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Between Grass and Sky Where I Live and Work All About the Book

What's Here?

About the Book
Brief information about the contents, publication details, and ordering information.

Linda's Introduction to the Book
A brief overview.

Reviews and Readers' Comments
What do others say about this book?

A Table of Contents of the Book
A short summary of the stories included in each chapter is coming soon.

Q&A About Between Grass and Sky
Linda answers some questions about the book.

Some Passages From Between Grass and Sky
Linda picked out a few of her favorite quotes from the book.

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About the Book

"This book of essays by South Dakota's best-known and most accomplished nature writer demonstrates her deepening understanding of her ongoing relationship with her native western South Dakota landscape. A vivid portrait of ranch life understood in its larger context of the natural world, this book is also about a variety of related subjects, such as poetry, women ranchers, natural history, and the places people call home. This conversational and evocative text is a pleasing combination of the light-hearted and the serious, and powerfully philosophical."
--- Charles Woodard, Distinguished Professor of English, South Dakota State University


“Nature is to me both home and office. Nature is my boss, manager of the branch office-- or ranch office-- where I toil to convert native grass into meat.”
--- Linda M. Hasselstrom, Between Grass and Sky

The essays in this book reflect her close attention to her homeplace and the depth of her sympathy with the world around her. She writes knowingly of the rancher’s life and of the intelligence and dignity of the animals she tends, especially the much maligned cow, as well as of the wild creatures-- the owls, antelope, rattlesnakes, bison, mice, coyotes and others-- that share the prairie grassland she calls home.

Award Winner!
2003 Women Writing the West: Willa Award Finalist (runner-up).

Click here for a webpage about Linda's awards and honors.

Between Grass and Sky
Published 2002, paperback edition 2005
215 pages, size: 6 X 9

$24.95 – hardcover
ISBN 0-87417-522-4

$18.95 – paperback
ISBN 0-87417-627-1

Published by:
University of Nevada Press
website: www.unpress.nevada.edu

Book sales are handled by the University of Chicago Press
Toll Free: 1-800-621-2736
Or: (773) 702-7000
email: custserv@press.uchicago.edu

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Linda's Introduction to the Book

Writing Between Grass and Sky

Between Grass and Sky: Where I Live and Work was inspired by Scott Slovic [Professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno] who asked me to collect some of my early essays. Rather than simply reprinting older work, Scott challenged me to reflect on the how my views had changed, been broadened, as my work became more widely known. Scott’s thoughtful suggestions helped me make crucial decisions in deleting material that didn’t fit the evolving theme of the book, and helped me visualize its final form.

Here's a quote from the book that sums up some of what I was thinking as I worked with material I’d written, in some cases, years before:

My primary motivation for writing remains the same: to understand my evolving background as a means of explaining the principles and practices of cattle ranching to citizens who do not appreciate the importance of native grasslands to their own welfare.
--- Introduction, page 13

Of course, while cattle ranching is one of my primary interests, and the source of much of my knowledge about the Great Plains grasslands, it’s not my only subject of interest. It seems to me that observing how I understand my environment – the grasslands being changed by population, climate, economics– may help other people re-examine their own surroundings, and become more involved in their own environment. "Let's get those students out of their desks and into the country," I say in the same introduction.

In most of my talks and readings, I encourage people to appreciate and understand their own environment, and to improve it, and their own connections to the environment, whether they live on an estate or in an apartment over a gas station. No one is lacking in connection to nature; sometimes we just need to have it pointed out to us. I hope my book will help inspire every reader to get out of the chair and go outside wherever they are, to take an active interest in their own place and how it functions.

Excerpts from the Introduction, "From Rancher to Nature Writer"

My writing springs from my labor, and I have chosen to live primarily in one region, the arid High Plains, for the past forty years. Gradually, I have defined my primary job as writing about one topic, grasslands ranching. In fifty years of labor in a single ecosystem, I’ve learned a great deal, though I’ve never made time to take technical courses about nature.
--- page 16

I was thoroughly engrossed in raising cattle with my mother, father, and husband when my life changed; the deaths of my husband and father forced me to leave the ranch, and settle in a city. The shift broadened my horizons, taught me more tolerance, threw me into new situations requiring new approaches to my writing. My job is self-defined. My idea of fun is writing about something I don’t understand, often a topic that infuriates or entertains me. Not every essay leads the reader to a deep philosophical analysis, but each one emerges from my somewhat anomalous positions as a woman, a rancher, and a lover of prairie.
--- page 17

. . . I include several essays with themes that don’t concern ranching, centered around my time as a buckskinner. My husband George and I often camped with other folks who replicate the historical period of beaver-trapping and black powder rifles. My memories of these events are among my favorite, though I haven’t attended a rendezvous in so long my tipi poles are have dry rot.”
--- page 18

But none of the essays in this volume are included simply for their value as nostalgic glimpses of my past. Each, I believe, illustrates my attitudes about the environment belonging to all of us. Each conveys an idea; perhaps it is not too strong to say each carries a message.
--- page 18

So this volume is more than an argument for ranching, its focus wider than my ranch or my bio-region. I am usually writing about several different ideas at a time, and my writing has always been intermingled with my responsibilities for making a living. Most of the essays here were published in periodicals, but either didn't fit the themes of my previous books, or were deleted to make the book shorter, and thus more “marketable.”
--- page 19

Read this book, and others about nature. But remember to go outside, to experience and study the place nearest your home where you are closest to the earth, whether it’s a patch of weeds amid concrete, or an estate. Visit the wilderness if you can, but attend to your home first. Do what you can to save the earth: write letters; be as responsible for your own wastes as possible. And if you come to the grasslands, don’t aspire to build a big house and stay. Don’t knock on my door. Just enjoy the experience, and know that this writer, flesh and blood created of grass-fed beef, is somewhere on the prairie, between grass and sky.
--- page 19

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Reviews and Readers' Comments

Reviewed by Susan Wittig Albert
Posted on 12/28/2007

No Western woman writer has shared more of her life as a rancher and environmentalist than Linda Hasselstrom, whose books about living and working on her South Dakota ranch have been an important part of my library since the early 1990s. This collection of essays, written between 1985-1999 and revised for this publication, is a splendid sampling of her prose, by turns brash, provocative, passionate, chilling, and funny. If you haven't yet read Hasselstrom's work, Between Grass and Sky is a fine introduction.

The twenty essays in this book are divided into three sections: Learning to See, Hunter and Hunted, and Who Cares for the Land? The first section takes us deeply into Hasselstrom's homeplace—a landscape of birds, cows, grass, sky, and eternal enigmas. But whether she is writing about stacking hay with an antique tractor on the hottest day in July or tracing the tunnels of mice under the snow or finding snakes in the pressure cooker, Hasselstrom sees all with a fine, practiced eye. "What a busy and engrossing place the prairie is," she writes, and her readers must agree. The second section focuses on the predator-prey relationship and the part that humans play. It includes essays about hunting buffalo, sleeping with grizzlies, and living with loss. Section Three takes a hard look at the consequences of thoughtless land development and the promise of new relationships between communities of people and communities of the land.

This book proves what Hasselstrom has been saying for years: that there is no contradiction between being an environmentalist and a rancher. It is an eloquent testimony to the rancher's daily work on the land, with domestic and wild animals, in all sorts of weather, amid every sort of calamity. It is an appreciation of the strong bonds that unite the communities of those who love the land and use it wisely, as many ranchers do, and a warning of the consequences of reckless, exploitative development.

Once I picked up the book, I couldn't stop until I'd read all the essays, but for me, two stand out. "Sleeping with the Grizzly" is about (at least in part) the challenge of being a menstruating woman on a wilderness trek—it's full of Hasselstrom's characteristic perceptive humor. (No male nature writer could ever have written this!) "The Cow is My Totem" includes the hilarious story of what happened when a coyote blundered into a calf nursery. Savor this comic hyperbole: "From every direction, cows were running toward the nursery. Bags swinging, heads raised, they all bellowed in outrage, assuring their calves that rescue was on the way . . . Rumbling threats, [three bulls] galloped up the slope, persuaded some magnificent stranger was seducing their harem. I estimate that at that moment, fifty thousand pounds of fury was stampeding toward one forty-pound coyote."
Linda Hasselstrom writes with a naturalist's perceptive eye, an environmentalist's concern, and a rancher's long and practical experience of working and living on the land. Between Grass and Sky belongs on the bookselves of all who care about our American prairies.

Linda Hasselstrom is the author or editor of numerous books of memoir and poetry, including Woven on the Wind, Feels like Far, and Leaning into the Wind. She has received a number of honors for her work. She divides her time between Wyoming and South Dakota, where she offers writing workshops for women on her ranch. Visit her websites for workshop information and for information about women's anthologies she has co-edited.

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