icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

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

RoseMary Goodson: Part II

Original oil painting by RoseMary Goodson of the view from Homestead House. This painting currently hangs in Homestead House.

. . .
RoseMary Goodson: Sketching her way through life
This essay originally appeared in South Dakota Magazine, September/October 2001, pp. 36-46.

For the beginning of the story, see Part 1 in the blog posted below on June 13.

Part II

During summers, the Goodsons often went to South Dakota to work for RoseMary’s brother John at his resort. Everyone pitched in; Lucy worked on trail rides. RoseMary cleaned the lodge and guest rooms, cooked, and did laundry.

About 1970, with her children growing up and leaving home, Goodson decided to create a life of her own. She arrived in South Dakota alone and almost broke, with only a small suitcase and some pen and ink drawing supplies. She still hadn’t learned to drive, and didn’t own a car.

Staying in a cottage in Piedmont, RoseMary put together a paperback book with information on tourist attractions in South Dakota. She talked Wall Drug owner Ted Hustead into printing the book, A Guide to South Dakota and Black Hills Attractions. Hustead kept copies to sell at Wall Drug and told her to sell the rest at 50 cents a copy and keep the money. She sold 7,000 copies.

“I wanted to go up the ladder,” RoseMary said, so just as she had in St. Louis, she looked for a need to fill. On her next visit to Wall Drug, she convinced Hustead to establish a tourist information center, which she would supervise. Hustead mentioned that he’d purchased six old farm houses for dormitories for the 60 college students he employed. RoseMary agreed to be housemother in return for lodging with the girls.

“I don’t remember what my salary was,” she wrote, “but I was very happy with this new position. You know me. I don’t put a lot of importance on salaries.” She made sure everyone was home by 10 p.m. on weekdays, and that no one left town without her as chaperone or permission from Ted’s son, Bill. At her dorm, students could “hold their parties, play cards, and just have a good time,” she said. “If I accompanied them, they could have pool parties and cookouts in the Badlands.”

One day when she was substituting for a regular employee in the book department, she noticed people buying prints of pen and ink drawings of Black Hills scenes; she thought, “I can draw better than that.” Traveling through the Black Hills with friends–– she still had no car–– she sketched historic buildings and visited museums to sketch wood cook stoves, wagons, and washing machines. When she’d finished several dozen sketches, she printed 300 copies of each on good paper. She hired a woman to drive her to distributors, and began selling hundreds of prints at tourist stops in South Dakota.

RoseMary often set up her easel on a Deadwood street. Dressed in paint-spattered clothes, her dog at her side, she taught herself to paint. Concentrating on her work, she was unaware of the picture she presented. She gleefully tells about reaching for her water one day and discovering that a passerby, thinking she was a homeless bag lady, had left a dollar and fifty cents, an apple, and a banana.

When I first saw that small blonde woman sitting on the street corner with her dog and her paints, my own life was unsettled, and I was so hesitant I walked by her two or three times, peering at a painting I didn’t think was very good. But she was enjoying herself, and she looked like a woman who wasn’t worried about the future. I stopped to talk. Where did she live? I asked. Right now she was staying with a daughter and her husband, in the “mother-in-law tent” pitched behind their house. I was awestruck at her charm, her obvious joy in living, her unconcern with the future. RoseMary was happier sitting on a street corner dabbing at her canvas than I’d ever been; she has been my idol ever since.

Peg, the oldest of RoseMary’s seven children, describes her mother as “someone who consistently makes adventures out of ordinary life.” One moonlit night during her childhood, Rose Mary dragged all the children out of bed to watch night crawlers emerging from the ground. When the basement flooded during hurricane season, RoseMary garbed the kids in rain boots and slickers and sent them downstairs to play in the puddles. “Mom was always going off the beaten path,” Peg adds, “both in daily life, and especially in her travels.”

One summer day RoseMary insisted on stopping at a creek on the Pine Ridge Reservation to cool off. The whole family shed clothing and plunged into the creek–– just as several carloads of Lakota families arrived with the same idea. “Our first instinct,” Peg said, “was to quickly leave the area, but Rosie just began visiting with some of the women, resulting in a wonderful picnic atmosphere with children and adults from two worlds splashing and laughing together.”

On another trip, RoseMary followed her curiosity to the fishing town of Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, where the family camped on the beach for days. When ice ran low, Peg says, “Rosie would make us drive her to the ice-making plant for the shrimp boats and would boldly walk in to fill up our coolers. We were quite nervous about this practice, but she insisted that no one would bother a little old lady getting some ice.”

About 1973 RoseMary decided to spend the winter months alone in the Wall Drug dorm. The Husteads rented the house for $40 a month, but said she couldn’t afford the gas bill if she kept the house above freezing. She said she’d find a way. She bought a wood-burning stove, which Peg and her husband Bob Lamburth helped her install, and she collected scrap wood and coal. The Husteads wanted her to work in the store, but she wanted to learn more about oil painting. Whenever RoseMary was short of money, however, the Husteads found a job for her, even if it was repainting the giant jackalope and the stuffed horses in the back yard.

One day after a snowfall, she painted her own yellow house from across the street, and gave the painting to the Husteads, who hung it in Wall Drug. When local teachers saw it, they asked for art lessons, and RoseMary began teaching at $3 per session. Most of the teachers were tense because they’d never done art, so she gave each a tequila sunrise. “That did the trick,” she laughs. “They relaxed and had fun,” as she encouraged them to draw in their own styles.

One winter, friends from Deadwood invited her to join them on a trip to Arizona. Right away, she discovered the old mining camp of Congress, an unincorporated desert hamlet 50 miles south of Prescott. She stayed at the only motel in town, where her room with a kitchenette cost $3 a night. “It had a few roaches,” she recalls, but she’d met a lot of roaches in Missouri. “I fell in love with the desert and the warm climate.”

The next morning, she hiked to the historic ruins of the old gold mine and spent the day sketching. On the following day, she sold her drawings on the street in nearby Wickenburg, Ariz. At age 56, she’d found a new way to make a living.

Back in South Dakota, RoseMary continued to create and sell pen and ink drawings as cards and for framing. She learned to play the mandolin with her family band. She spent months sketching Mount Rushmore and thinking how to tell and show the story of Gutzon Borglum and his carving. She built a small light table and learned layout to produce The Rushmore Story.

Telling the Rushmore story engrossed her. “Even the smallest bumping pneumatic tool was difficult for me to lift,” she said. Sketching the bosun chair, she “thought of the man in the harness shop who made dozens of such chairs by hand with iron and heavy leather–– with perfection. I thought of the man who sat in that chair on a seat that was no more than two iron bars and a strip of leather–– hanging over the mountain side for hours in bitter cold winds or the intense summer heat and smiling when he received his pay of sixty-five cents an hour. The rubber gripper on the handle of the pneumatic drill that I sketched was worn down to the metal; the hand tools were worn and split handles wrapped with tape. Everything told of the stress it took in shaping a granite mountain into a beautiful work of art.”

A reviewer for The Traveler magazine later wrote, “In all my travels, I have never found a book on a national monument as delightful to read and own as RoseMary’s The Rushmore Story.”

RoseMary began spending winters in Arizona, returning each summer to South Dakota to paint, sketch and market her prints and greeting cards. She rode busses, caught rides with friends, or hired people to drive her around for years–– and then got an inheritance. “RoseMary is always helping others and never asks for anything in return,” said daughter-in-law Desi. “Within about two weeks she had given it all away, except for enough to buy herself a car she still has today.” A mechanically-minded friend found and fixed up a 1954 red Ram Dodge, a four-door sedan. The car was so neglected that birds had built nests in the seats. RoseMary cleaned up the car, added new seat covers, and began teaching herself to drive by laying out lines of rocks in the desert.

The next Sunday she drove the car to church, parking well away from other cars. After mass, the priest asked everyone to remain for a few minutes, picked up the vial of holy water, and led the congregation directly to RoseMary’s car; he blessed the car and prayed. “Apparently it worked,” says RoseMary, “because I never had an accident–– and when I drove the car back to South Dakota one wheel had only two lug bolts on it.”

No matter where she was, RoseMary continued teaching herself to paint. Since she’d never had lessons in drawing or painting, she consulted library books. For her first oil painting, she chose a deserted adobe mercantile building in Arizona, roofless and deteriorating. She painted most of the building before heading home. She heard a hard rain in the night, and when she returned next day, most of one wall had collapsed.

“I changed my painting, which made it more interesting,” she said. Then she packed up her paints and easel and returned to the motel–– but couldn’t find the painting in her car. She drove back to the adobe building, but it wasn’t there. Only when she gave up in frustration and headed back to her room did she notice the painting–– on top of the car where she’d put it while packing. She later gave the painting away, and has no photos of it.

By then, RoseMary’s family was mostly grown; she was living alone in a brown and white trailer in a Piedmont development called Thunder Hills, next to her daughter Peggy, working as a supervisor of eight college students at the Tilford rest area.

Peg recalls a 1973 Halloween party at an old farmhouse her brother rented. Family members appeared as pirates, nuns, witches, a Pillsbury dough boy, and various four-armed and four-legged creatures. RoseMary came as an elderly beauty pageant winner, in what Peg calls “Tammy Faye Baker make-up,” under a big straw hat piled high with fruit and flowers. RoseMary painted pink tights with bright blue varicose veins, then stuffed them with tissue paper to simulate knobby legs. Over that she wore a bathing suit draped with a banner reading, “Miss Thunder Hills.” RoseMary left the party earlier than her children, wondering how she’d explain herself if she had car trouble on the way home. Peg is sure she would have thought of something.

Each winter, RoseMary drove to Arizona. To research the history of her family she learned to read and write German. She visited Germany several times, and lured German relatives to the west to camp and hike with her. Always she painted and sketched, trading her art for stories, storing up images to take back to her easel for the winter.

In 1980, when RoseMary arrived in Congress, the motel room was no longer available; a sheepherder had moved in for the winter. Land developers had discovered Congress, so she put $1,000 down for one of the first lots, on a corner next to the open desert. She was considering living in a tent until the motel told her the sheepherder hadn’t arrived. She stayed in the motel until she found a small travel trailer for her lot.

The next winter her son and daughter-in-law, Tony and Desiree Goodson, came to help RoseMary start building. “She had no money,” Desi said, “so we cut, peeled and hauled all the logs from the Prescott National Forest about 50 miles away.” They hand-dug a basement for plumbing and lined it with rock they gathered in the desert. One day when they were collecting rocks, rancher Lewis Granthan told them they were on private property. RoseMary offered to make a painting of his ranch in exchange for the rocks. He agreed, adding, “Every time you pick up a rock, I get a little more grass for my cattle.”

RoseMary bought an old cement mixer, and they collected and sifted sand from washes for the concrete. As the rock walls rose, she studied the pile of dirt from the basement. She learned it was the perfect mixture of clay, sand, and pebbles for adobe bricks. “When I wasn’t painting,” she said, “I made adobe bricks. The Spanish have a slogan, ‘When you’re resting, make adobe bricks.’” She also found an adobe house about to be demolished and hauled truckloads of salvaged bricks from it. “Some of my family were eager to help after I told them that gold might have been stashed between the double-thick walls,” she laughs, “but we found only an old smoking pipe.” For several winters, RoseMary worked with friends and family on the house and an adjoining shed; when it was completed, about 1985, she settled in Congress.

As usual, she found new challenges, new ways to experience the world and make a living, like painting murals on businesses, decorating a tour bus, creating business signs, sketching people’s homes. She drew a map of the historic mining district around Congress, sold hand-drawn ads around the map’s edges, and distributed it free to tourists. She wrote and illustrated the first history of the region, The Story of Congress, Arizona’s Premier Gold Camp.

RoseMary now says she’s “somewhat retired,” but it’s hard to tell. She’s always made time for enjoying life wile she worked, hiking the Grand Canyon with daughter Lucy when she was 72 years old, traveling and camping with daughter Alice and her two children, and visiting art exhibits.

RoseMary never goes anywhere without her art supplies–– or her sense of humor. Always she has made a living from her art, and enjoyed herself as much as possible while creating it. And always, she has made a distinction between the work she did for a living and her fine art paintings.

“I believe that I have made more than 350 paintings in my lifetime,” she said. She’s also made thousands of pen and ink sketches, giving most of them away. Not to mention an untold number of hand-drawn greeting cards, place cards and Easter eggs. But her records of the massive volume of work are sketchy; RoseMary has always been more interested in making art than in cataloguing what she has done. In August 1998, her daughter Emily and son-in-law Dennis Buckhannon arranged an exhibit of 85 of RoseMary’s paintings, a few pen and ink sketches, and some of her books at St. Peters Cultural Arts Center in St. Peters, Mo.

These days, she spends part of each winter visiting her children. But she is always anxious to get back home and to her easel. It’s still true, as her friend Al Gunther wrote in 1972, that “if you visit when she’s painting, you’re sure to find a pot of dried out, blistered coffee on the stove, or a load of dirty dishes stacked in the oven. On those days she forgets to eat,” except for crackers, cheese, and beer before she goes to bed. Her children mention that after she moved to South Dakota and resumed her life as an artist, her spaghetti sauce always had a slight flavor of turpentine, that her dinner plates were usually speckled with cobalt blue around the edges.

“I am an artist,” RoseMary says firmly, “and even though I have had some hard times as an artist, I have always been completely satisfied and happy with the fact that I was born an artist.”

# # #

For more about RoseMary . . .
See my blog posted June 15th (above) for Part III of this story: an update after ten years.

For more information:
South Dakota Magazine website

Go to RoseMary Goodson's website to learn more about RoseMary's life and see a gallery of her paintings.

Update 2012: RoseMary (who is going on 95) has a hard time with correspondence now and Emily's project of cataloging RoseMary's original art is falling by the wayside. They used to post a contact address on RoseMary's website but no longer do so because they aren't able to reply to website visitors. Sorry.

back to top
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

O Holy Night on the Prairie: Remembering John Lennon and Others

. . .
Driving to town today to have the stitches removed from another operation for squamous cell skin cancer, I was reflecting on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor day on December 7. And then the announcer noted that December 8 is the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, and I remembered observing a moment of silence for him on the first anniversary of the shooting. Thirty years: George and I had been married a year and were happily settling into our lives on the ranch.

Here is an excerpt from my book Land Circle mentioning that first anniversary, 29 years ago.

O Holy Night on the Prairie

Folks who are used to bustling, fur-wrapped shoppers and greenery hung with lights would see the wide prairie that stretches in front of me as a bleak place to spend Christmas. The grass is a mountain lion pelt-- not one color, but gold, fawn, red, brown, and colors for which no name exists-- blended into each other over the rolling hills. A few limestone outcroppings studded with pale green lichen, and a scatter of white and granite-gray boulders decorate the scene; there are no trees, no green, cone-shaped evergreens that mean Christmas to many. In the deeper gullies, an occasional bare cottonwood shows a white, lightning-stripped trunk against the grass; buffalo berry and plum bushes stand naked in narrow crevices beside ground-hugging juniper bushes blending green and bronze.

In the eastern distance are the Badlands, pink, gray and blue spires a finger's width above the horizon, made higher this morning by mirage which is rapidly spreading, to disappear as the sun comes up dull gold. To the west rise the Black Hills, a handsbreadth of tree-covered hills, rising in five distinct ranges and glowing blue in the morning light.

Here, while Christmas songs play on the pickup radio, I see nothing at all to remind me of the season. The grass is short, because we graze these distant pastures in summer, and bring the cattle closer to home in winter. I am making a last survey, picking up salt blocks and fence panels, to be sure gates are closed against the neighbor's buffalo. When I turn homeward today, I will be shutting the door on this part of the ranch until spring, when we'll bring cows and young calves here to graze through the summer.

A coyote slips down a draw, glancing back over his shoulder. Except for his quick movement, a flash of white at his throat and a nearly-black ridge on his spine and tail, he would be invisible against the grass. My eye catches movement again, and I turn to see thirty antelope run over a hill, white rump-patches flashing. One pauses, silhouetted against the sun.

The gray limestone of Silas Lester's house has descended a little more toward the ground this year; the blank windows look like half-shut eyes. The house was never finished; dry years came, and Silas sold his land for two dollars an acre to my grandfather, who took the risk and stayed. The spring Silas found and enlarged still runs gently from the hillside, into a tank George and I dug into the hillside and covered with wood chips to keep the water from freezing. I open the gate to it, so the wild animals can safely drink, and leave a few chips of salt nearby; a really thrifty rancher would take them home to the calves, but I like to think of the antelope and smaller creatures-- porcupines, skunks, mice-- enjoying the rare treat of salt this winter.

Another year has passed. Some years George and I made this final trip in deep snow, laughing as the pickup plunged into a drift, apprehensive when it dropped too deep and the tires spun. We've shared picnics here under the talking leaves of the cottonwoods in summer, shoveled together when the pickup was stuck in winter. Feeling a little foolish, we shut off the motor and observed a worldwide moment of silence in honor of John Lennon a few years ago, then sang his songs on the way home, and didn't feel foolish at all.

The chores we did together I now do alone. The Christmas songs on the radio mean the solstice is near, when the days will almost imperceptibly begin to lengthen. Now the sun has risen far south; it will make a shallow arc in the southern sky all day, and the moon will shine in the south windows of the bedroom tonight.

We started a tradition a few years ago, when Michael came in a dry summer with a trunkload of fireworks; it was too dry to shoot them then, so we saved them for his winter visit, and fired them on New Year's Eve. Last year, I did it alone; this year, I may invite friends to share the ritual. On Christmas Eve I will join my cousin and his wife and their children, one my godson, in church. I attended the same church when I was five years old, and my mother sang in the choir. It's famous for its massive organ, and as the tones swell into the familiar "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful," I-- who have been anything but a faithful churchgoer-- will find myself in tears. The organ tones express to me the largeness of the land, rising over the small minds and bodies of the people who live upon it.

Slowly, as Christmas passes, snow falls, grouse mate with bell-like calls in the winter night stillness, the days will grow warmer, and spring will come. If we get spring rains-- which have not come for three years-- the tawny grass will show a hint of green at the roots in April and by June the hills will be rich with new life.

"I believe in the Israelite," sings a low voice on the radio, backed by the sound of bells, and I wonder. Surely no one who sees the seasons turn as I do, who observes the prairie's stillness in this season of rest, and the inevitable coming of spring life, summer's lushness, the harvests of fall, and the chill of winter again and again, can fail to believe that all is arranged as it should be. That no matter how great are our personal sorrows, the world is proceeding in an orderly fashion. That we are all part of a great cycle, and our job is to help the earth in its turning, to keep it pure and beautiful and clean for those who will surely come after us.

# # #

Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land was published in 1991 by Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, Colorado.
This essay appears on pages 171-173 in the original edition, and on pages 191-194 in the Anniversary edition of 2008.

For more information:
Read all about my book Land Circle on this website page.

back to top
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Why Allow Uranium Mining?

. . .
Why should the residents of South Dakota and eastern Wyoming allow uranium mining? Why should we allow a group of small Canadian companies to mine uranium in our neighborhood, potentially damaging our water, our economy and our health far into the future?

Uranium is used for nuclear power and to make nuclear weapons. The largest current markets for uranium for nuclear power are China and India. The companies that want to mine uranium in the Black Hills region are mostly small, Canadian companies.

According to information presented by the Clean Water Alliance, at least four companies are now active in the Black Hills, intending to do in situ leach uranium mining, in which leaching solutions are pumped underground into uranium deposits. The solution dissolves the uranium which is then pumped back to the surface for further processing. In situ leach mining can only be done directly in groundwater.

At least 169 abandoned uranium mines exist from previous mining in the Black Hills; most have never been cleaned up.

# # #

For more information: (or to donate)

the Clean Water Alliance website

write to PO Box 591, Rapid City, SD 57709

back to top

 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Uranium Mining Delayed for Further Study

. . .
The Custer County Chronicle reports on August 11 that the plans of Powertech Uranium to mine near Dewey, South Dakota, have been put on hold. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) panel has accepted several contentions put forth by petition groups. The panel decided that these contentions warrant further review, so the “arguments will now be analyzed at a technical level,” says the Chronicle.

Petitioners and Powertech will both use expert witnesses to argue their cases, primarily in writing, according to the NRC. No timeline on when the evidentiary hearing will occur has been announced. Powertech may also file for dismissal of the motions. If the contentions stand, they will be reviewed by committees appointed by the president, and any decision could be appealed to federal courts.

Consolidated Petitioners, including author Dayton Hyde who operates the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary near Hot Springs, put forth 11 contentions, three of which were accepted by the panel.

These include arguments --
-- that Powertech’s analyses of baseline water quality and aquifer confinements are inadequate,
-- that the lack of confinement of the host Inyan Kara aqueduct could lead to hazardous effects to the broader public if heavy metals like uranium or radon leach into the groundwater, and
-- that the application does not adequately cover the protection of historical and cultural resources of the region.

The Oglala Lakota Tribe put forth 10 contentions, four of which were accepted.

These include the arguments --
-- that Powertech’s application fails to address adequately the protection of historical and cultural resources,
-- that it fails to adequately determine baseline groundwater quality,
-- that it fails to demonstrate Powertech’s abilities to contain fluid migration, and
-- that there is an inadequate analysis of groundwater quantity impacts.

Powertech’s application for a license to perform in situ leach uranium mining in Fall River and Custer Counties is now available for public review at the Hot Springs Library, Custer County Library, Oglala Sioux Tribe NRC Agency, and the Math, Science and Technology Laboratory of Oglala Lakota College.

# # #

For more information:

For more on Powertech’s poor record of protecting the environment, see Powertechexposed.com

the Clean Water Alliance website

Dayton Hyde’s Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary

back to top

 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Birthday Week (Complete with footnotes!)

. . .
I was not feeling well on my actual birthday. (1)

But Jerry and I went for a lovely drive: up to Roughlock Falls, where we enjoyed a picnic, and then walked the fenced sidewalks to look, with hordes of other tourists, down at the falls. As is my habit when visiting the Falls, I explained to Jerry (quietly, so no one else could hear) how George had showed me how to walk behind the falls the first and every time we visited there. (2)

We sat on the benches at the top of the falls, feeling the spray on our faces, while Jerry smoked a cigar. I watched people arrive, peer over the edge for 30 seconds, and leave. Some took pictures. The longest anyone spent looking at the falls was less than a minute.

Back in the car, we drove for several more hours on well-maintained gravel roads, looking at the cows grazing on the national forest, mostly alone with our thoughts and the scenery. Sometime during the drive, I began to explain to Jerry my concept of the Birthday Week.

I believe this to be a unique idea (3), based on the fact that age encourages us to a deliberation in our actions. We are not merely slow because we can’t move faster; no, we are often contemplating the feeling of every move, what it will mean to our bodies. Perhaps we are remembering past experiences. Hmm. That leap hurt. I wonder if it will hurt that much if I do it again. I used to be able to jump that far a hundred times a day.

In order to properly celebrate an important milestone such as a birthday, particularly after more than six decades of birthdays. one cannot be limited to a mere 24 hours, or the much shorter span of twelve hours during which most of us are awake. Even the twelve hours is frequently interrupted by a nap or two, so our time to celebrate our natal day becomes even more brief.

In addition, of course, few of us in our sixties are willing to celebrate quite as vigorously as we did at younger ages. I like to do something special, see friends, call more friends, dine well, open gifts-- far too much excitement and activity for a single day.

For that reason, then, I’ve begun to introduce the concept of a Birthday Week. You will notice that the week of my birthday was tentatively blocked on the list of "Available Retreat Dates," so we would schedule no retreats during that time. We’d planned a more extensive trip, but when that didn’t work out, I chose to celebrate in smaller increments.

The drive on my actual birthday was terrific, a restful day of enjoying the Black Hills at its most beautiful and serene, since it was a week day. I wasn’t feeling well enough for much dinner, but managed to scrape up the energy to open a lovely collection of presents. (Among other things, Tamara gave me potting soil, walls of water, and mystery books; Jerry gave me tomato cages and 8 pounds of salt water taffy. Jerry’s folks gave me a gift certificate to a gardening catalog: do you see a theme?) I spent the day after my birthday quietly but the sense of relaxation allowed me to search some storage and finally find the letters Badger Clark wrote to me in 1957; more on that in a later blog.

Then on the third day of birthday week, I called a friend my age and we chatted for an hour about our lives, including recalling our friend Winston. Her father raised Winston, a beautiful Hereford bull, on his ranch near Newcastle, WY, and his children rode the bull the whole time he was growing up. By the time my father bought Winston, he was a massive breeding machine, with the white curly face and immense circle of horns that mark a true Hereford. I loved taking my friends to the corral to see him, and then casually climbing on and riding him around. Naturally, like the self-centered little monster I was, I allowed my playmates to think I was responsible for the bull’s kindness, but his innate Hereford gentleness kept him calm.

That afternoon, Jerry and I continued our policy of getting acquainted with the near neighborhood and I took him to see the Norbeck Information Center in Custer State Park, an incredible building created by the Civilian Conservation Corps out of native rock and ponderosa pine. We dropped into Coolidge Inn, and I signed copies of my books for sale there, though the clerk was not at all sure I should. Then we dined at the Game Lodge. Sadly, the kitchen couldn’t manage to cook my buffalo steak the way I wanted it, so Jerry ate most of it.

On my fourth day of birthday week, I went to 4 garage sales and an auction/estate sale, spent $1.36 and acquired enough pots and peat pots to fill my greenhouse needs, possibly forever. Then I had lunch with good friends and lots of laughter, and sat in on a private showing of the recent paintings of my good friend Tom Thorson.

As the sun was casting long shadows, a UPS truck roared up the driveway bringing the complimentary copies of the newly-issued paperback edition of No Place Like Home. The cover has been made darker and more dramatic, the spine is a prairie-sky blue that makes the title stand out, and the back cover features my photograph plus the usual collection of great things said about the book. In this case the quotations are from Judy Blunt (whose book Breaking Clean is great writing about ranching) and Booklist.

To top off the day, we got a cooling trace of rain. Now, on the fifth day of my birthday week, I’m going to till the garden; celebrating my birth also means proving I can still do some of the work I love. I plan to call another old friend today for a long chat, and have lunch with a high school classmate next week, just before my birthday week officially ends.

I might note that one’s endurance also builds as one ages, so a week of celebrating a birthday becomes possible. One does not, however, celebrate with the excessive consumption we might have achieved in our younger days.

Calm, quiet delight in living is the theme. May you all experience the same, aging happily.


Footnotes to Birthday Week:

(1) I have reluctantly concluded that the reason for the illness might be because I ate a large quantity of raw red onion in a tuna salad sandwich the day before. The discovery that eating something in particular causes heartburn and a sleepless night is one of those things about aging that nobody ever mentions when we are young. I now know why some of my relatives wore those twisted smiles when I chomped onto a hamburger with raw onions when I was about nine.

(2) I won’t detail the technique of going behind the falls here, lest I encourage some reading daredevil to do it and draw down some official wrath on their heads. A few people walking under the falls didn’t seem to hurt the falls much, but if one person were seen to do it, others would surely follow and someone might get hurt. George and I were doing this before Political Correctness started trying to make it illegal to do dangerous things. And it wasn’t really very dangerous. Standing under the falls, out of sight of all but the most alert observers above, was incredible. Leaning back against the damp walls, I could feel the thunder of the water pouring over the edge above us, feel the chill of centuries in the wet sand under my feet. I know I started a poem about it, but don’t believe I’ve ever finished it. I'm glad to have had the experience and perhaps enjoy the fact that few others will.

(3) I thought I’d invented the birthday week until I received my annual birthday call from my friend Suzan, who has been my friend for about 50 years. "Humph!" she said. "I’ve been doing that for years. Birthday Eve, Birthday Week. Lately I’m plugging for a Birthday Month!"

# # #

back to top

 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Saving Craven Canyon

. . .
This March the Black Hills National Forest asked for public comment on their recommendation to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to withdraw approximately 3,957 acres of National Forest System land from mining, to protect "cultural resources of significant interest" within and surrounding Craven Canyon in the southern Black Hills-- meaning the ancient pictographs carved and pecked into the canyon walls and the other archeological sites surrounding the canyon. The mineral withdrawal would also protect the plants and animals in the area.

Here is what I sent:

Thank you for sending the draft environmental impact assessment. I have studied it at length.

Some of my earliest memories are of walking down Craven Canyon to “the writings” with my grandmother, Cora Belle Hey. As we sat in the sun on a flat rock to eat lunch, she’d talk about the ancient people who once sat where we were. She came from a poor Ozark family and attended only a few years of grade school; I’m sure she never heard the phrase Mitakuye Oyasin ["We are all related"], but she knew those carvings were old and important, and she taught me to look but not touch. For hours, we’d speculate about the artists, who they were, what they were thinking as they chipped and painted. They were like us, she always said. I nearly became an archeologist because of those visits; instead I am a writer, an excavator of words.

My most recent visit was in November of 2008 with my uncle, George Hey, now 91. My grandmother Cora, his mother, taught him to protect those carvings. And on that trip, as on every single other trip I’ve made to the canyon, he pointed out carvings I’d never seen before. After living nearly 90 years in that canyon, if George is still finding new rock art, it’s hard to imagine what treasures may still exist in more remote spots in the proposed withdrawal region.

The Craven Canyon Mineral Withdrawal document notes, “The purpose of and need for action is to protect and preserve existing Native American cultural resources . . .” and later, “The most appropriate use for Craven Canyon and the purpose for its withdrawal from mineral activities are . . . to continue to serve the religious and cultural needs of Native Americans.”

George Hey told me about a time when a Native American encampment was created in the canyon. He went down to welcome the campers, including members of AIM, and found young Native Americans scrawling on the walls declarations like, ‘I AM AN INDIAN.’ He protested, and the mood of the people turned hostile.

My little white-haired uncle drew himself up and said, “That’s not right, to write on these walls. Those were your ancestors, and they were my ancestors. This place belongs to all of us.”

Those scribbled writings still deface one of the rock walls of the canyon, but my uncle is vigilant, and no new ones have appeared in years without his reporting the desecration to the proper authorities.

And that’s the important part of this irreplaceable cultural resource: it belongs to all of us. We have no idea what we might learn from what these ancient ancestors left behind. This is the Sistine Chapel of the Black Hills, of South Dakota, of the Great Plains. We wouldn’t allow mining exploration into our most sacred tabernacles, and it doesn’t belong here.

Every single person admitted to the region increases the risk of damage and loss. Both my uncle and Linea Sundstrom have mentioned several incidents of damage, in spite of the locked gates, my uncle’s vigilance, and heavy fines.

I first saw the drawings when I was five years old, sixty years ago. I remember the vividness of the colors, and the way the walls looked. I was once in the canyon, sitting below the big green floating antelope, when a pickup drove in and a man fired a high-powered rifle into the wall. I took a photograph in which his license plate was visible, but the local law enforcement officers weren’t interested in pursuing punishment. Only the Forest Service has been able to offer a measure of protection.

Every year, a few ignorant people manage to damage more of the art. Mining this region would create more roads, more access, and inevitably more damage of this kind. The area is remote; most access is still by gravel roads. And it’s broken and rough, so that even exploring with vehicles would do irreparable damage to the grass, the sparsely-covered hillsides, and the areas that might hold more caves, art, and camp sites. Extensive road-building would be required to mine anywhere inside the proposed closure, and once those roads were in place, they would allow public access into canyons, caves, and other secret spots still unexplored by archeologists.

As my uncle ages, it’s time for more formal management to protect this region. If funding does not allow for study at this time, I hope the site can be made as secure as possible, closed to public access. Limited public access might be possible after professionals have surveyed the area for more archeological sites, studied those sites already found, and provided for security for the archeological treasures that may exist.

Please choose Option 2, the only alternative in the draft environmental impact assessment that provides protection to all the cultural resources thus far recorded in the area, and new ones as yet undiscovered.

# # #

For more information:

Look for Linea Sundstrom's books, including Storied Stone: Indian Rock Art of the Black Hills

Some background information:

According to the draft environmental impact assessment:

There is a high potential for uranium and vanadium, a moderate potential for oil and gas, and a low potential for subbituminous coal in the proposed mineral withdrawal area. There is also a low potential for the mining of sand, gravel, clay and building stone, mainly because of the distances involved from Craven Canyon to a market for these products.

Alternative 1 -- do nothing. This would leave only 160 acres protected from a previous minerals withdrawal.

Alternative 2 -- withdraw 3,957 acres which would protect 100% of 46 known archeological sites of cultural and historical interest and would protect 621 acres of culturally significant viewshed. This would include 100% of the existing mining claims in the area in the withdrawal.

Alternative 3 -- withdraw 2,649 acres which would protect only 67% of 46 known archeological sites of cultural and historical interest and would protect only 473 acres of culturally significant viewshed. This would exclude 100% of the existing mining claims in the area from the withdrawal.

Once the Forest Service collects the public comments (the comment period closes in late March, 2010), they will make a recommendation to the BLM as to which alternative they suggest. The BLM will make the actual decision later this year.

back to top

 Read More 
Post a comment