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

Extending the Celebration: my birthday month

Linda admiring a glass birthday turtle from Suzan.

. . .
I highly recommend the Birthday Month, introduced to me by my good friend Suzan.

The idea of extending a birthday is not about getting more material goods as gifts. Instead, the extension allows me time to accept the gifts that arrive every day, special occasion or not.

Suzan and I have joked that we adopted the birthday month because, as we age, celebrations take longer. When we were twenty, we could pack enough fun into one day of birthday celebration to last us a whole year. But aging and, one hopes, increasing maturity, mean one learns to slow down, to take more time to appreciate just what “fun” can mean.

One might do this in an orderly fashion: a Birth Day in one’s twenties and thirties, for example, followed by a Birthday Week in one’s forties and fifties. We weren’t that organized; I leapt right to the Birthday Month as soon as she suggested it and now that I am officially “in my seventies,” I find the concept particularly appropriate.

Instead of material goods, the gifts I receive derive from the way we usually behave on our birthdays. A birthday is traditionally a time to feel special, to relax into enjoyment of the day, whatever festivities are planned. I try to give in to impulses that take me out of my daily routine. In the darkness of my bedroom, I reflect on age and what it has brought.

Celebrating my birthday month, I’ve begun each day since my natal day with a short reflection on what it means to be 70 years old plus one day, and so forth. I’ve recalled my mother’s stories about my birth. She said she was really tired of being pregnant and unwieldy in the heat of a Texas July. Her doctor had planned a vacation, so with her agreement, he induced my birth.

Birthdays after we moved to the ranch sometimes meant that after a day of haying, and after eating supper, opening gifts and sampling the birthday cake, we would drive into “The Hills” and enjoy the cool of the woods.

Extending my birthday this year has taken several forms so far. First, yes, I’ve bought one or two things I might not have bought otherwise. But I followed my usual practice of giving to the local second hand outlets more than I purchased new. I learned this from a student at Christian College for Women in the 1960s. She said that every time her daddy bought her a new dress, which was often, he marched her to her closet and she had to choose right then two dresses to discard. Then he marched her down to the sharecroppers’ cabins on their Arkansas farm and she gave her dresses to one of the girls her age.

More birthday celebrations: I took the scenic route to Hill City to deliver a package to a friend, walked through his gardens and enjoyed a long, relaxed visit. And he’d baked me a cake! When a meeting was cancelled, I spent extra time in the library, taking notes on my day and people-watching. And while I watched people, I tried not to be critical. The thirteen-year-old girl in the off-the-shoulder blouse that exposed her bra strap and most of her left bosom tested my resolve greatly!

I re-read all my birthday cards and wrote several letters to friends and relatives. Looked through a magazine and found a recipe for roasted vegetables and shrimp that I served at lunch today.

Made honey butter, a treat I recall from my childhood. (1/4 to ½ C honey to each stick of butter. At room temperature, cream together until well mixed. Store in refrigerator. Heavenly on toast, biscuits, even potatoes.) I seem to remember honey peanut butter too, hmm.

Headed home from town, I took the road along the creek that I never take because it’s often hazardous with deer, joggers and golf carts. I drove five miles under the speed limit, mightily frustrating the folks behind me. Inhaled the scent of mint growing along the creek, the flavor of hay curing in the fields. Heard a golfer curse. Laughed. Remembered making this drive once very late at night and knowing I was nearly out of gas; remembered that I got to within a mile of home, tucked my car into a side road and walked across the pasture in the dark, hoping I didn’t fall into a badger hole.

With Jerry, I sat on the patio (an elegant misnomer for the concrete slab outside our basement) and just looked at the tomato plants, honeysuckle bushes, bachelor buttons and sweet William, potted herbs, and other plants. OK, I lasted two minutes before I leapt up to water them, but I plan to repeat the experiment every night until I can sit still for longer than five minutes. Listen to the nighthawks peent! and boom. Inhale the sweet scent of autumn clematis. Sway with the breeze through the bee balm and black-eyed susans and sage.

I’m a collector of apt quotations I can never remember when I’m speaking, so I keep them in files. Here’s one that summarizes how I’ve spent my days since my birthday.

Go on listening, carefully, respectfully. After a while the earth feels free to speak. It's the way it is in a trance, when everything and everyone speaks freely. The things you'd least expect speak. There they are: speaking. Bones, thorns. Pebbles, lianas. Little bushes and budding leaves. The scorpion. the line of ants dragging a botfly back to the anthill. The butterfly with rainbow wings. The hummingbird. The mouse up a branch speaks, and circles in the water. Lying quietly, with closed eyes, the storyteller is listening. Thinking: let everyone forget me. Then one of my souls leaves me. And the Mother of something that is all around me comes to visit me. I hear, I am beginning to hear. Now I can hear. One and all have something to tell. That is, perhaps, what I have learned by listening. The beetle, as well. The little stone you can hardly see, it's so small, sticking out of the mud. Even the louse you crack in two with your fingernail has a story to tell. If only I could remember everything I've been hearing. You'd never tire of listening to me, perhaps.

--- Vargas Llosa, The Storyteller

Happy birthday to you, too.

--- Linda M. Hasselstrom, aged 70 years and 5 days

# # #

For more . . .

See the Home Page Message Archives to read Linda's essay on friendship and aging. Look for "The Glitter Phase of Life" written for the fall equinox, September, 2011. This essay includes two poems inspired by Linda's friendship with Suzan, mentioned in the blog above-- "Dear Suzan" and "We're Sixty-Eight."

See the archived Home Page Message "Summer’s End: From Magpie Mind to Turtle Tranquility," written for October, 2012, to learn about Linda's connection to turtles.

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Dawn Wink: “Raven’s Time”

Dawn Wink's book Meadowlark
will be released July 30, 2013.

. . .
Dawn Wink, the author of the forthcoming novel Meadowlark, (Pronghorn Press) based on the lives of her real ancestors, was raised on a ranch in southeastern Arizona but writes about northern South Dakota which she visited often as a young adult when her parents moved to their ranch south of Faith, SD.

Dawn has just returned from Chicago where, she says, “I go to teach construction workers how to teach. What an inspiring, humbling, and always amazing time.” Dawn is teaching the online class "Raven's Time: Wildness and Beauty" through Story Circle Network. For more about the concept of "raven’s time" see Dawn's blog about the class here.

Dawn says “This class explores the beauty and wildness of place through the symbolism of natural elements: including ravens, water, skulls, turquoise, textures, beauty, and wildness. This course reveals these dynamics and seeks to bring understanding through wisdom from the landscape and natural elements. Will focus on content and the craft of writing.” The class is conducted through email, from August 12 through September 9. See a full description of the class at the link above, or go to the Story Circle website, click on "Story Circle Network online" then "Story Circle Network online classes."

I've never met Dawn, but have carried on a lively correspondence with her mother, Joan, also an educator, whom I finally met last year. Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores the tensions and beauty of language, culture, and place. Her first book, Teaching Passionately: What’s Love Got To Do With It?, co-written with Joan Wink, was published in 2004 by Pearson. Dawn is an Associate Professor at Santa Fe Community College, her essays and articles have appeared in journals and magazines. Dawn started a literary, educational, and artistic blog community, Dewdrops, in 2011. Dawn lives with her family in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

You might also look up other classes on the Story Circle website. The Story Circle Network is an international not-for-profit membership organization made up of women who want to document their lives and explore their personal stories through journaling, memoir, autobiography, personal essays, poetry, drama, and mixed-media. On the site you’ll find guidance to online classes, reviews of books by and about women, contests, awards, a speakers’ bureau, want ads, resources for writing your own life, a bookstore, links to other websites and much much more. Look on the website to discover a story circle in your own neighborhood; they exist all around the world.

# # #

For more information:

The Story Circle Network website is www.storycircle.org

Dawn Wink's blog may be found at dawnwink.wordpress.com

Linda will be giving the keynote speech at the Story Circle Network national women's memoir conference in Austin, Texas on April 11, 2014.
Read about it on this website at Where in the World is Linda M. Hasselstrom?

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Kitty Cat's Family

Three of the four kittens available for adoption.
Three kittens play with a toy on a string while the mama cat eats in the background. Photo taken June 25, 2013.

. . .
On April 18, Kitty Cat presented us with five kittens. Two are orange tiger striped with some white, and three are marked like their mother: white with gold decorations.

We suspect the father is a tough old tom we’ve seen around the place at intervals for several years. A retreat writer who spotted him mentioned torn ears and a self-sufficient stalk. We recall that before Kitty Cat disappeared last winter, she had seemed afraid when she was eating in the barn: constantly looking over her shoulder and leaping at the slightest sound. We suspect the other cat was stalking her and the kittens are the result.

A cat’s gestation period is usually 58 to 65 days, meaning the kittens were conceived between February 14 and 21. A retreat guest saw Kitty Cat briefly about the 21st and she showed herself to us March 3. Since then she’s been living primarily in Jerry’s shop, enjoying the comforts of her Cat Loft. A week before her due date, we installed a small carrying crate lined with old towels and she began sleeping there many nights, nesting.

The problem of names is, of course, at the very forefront of our minds. We refused to provide Kitty Cat with a proper name, because we were afraid her wandering ways would take her into the jaws of a coyote and it might be more painful to mourn a named feline than a generic one. Friends, wishing to be helpful, offered numerous possibilities for nomenclature connected either with writing or ranch mythology. We declined.

But now we are in a stew about how to name her offspring. Kitten 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 would be in keeping with the austerity of their mother’s name, but somehow lacking in the pizzazz we expect them to bring to Jerry’s efforts at wood-working. Kitty Cat enjoys leaping to his shoulder when he’s absorbed in a project, though so far she hasn't done so when he’s operating the table saw. So he is already imagining what it will be like to have five kittens leaping and hissing every time he starts a drill or sander. Or napping on the shelf with the sand paper. Or tippy-toeing across the rack of clamps or scaling the heights of the dust-collection system.

One kitten has been adopted and Jerry is considering keeping one, but the rest are available for adoption, free, now that they are old enough. They are socialized, litter-box trained, and used to small dogs, our Westies Cosmo and Toby.

If you’re interested, email me at info@windbreakhouse.com or leave a message with your telephone number at (605) 255-4064. That telephone is answered only by voice mail.

To see many photos and read about Kitty Cat and the kittens, see my Cat Stories page on this website.

# # #

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Making Your Own Journals

The handmade journal.

. . .
On a recent reading trip, I stayed a couple of nights with Deb and Tim Nolting in Bushnell, NE. Deb is a teacher, singer, poet. (See her website at www.LeadersAndLegends.com)

Recently, Deb has been making journals for her students using recycled materials. The journal covers are taken from discarded Reader’s Digest condensed books, surely a source that may be almost inexhaustible. Probably the only published material that exists in greater quantities is the supply of National Geographic magazines in the nation’s attics and basements.

Deb has sliced off the book covers and has hundreds, maybe thousands, stacked on shelves in her home office (and boxes and boxes more in storage, she says.) She also collects all kinds of paper: old notebook pages, notepads from advertisers, deckle-edged paper in delicate hues, everything.

When she offered to make me a journal, I leaped at the chance to see how she does it.

From her stacks I selected first the cover– a dark brown with an embossed horse. Then I looked over the shelves for the front matter and chose a page that said “Ex Libris.”

For the interior of the journal, I chose a notepad from a pharmaceutical company that had Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man at the top. She was able to slice off the advertising from the bottom, leaving me with lined pages decorated with a pen and ink sketch of the proper proportions of a naked man at the top of each one. Surely my notes in this journal will be particularly profound.

Once she’d trimmed everything to size, she moved to the table containing the single machine which allows her to put all these elements together. She bought the binder at www.mybinding.com; several moderately-priced models exist.

First she set the machine for the size of covers she was using, so that it punched 21 holes for the spiral binding in the cover. Then she punched the interior pages and finally the front cover.

Once the covers and pages were aligned, she slipped the book into another slot in the machine. She cut a length of spiral binding with 21 holes and used the machine to apply it instantly. Still using the machine, she crimped the binding to fit the book.

Voila! A personal, handmade journal. She says she enjoys making the journals so much she could do it all the time. I hope she will eventually make them available for sale, possibly in her daughters' book shop, The Sisters Grimm.

# # #

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Urgent Help !! -- Not Needed


Hope you are keeping fine. Am sorry for not writing you before leaving to Johannesburg to help my cousin that she was diagnosed with blood and the X'Ray scan showed an "incidental finding" of tumors in her liver and appear to be Surgery Operation. The news of her illness arrived to me as emergency that she needs family support to keep her life going. I got robbed on my way, My Credit card, cash and other valuables things I have with me got stolen, And the hospital management is demanding for a deposit of 2500 euros before they can carry out the surgery operation to save his life. Please I will be happy if you can assist me with a soft loan of $2000 to make the necessary arrangement for her surgery operation cost on time. before she died here, I promise to pay you back when i return home. I did not take along my phone and it is currently switched off because of the time frame I had to be here...

Please am counting on you and kindly get back to me on time. so that I can email you the details information where the money will be sending to. as soon as possible


* * *

This is the text of an email scam sent out under Linda's name to her personal email address book. No, Linda does not have a cousin (male or female? hard to tell) in Johannesburg who was "diagnosed with blood" and no, Linda did not get robbed on her way to South Africa.

Linda's computer is now in the shop being de-bugged and she'll soon have a new personal email address. How annoying!

(The business email, however, will remain info@windbreakhouse.com.)

On the plus side, Linda began to hear from friends--

So glad to hear that you got to go to Johannesburg! Hackers should never try to fake an email from a writer, should they?
--- Andy

I also knew the email wasn't from Linda because it was poorly written. Ha!
--- Jane Wolfe, prairiespirits.blogspot.com

Linda has lost her writing skills.
--- Kevin

Unless you have suddenly taken up English as a Second Language as a quirky hobby, I'm quite sure you didn't write the message . . .
--- Teresa Jordan, www.teresajordan.com

The writer struggled to sound as if English was her first language, but failed miserably. C and I cracked up at the irony of the scammer posing as a writer!
--- K. M. O.

If it did come from you, then you are in so much distress your brain is addled.
--- F. B. from Missouri

You also seemed to have lost your ability to write well in English. That's what happens when you travel overseas! Hah!
--- Laural, www.thewildburro.com

Ah, of course it wasn't from Linda. She would never whimper like that.
--- Faye

Linda was pleased that the reason most people recognized the email was a scam was not because she has no cousin in Johannesburg, but because of the lack of writing quality. Thanks to all the folks who reported this scam and apologies for any inconvenience. Keep your antivirus system updated and scan your system frequently!

Notice posted by Linda's assistant, Tam

# # #

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Giving Away the Saddles

This is the saddle made by Charley Streeter of Buffalo Gap, South Dakota.
It was made for me when I was 12 years old. This photo was taken in the late 1980s.

. . .
Note: This blog was originally posted on January 12, 2013.
It is re-posted now with the addition of the thank-you letters at the end.

Recently I gave away my saddles: my father’s old Duhamel saddle, the saddle made for me when I was twelve by a saddlemaker in Buffalo Gap, and George’s, also an antique. They went to a family in the neighborhood, with two sons and a couple of nieces who may eventually grow into one or more of the saddles. The two boys have been wanting saddles of their own but the cost simply wasn’t possible. And the nieces, coincidentally, are descendants of a man who used to repair all our riding boots in his saddle shop.

When I showed the high school boy my father’s old-fashioned saddle, his eyes opened wide and he smiled so hard he must have strained a muscle. Suddenly I could see my father on his Tennessee Walking horse Zarro. And I seemed to see him smile at this long-legged kid, as tall at 17 as my father was as an adult.

Then the younger boy took my saddle in his arms-- the weight nearly felled him-- and with a determined frown hoisted it over his shoulder to carry it outside. He put it down on the ground while his mother opened their car-- but he put it down with the sheepskin lining against the ground. Quietly, the older boy corrected him: when you put a saddle down, you tip it over, so the horn rests on the ground, to keep from breaking or straining the tree inside and to keep the sheepskin lining clean.

After they left, I cried, thinking over long memories of riding with my father and George, but I smiled too, to know those saddles will be ridden and cared for by another family for more generations than I will live.

Later I realized that giving my saddles away is an admission that I am unlikely to ride a horse again. Of course I didn’t ride all the time we lived in Cheyenne but I always had my saddle oiled and ready.

I'd suffer plenty of muscle pain if I rode again but the worst part would be that I’d be riding a horse I didn’t train. Many of the times I’ve done that, I’ve regretted it: no one trained horses the way I learned to do from my gentle father. Horses are intelligent and sensitive and too many of the ones I’ve ridden that were owned by someone else had been treated so that they were untrustworthy. I’ve been kicked in the upper arm, thrown, rolled on.

No, I’m not likely to ride a horse someone else has trained and that means I’ve given up something that was of deep importance to me. The freedom of riding a horse here on the ranch has been unparalleled in my life; the sheer joy of moving in such harmony with a horse’s muscles and mind is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced.

I have made this choice many times in the past few years and giving away the saddles was making it again, more permanently. I’m nearly seventy years old but I’m not in bad shape. I could buy a young horse, train it, spend time riding. Or I could buy an older, well-trained horse and enjoy rides all over the pastures I still own. But I have responsibilities to my partner, to my dogs, to my garden and most of all to my writing. The time I devoted to riding would need to be taken from something else and I choose not to shortchange those other elements of my life. Most importantly, I’ve chosen to sit in this office chair and write about the life I lived, hoping to help inspire protection of the prairies and the ranching life so that other youngsters may know the life of freedom I knew on horseback.

When the family asked if they couldn’t pay something for the saddles, the teacher in me arose. In return for the gift, I asked only that the two boys write me their thanks. I reasoned that besides providing them with good practice in writing in general and in expressing gratitude in particular, the exercise would serve as an illustration that generosity is an important part of enjoying a satisfying life.

To prove my confidence was not misplaced, here are the letters I received.

From the high school student:

Linda, I want you to know how awesome it is to have a usable piece of history. Every time I use the saddle, I think about your Dad and the kind of hardworking but interesting person he must have been. Thank you for sharing your history with me!

From the grade school student:

Linda, I like character. The saddle I ride has that. Plus it has a neat story. A South Dakota author grew up having adventures in my saddle. Pretty neat.

From their mother and father:

Linda, Your husband's saddle has been used by __________ (two nieces who are neighbors). We do cherish the fact that you saw our children and extended family as keepers of your story in any form. We also love that you see them as responsible and caring enough to preserve some very fun saddles that would have stories to tell if they could talk.

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The Sisters Grimm

The Sisters Grimm interior.
From horse stalls to cozy bookstore.

. . .
From the outside, you might mistake it for just another big red Nebraska barn on the outskirts of a small town.

But The Sisters Grimm Bookstore and Coffee Shop, inside a barn that once sheltered Tennessee Walking horses, is unlike any barn-- or indeed any bookstore or coffee shop-- I’ve ever visited. I wish it had been here when I was living just 50 miles away in Cheyenne, Wyoming and desperate for a hideaway like this.

Inspired by her senior college thesis on the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jamie Carpenter chose the store’s name when she convinced her sister Jessica to join her in the business-- but there’s nothing grim about it.

Order an espresso coffee, tea, or choose from other drinks freshly made in the compact kitchen. Select a pastry made by the owner’s mother and other neighborhood cooks and settle onto the comfy couch. Depending on the day, you might be able to visit with owner Jamie, join a meeting of a community group in progress or just pick up a book and read.

On Saturday, April 27, I was privileged to do a public reading and conduct a writing workshop in one of Sisters Grimm’s cozy nooks. Everyone nibbled on home baked treats while they listened to me read from Dirt Songs, 50 of my poems published with 50 of those from Nebraska’s Twyla Hansen. Later, several of the audience members were happy to read what they had written during our mini-workshop.

With the help of her parents, Tim and Deb Nolting, and her sister Jess with husband Juan Rocha, Jamie mucked out the stalls and scrubbed the walls with bleach. Tim and Juan built bookshelves by the dozen and created a handy kitchen and modern bathroom with a rustic atmosphere. Tim and Juan are now converting the barn’s upper floor into a spacious and light-filled apartment, using recycled materials for floor, ceilings and other built-ins. A massive stack of books awaits distribution to the proper shelves downstairs.

The store specializes in used books and each stall holds a specialty: mysteries (I left with a dozen), westerns, religious, children’s and regional (Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, Kansas and Montana), as well as history, art, textbooks and general nonfiction. New books include titles from Storey Publishing (www.storey.com) on gardening, crafts and farm and ranch life, as well as selections from local and regional authors.

Besides the books, the store is filled with antiques, photographs, paintings and greeting cards and many of these delights are for sale. I bought some delicious goat gouda made by Victory Hill Farm (www.VHFarm.com). The store also stocks sharp cheese from Coturnix Creamery, which uses milk from the Irish Cream Sheep Dairy in Bushnell (www.IrishCreamSheepDairy.com). I meant to buy scented soaps likewise made locally of goat milk by Double L. Country Store (www.doublelcountrystore.com). Quilts and ancient farm machinery are part of the decor.

Everywhere are personal touches that make the place feel like a particularly welcoming home: the new burlap bags covering the couch. The gigantic cups in which coffee is served. Photographs of local sights. Greeting cards lying on shelves where the browser sees their individuality rather than a rack of sameness. Around the top of the kitchen wall appears the same printed alphabet from which I studied printing in the Hermosa grade school. Pick up a book, rock, read, sip, while the afternoon away.

Sound like a reader’s idea of heaven? There’s more: the food: besides the espresso and other drinks, Jamie serves pastries baked by her and her sister, their mother Deb and a neighbor. And she’s available to cater lunches for groups reserving the barn for special events.

If you’re driving I-80 across the nation’s midsection, plan a stop at the southwest corner of Nebraska; Bushnell is just 12 miles west of Kimball. Dive off the convenient interstate exit, drive three miles north to Bushnell, cross the railroad tracks and drive three or four blocks to the first stop sign, where you’ll see a Sisters Grimm billboard. Turn left and you’ll see the barn and its spacious parking lot.

# # #

For more information:

The Sisters Grimm
1598 RD 34 N
(Corner of Maple & D Streets)
Bushnell NE 69128

Website: www.sistersgrimm.biz

FaceBook: www.facebook.com/TheSistersGrimm

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Book Review: I Do Not Apologize for the Length of This Letter

. . .
I Do Not Apologize for the Length of This Letter: The Mari Sandoz Letters on Native American Rights, 1940-1965.
Introduced and edited by Kimberli A. Lee

book review by Linda M. Hasselstrom

Mari Sandoz, who wrote extensively about the lives of both whites and Indians on the Plains, grew up during pioneer days in the Sandhills of Nebraska with parents who did not consider writing to be real work. Her father, who as Old Jules was the subject of one of her best-known books, called writers and artists “the maggots of society.”

I wonder if Mari ever thought about that metaphor. Maggots, as that famous plainsman Hugh Glass learned in the work of Fred Manfred, can be healers. After a grizzly bear slashed the old trapper’s back, it was the maggots who scoured away the dead flesh and allowed the injured mountain man to live.

And Mari Sandoz dedicated her writing to the life of the plainsmen and plainswomen she knew as a child in the west. Her best-known books, besides the memoir about her father Jules Sandoz, were Crazy Horse and Cheyenne Autumn, about the Indians she knew as a child and as an historian of the Northern Plains.

Sandoz was obsessive about accuracy, a trait which served her well as a writer. But in addition, her demand for truth in the way people write about her Indian neighbors led her to spend considerable time ferociously fighting battles on their behalf with other historians, with legislators, with government officials, and the public. She considered writing about Indians (the term they prefer to Native Americans) to be a privilege and an honor, not an entitlement.

This book may demonstrate why Sandoz’s work did not get as much attention as her subject matter deserved. She remains one of the most unique writers in American literature and one of the least known and appreciated. Writers must, above all, write. As soon as she finished one book, she was behind schedule on another, working hard all her life to finish a cycle of books aimed at showing Plains residents, both white and Indian, to the rest of the world. A selection of her titles shows her massive scope: The Beaver Men: Spearheads of Empire; The Buffalo Hunters: The Story of the Hide Men; The Cattlemen: From the Rio Grande to the Far Marias; These Were the Sioux; and the posthumous The Battle of the Little Bighorn, banned from the federal monument for years because of the truths it told.

Sandoz’s writing schedule was extremely productive. She considered herself an historian; while she could write lyrically, she never had the leisure to polish her prose to a high gloss. She explained once that she could write either books or letters, but not both. And yet she wrote hundreds of letters (typing them, remember, one by one on a non-electric typewriter, not printing them swiftly on a computer or emailing them) clarifying history, attempting to correct negative stereotypes, and criticizing federal Indian policy. She was ferocious in her knowledge and defense of Indian ways and in attacking the worst destructiveness of her period: the termination program and the relocation program.

During much of her writing life, many white leaders, including Westerners, were working to persuade the federal government to terminate its treaty obligations to tribes, many of whom were then swindled out of their land with its rich natural resources. The relocation program promised Indians new and productive lives in cities but mostly tossed them into poverty without education or preparation. The book’s title, in fact, comes from a phrase she used first in a letter to President Truman and later to the heads of subcommittees on Indian affairs in both houses of Congress.

Besides all this, she wrote to Indian leaders and students, encouraging them in efforts to obtain help during a particularly difficult period in their history. Many of her letters, to readers, to other historians and writers, to critics, contain mini-history lessons several pages long, complete with references to research materials she’d dug out of musty government files.

She also took time to appear on television and radio, always consulting with tribal authorities before being interviewed about Indian culture. She resisted degrading stereotypes everywhere she saw them, noting that they not only demeaned the Indians in the eyes of whites but harmed the self-respect of the Indians themselves. She was, she insisted, giving her efforts back to the Indians in gratitude for the knowledge they had given her. “I owe a great personal debt, philosophically, to the Plains Indians,” she said. (P. 163) She kept the faith; some of the research materials entrusted to her by the old chiefs were destroyed upon her death, to preserve ancient secrets.

And always she made clear that she was speaking only with the respect and assent of the Indian people she consulted. In many instances, she became the only voice on their behalf that could be heard-- because the era’s whites believed the ugly stereotypes they had created.

Born in 1896, Sandoz worked her way through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and traveled throughout the West for research on her books, though she lived much of her life in New York. She was an important voice for Indians in the civil rights era of the 1960s and worked hard to help Indian writers and artists develop their own voices.

Her voice is still relevant; we are still not free of the stereotypes evident in Chapter Three which surfaced so clearly in the horrid Hollywood movie about Crazy Horse. Efforts to exploit Indians and their remaining resources are still frequent. They still need, as Sandoz said in 1959, “land, education, credit and hope.” (P. 66.) And the exploiters are still making money from ruination in White Clay, NE. (p. 72.)

I was a little frustrated that the book could not provide both sides of the correspondence, for example President Truman’s response to Sandoz. However, usually the letters are self-explanatory and the editor provides a helpful overview at the beginning of each chapter. Editor Lee astutely forced me to admit that Sandoz does a little stereotyping of her own, romanticizing a bit in her attempt to demonstrate the rightful place of Plains Indians in American society and their importance to modern Plains history and culture.

Through her books as well as her letters as shown in this volume and others, Sandoz is still working to heal the damage done to Plains residents, white and Indian alike, by greed, exploitation, poverty, alcohol, evils of civilization. Maggot of society, indeed.

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For Teachers and Other Hard Workers: Making Time to Write

Inspiration found at the Creek Place, 2010.

. . .
The original draft of this letter was written to a long-time friend, a great teacher. Like many teachers I’ve known, she is frustrated because, though she loves teaching, she also wants to write. I hope my comments help other hard workers as they seemed to help her.

Good morning, Friend,

I got to thinking during the past couple of days about your frustration with the complications of teaching. You’re frustrated by the forms that must be filled out, the meetings to be attended, the administrators-- some of whom have never taught-- to please. And yet you love your students and the challenge of teaching; you cannot imagine short-changing them by teaching the same thing every year.

And you look at me and the fourteen books I have in print, the work I’m doing on the next book or two and think, “She’s so productive!”

Thinking, I looked up and realized I hadn’t yet removed the 2012 calender from above my computer (and you say I’m organized!) and the quote on it.

The butterfly counts not
months but moments,
and has time enough.

— Rabindranath Tagore —

From the outside, perhaps I look organized. From in here, much of my life seems to have been an agonizing stumble from one mistake to another. Occasionally I seemed to wake up and act intelligently or have a little good luck, making the right choice in between making a lot of wrong ones. I won’t go into detail; you’ve read enough of my work to see admissions of idiocy or omissions where you might assume it occurred.

When people, perhaps especially women, look at ourselves, we often see only the flaws and errors, and fail to appreciate what we have or what we’ve accomplished. I’ve had good friends, especially during the last couple of decades, who helped me see myself with a little more understanding. And as you know, writing in my journal and studying what I’ve written in my journal for years has also helped. It’s sometimes discouraging, though, to see that I’ve had the same life-changing revelation more than once: in 1965, say, again in 1978, perhaps in the late 1980s. But perhaps we need to keep learning the same lessons over and over until we really understand them.

The butterfly . . .

So let’s look at your life: you have been a diligent and creative teacher. You are sometimes impatient with administrative detail because some of these requirements seem to steal time from your real work: teaching. Your students remember you for years; when they see you after graduation they sometimes rush up to you with thanks. Or they forget to thank you but you can see the changes you have made in their lives by their attitude, their grades, the way they step out into the world.

At the end of the day, you are exhausted because you have poured so much energy into your work. You curl your lip at writing advice columns that suggest you establish a home office; you’ve had one for years and the desk is usually piled with papers to be graded. You hustle to clean house, make meals, tend to your spouse, children, pets. Sometimes you get up early to write. You may carry your journal everywhere with you and make notes.

But you want to spend entire days writing, as you imagine I must do, with nothing to think of but the next word, the next sentence.

counts not months . . .

Let’s see, where was I? I had to stop to let the dogs out, then start lunch, which reminded me I needed to put the compost bucket by the back door so I could empty it next time I go out, then let the dogs in, then turn down the heat under the spaghetti because it was boiling over, then take a load out of the dryer, fold it, and put another load in the washer.


Besides teaching, you managed to survive a difficult first marriage that might have ripped you apart or sent you into depression or alcoholism. My grandmother said that when her first husband was killed, she wanted to die but she had to live for the children. She kept on living and working and raising those kids and married again.

Her second marriage was a good one but yours wasn’t. Still, you raised your children very well; you stuck by them when they made stupid mistakes and you now have incredible grandchildren in whose lives you are closely twined in the best of ways.

Remember I’ve never had children, though I still have some ties with three out of my four stepchildren. I’ve never taken-- made-- the time to know my grandchildren or my (gulp) great-grandchild. But I know about bad marriages and divorce and widowhood.

But all the time you kept teaching, kept writing in your journals, kept writing poems. And you, like me, found a man who will support you psychologically, lovingly, in anything you choose to do. Will work his fingers to the bone to support you financially. Knows stuff the rest of us haven’t even begun to figure out and besides all this has a great sense of humor. That man will never let you down.

but moments . . .

So look at where you are now: you have had a satisfying career but you are tired of filling out the forms, arranging your life around class schedules. You currently choose to teach but you are able to arrange to do so on your own terms. You are getting respect, at last, for what you know. You can begin to let this part of your life wind down if you choose to, knowing you have accomplished a great deal. The important thing is that, as you approach what much of the world calls “retirement age,” you can choose your next adventure.

Meanwhile, as you said, you have this gigantic body of rough drafts bubbling in the pot on the back of the stove. You can smell ’em, hear the bubbles, stir once in awhile. Even if you don’t turn the heat up, the pot will continue to boil and bubble and once in awhile raise the lid and make it jingle. Sometimes you’ve snatched up a bowl, filled it and won an award for your creation.

and has time enough.

Relax. You know that a good soup has to simmer a long time, tantalizing you with its aroma.

Look at yourself: you are a woman who knows how to get what she wants. When you need a break, you’re smart enough to take one. You can enjoy strolling in the sunshine, visiting with friends, petting the dogs. When you see a pair of earrings you love, you buy them; you don’t spend too much, just enough to remind yourself you can.

Trust this woman. She’ll know when she must write. She might analyze how her time is spent and decide that she should drop this or stop doing that in order to spend that time writing.

She might decide to get up earlier on Sunday and leave the cell phone off and write. She might decide to organize all her writing so that she knows what she has and what she wants to work on next.

She might decide that the book club has deteriorated into political squabbling and stop attending meetings. Perhaps she’ll refuse the next invitation to join an organization that really really does a great deal of good for something or someone.

She might decide that every time she starts to think of how frustrating a particular situation is, she will grab the rough draft of a poem from the place she’s handily stacked or tucked them and put her mind entirely into that. She might write a poem the size of a postcard every day. She has time.

The point is, she is a mature, seasoned woman and writer. She doesn’t need to apologize for what she has done or feel inferior to anyone. She will evaluate her life and decide where to make changes to allow her the time to do the kind of writing she wants to do. She’s getting on with her life and her writing and she’s just fine, thank you. She has time enough.


Another Struggling Writer

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Naming Winter Storms

Linda's ranch after an un-named storm in 1999. Storm Orko in 2013 gave us only some wind and a dust of snow.

. . .
We hear that Storm Orko is headed our way even as Nemo is pounding the east coast.

Nemo. Orko. What awful names.

And Nemo means “no name, nobody.”

How unpoetic. Why doesn’t the weather service hire poets to name storms?

Instead of Nemo we might have Nathaniel, Nate for short; Noel, Narcissus, Nero, Nestor, Newell, Nicholas.

Instead of Orko we might have Ocean, Odelle, Oleander, or Oprah. Surely we could do better than Orko.

And we might have competitions for storm names among poets, or have the National Storm Namer poet the way we have a National Poet Laureate. The National Storm Namer might even travel from state to state, naming local storms as a service and reading his or her poems to adoring crowds.

I suppose some self-centered sort would get into the position and abuse it-- name storms after him- or herself or use the naming as a way to poke fun at political figures.

Which could lead to some major metaphor-making: Storm Michelle Banged into the East Coast on Monday. Storm Kim had a wardrobe malfunction and dropped three inches of rain on . . . Or Storm Hillary is Raising He--

Well, maybe this is why the weather service hasn’t tapped poets for this job.

* * *

P.S. I’ve just learned from a friend that the National Weather Service is not naming the storms-- the Weather Channel is, in an attempt to make people pay closer attention. I suppose I could apply for the job.

Or I could say, in the words of Gilda Radnor, one of the finest comediennes ever, "Never Mind!"

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