are what the modern people of the plains have become. We're not easy to find, and we tend to be a little prickly if we've been here long. Hardship and freedom breed stoicism, and don't leave us with much patience for such questions. But when you get to know us, when you understand a little of the plains, we're rare and tasty.

From Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
The chapter called "Finding Buffalo Berries"
pages 20-25 Original Edition -- or -- pages 20-26 Anniversary Edition
published 1991, 2008; Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado

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Linda Answers Some Questions about Land Circle.

QUESTION: Why is it called the Anniversary Edition? What's so special about the 17th year anniversary?

Contrary to what you may think, no 17-year cicadas were involved.

Land Circle was originally published in cloth bound in 1991. But this new paperback edition appears on the 15th anniversary of the paperback edition, published in 1993.

Few books originally published in cloth editions sell enough copies to justify producing a paperback. If you were to review publishing history in the past 50 years, you’d see that only the best-sellers, usually the most popular types of books, go into paperback. In recent years, publishers have begun skipping the hardbound edition completely, and publishing originally in paperback-- which saves the publisher and the reader money.

And in some instances, a publisher simply cuts off the cloth cover and substituted a paper cover rather than reprinting. This allows announcement of a “new paperback edition,” but if you closely compare the original with the paperback you’ll notice that errors have not been corrected, and no new publishing information appears.

Land Circle really didn’t sell enough copies to justify a paperback edition, but I am fortunate that it was published by Fulcrum Publishing, an independent, regional press whose staff really is concerned about land use and other Western issues. They have noticed that the book is widely quoted and read, even if not widely purchased, so they were kind enough not only to publish a new edition, but to allow me to revise and update it for these changing times.

QUESTION: Do you have a favorite essay or poem in the book?

I find it hard to answer this question; I’ve read from this book hundreds of times at public readings, and been surprised sometimes at what the audience likes: "Ironing My Husband’s Shirts" is very popular, especially with women.

Conversely, though, I seldom read anything from "George: In Beauty Walk," because even now I risk being ambushed by tears. Some performers make it a point to cry during readings, but I prefer not to do so.

"Thanksgiving Prayer" is a favorite, but one I rarely read in public.

I love "Coffee Cup Café," and often read it aloud, along with "The Wild and Woolly West," a poem I like because it debunks some Western myths.

QUESTION: Land Circle has some very funny essays and poems, but also some very sad ones. What can you tell us about the hard times you went through?

The period of my life from which Land Circle was written was extremely difficult. I'd found love again after a disastrous first marriage in which I remained far too long, and which took me away from my homeland. And then I lost my husband, and it seemed that my father's decline was likely to mean I would lose the ranch as well.

So I tried to make alternate plans. I bought into a retreat in northern New Mexico near Vallecitos, and grew to love that country-- and then economic necessity forced it to be sold as well.

The cliche says "life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans," and I just kept writing, hoping to find some kind of stability. Everywhere I looked, in exile in New Mexico and after my move to Cheyenne, Wyoming, I found something to love, something to challenge me and make my life better.

QUESTION: Has your writing changed in the past fifteen (or seventeen) years?

As I say in the new introduction, I now avoid both footnotes and statistics in my writing, and try to leave the political slogans, speech-making and traveling the country speaking from soap boxes to other writers. So many of these issues are important, and I’m grateful for the young, energetic writers who spend more time talking than writing, and who throw themselves with vigor into political activism. I spent thirty years doing so, and miss it sometimes.

Still, I find I am able to write more coherently, and therefore I hope in a way that will be more lasting, if I stick close to home, close to the soil and sky and faces I recognize, telling their stories. You have to know your roots to figure out how you have grown, I think, and appreciate the past in order to understand the future. So I try to record the stories that will help me, and those who come after me, save what’s best about this land and culture.

QUESTION: Which has been reprinted more often-- the essay about the northern lights, or the essay about carrying a pistol?

A short version of my essay "Why One Peaceful Woman Carries a Pistol" was first published by High Country News in the December 31, 1990 issue. My response to various readers was published in the February 25, 1991 issue of that magazine. Utne Reader magazine reprinted the essay in its May/June edition; I was interviewed by Faith Daniels on NBC radio's "A Closer Look." Various reprints followed, in newspapers and magazines, along with interviews about the subject. The essay was then published in my book Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land, Fulcrum Publishing, 1991. Since then, it has been reprinted 23 times to my knowledge-- and this should be a definite thing, since permission is required for such reprints. However, every now and then someone mentions seeing it in a college textbook or other source, or online as part of either an anti-gun rant or a pro-gun diatribe, for which I have not given permission, so I wonder how many pirated versions exist.

High Country News was also first to publish the essay "Aurora Borealis and Bells," which appeared there before it appeared in Land Circle. It has been reprinted at least seven times since, including a version in Reader’s Digest (April, 1992) and Chicken Soup for the Nature Lover’s Soul.

QUESTION: What do you think about the "fame" of the Pistol essay? Are you happy to be an advocate for gun rights?

Though I have written and published hundreds of poems and essays about many other topics much closer to my heart, this essay remains the best-known of my writings. In some ways I'm sorry about that. I don't consider the essay necessarily to be pro gun. A lot of the gun debate is too simplistic to be sensible: everyone should have guns; no guns are good. The problem is considerably more complex.

The essay is intended to discuss why one peaceful person decided carrying a pistol was a legitimate form of self-protection, and intended to encourage anyone concerned about safety to consider taking handgun or other weapons courses from qualified instructors, learn to handle the weapon of choice competently, and carry it with calm confidence to be used only in emergency. I do not believe everyone should be armed. If you are going to carry a weapon, you must be willing to take the responsibility for using it in self-defense-- that is, willing to risk killing someone who is trying to harm you. I hope that it has encouraged people, particularly women, to consider how they might defend themselves from violence and to take reasoned, careful action to be safe in the way they have chosen. As I suggested in the original essay, people have many options for self-protection besides carrying a weapon.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts on having your essays shortened and changed when they are reprinted?

I do not want my essays shortened or changed in any way when they are reprinted.

When the essay "Why One Peaceful Woman Carries a Pistol" has been reprinted, besides having its title changed, it has sometimes been excerpted, and I have no way of knowing what might have been left out which may have subtly changed my meaning.

When Reader’s Digest reprinted a much-shortened version of my essay "Aurora Borealis and Bells" as "Night of the Bells" in April 1992, all references that might have signified any religious belief except Christianity were removed-- against my ferocious objections. Please read what I consider the full and final versions of both essays in my book Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land.

I am certainly not anti-Christian, or against any religion which honestly improves people’s lives and gives them comfort. My beliefs are, I believe, mostly my own business. I resist talking about them, and I don't attempt to persuade anyone to agree with me.

I object, however, to the easy assumption that we all believe the same thing, and I object even more vigorously to the view that often seems to prevail: "If you don’t agree with me, I’ll kill you." It’s bad politics, and worse religion.

Still, the reprint of "Aurora Borealis and Bells" brought me letters from people who might never have seen the original essay.

One man, a retired Marine I believe, said he hadn't cried since his wife died, since he was a tough Marine, you know, and we don’t cry. But the essay made him cry, and he thanked me for that.

A woman wrote to tell me her brother had been on watch on a fishing vessel in the North Atlantic on the night when I saw the Aurora Borealis. The sea was rough, and the vessel's handlines were covered with ice, and he’d gone overboard. No doubt, in those frigid waters, he died quickly, but his body was never recovered. She grieved, because she couldn't understand how her careful brother could have died that way. But when she read my essay, she reasoned that perhaps he’d seen the Aurora, and been inattentive to the handrail for a moment. Perhaps, she said, he is with George in the Aurora choir that I'd imagined, playing the colors instead of singing.

I still like my Aurora Borealis essay best in its original version, and would resist attempts to water down any of my other work, but I’m glad that the shortened version reached these readers and touched them.

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The 1990 photo from the dust-jacket of the cloth edition of Land Circle

What's With That Juniper Tree?

I bend my knees and set my feet solidly, fit my hands around the rock, and lift. I’m picking up the ancient earth piece by piece, carrying rocks to pile around trees I have planted in a steep prairie hillside.

This is not good terrain for growing trees, this rocky northern slope covered with tangled prairie grasses . . .

--from Land Circle: Writings Collected on the Land
Part I, “Rock Lover” (pages 90-91)
published by Fulcrum Publishing, 1991, Anniversary Edition 2008

Linda writes:

My first book, published in 1987, was titled Windbreak. After my husband died in 1988, I’d written a poem to him titled "Windbreak Now" which was first published in LIFE Magazine.

When it came time to have an author photo taken for Land Circle in 1990, it seemed appropriate to me that since I’d written about windbreaks and drought, my author picture should reflect that, and show me doing some of the work I do besides writing.

Linda with the same juniper tree in spring, 2008
(photo by Jerry Ellerman, PE)

Another spring has come. I’ve spent a warm morning in sun and melting snow wandering along the pasture trails, prying rocks out of the chilled earth and loading them into my truck . . . One by one I chose the stones, lifting them out, piling them on top of a layer of magazines and catalogs around the little juniper trees that don’t yet reach my knees . . .

When I pick up a piece of limestone, I turn the crisp, pale green lichen up to face the sun, careful not to flake it off, hoping it will continue to grow. I position pink and white quartz chunks big as my fist to catch the eye, interrupt the tawny prairie colors so that even if every tree has disappeared, anyone walking through the deep grass on the hillside will see these piles of stones and know another person worked here.

--from Land Circle: Writings Collected on the Land
Part I, “Rock Lover” (page 97)
published by Fulcrum Publishing, 1991, Anniversary Edition 2008

Linda writes:

My husband George and I planted the windbreak, a mix of juniper and chokecherry trees, soon after we built our house in 1981. We watered it with a drip irrigation system, a long plastic pipe with a single tiny hole by each tree. I put old carpet around the base of each tree to kill weeds and hold moisture in the ground, and weighted the carpet down with rocks so it wouldn’t blow around the landscape. When I watered the trees, I used the absolute minimum of water to keep them alive, since water is so scarce in our region.

Here’s how part of that irrigation system worked:

In my father's junk piles I found discarded hoses, used duct tape lavishly to patch the worst holes and longest splits, then fitted them into my existing system, inventing "leak irrigation." In several spots I planted two new trees below older ones, reasoning that water would soak down to them. But the higher trees and the dry heat absorbed every drop of moisture. I taped short pieces of broken hose over leaks to water the lower trees. Friends who walked through the windbreak tried to understand how the system worked, but remained bewildered. Jerry, an engineer for the Wyoming Highway Department, said, "If this mess works, you could get a job in the hydrology department any day."

My trees survived except where I failed to provide shade during their first weeks. When I couldn't write another line, I would walk the winding hoses, carrying duct tape and pieces of hose, patching leaks that weren't watering trees, or that were drawing too much water. Once or twice I wound the tape around myself, the dog, the hose, and the waist-high grass, and had to cut us all loose. Collapsing in helpless laughter didn't stop the leaks, but it did me good.

--from Land Circle: Writings Collected on the Land
Part II, “In Defense of the Common Sunflower” (page 203)
published by Fulcrum Publishing, 1991, Anniversary Edition 2008

Linda in the juniper tree windbreak, 2008
(photo by Jerry Ellerman, PE)

Linda writes:

It seemed fitting to show the same juniper tree windbreak in the updated author photo that appears in the Anniversary Edition of Land Circle.

The photo in the back of the book is printed in black and white. As you can see by how very green it is in the photos here on the website, 2008 was an exceptional year for moisture, following an eight-year drought that killed a handful of trees in my various windbreaks.

I may have to bring out the hoses and duct tape.

# # #

I build a monument to each tree. I mark this windbreak I've planted during my temporary life, creating shelter for the temporary grouse and mice that share this place with me, all of us gone before these stones. If the stones disappear under asphalt, the spirits of the land will still be here.

--from Land Circle: Writings Collected on the Land
Part I, “Rock Lover” (page 100)
published by Fulcrum Publishing, 1991, Anniversary Edition 2008

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