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Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal

All About the Book.

Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal was published in 2017 by High Plains Press.

A diary of a year on Linda's ranch, and spiritual sequel to her first published book, the 1987 Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains.

What's Here?

About This Book
A description of the book and publication information.

But I Want to Know More
Linda answers questions about the book. Do you have a question?

2017 May Sarton Award for memoir, sponsored by Story Circle Network

Blurbs, Comments, and Reviews
What do people have to say about this book? Send us a note so your comments may be included.

Book Excerpt from February 14th
Includes the poem "Valentine for My Mother"

Table of Contents
What's included in the book and its layout.

About This Book

Nature writer, poet, and longtime leader in land stewardship, Linda M. Hasselstrom examines several generations of family diaries searching for an understanding of her ancestors and for direction in planning for the future of the plains ranch which has been in the family for over a century.

Moving through the days of a year, she is never afraid to show the reader the most difficult thing of all -- the truth of her life. The portrait that emerges is of a woman who makes peace with life's complexities and finds joy in honoring the plains and its people and animals.

Ever the nature writer at heart, Hasselstrom crafts miniature essays on plains animals including antelope, owls, badgers, snakes, buffalo, and cattle. She also delves into rural community dynamics, death and aging, family, and the work of a writer.

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Gathering from the Grassland may be the "spiritual sequel" to Windbreak

Linda Answers Questions About Gathering from the Grassland

Q: Is this a journal similar to Windbreak?

Gathering from the Grassland has been called "the spiritual sequel" to Windbreak.

Both books are in journal form, covering one year; both take place on my ranch as I live in the same house sheltered by windbreak trees; both books include my observations of the birds, wildlife and ranch environment while I also write about my relatives and community.

However, the days of Windbreak, published in 1987, were mostly taken up by cattle ranching and all the daily tasks related to living on the working ranch.

Gathering from the Grassland, published thirty years later, was written some years after I returned to the ranch after living for 17 years in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a sojourn which increased my awareness of people with viewpoints considerably different than mine. Since I am no longer responsible for feeding and caring for cattle, I've been able to examine the past of this land through the written words of my record-keeping ancestors. As an environmentalist who works to educate the public about the importance of cattle and grassland to those who enjoy breathing, I work to protect this unique ecosystem, a vast national treasure for our nation. And as a childless widow whose home is surrounded by hobby ranches and subdivisions, I must consider its future. All of these concerns become subjects for my daily journal entries.

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Q: How does this book fit into the timeline of your other books?

Although Gathering from the Grassland looks back in time to before my birth, the book is written from my perspective of today. So this book is not a prequel to my earlier work, but is most definitely a sequel.

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Q: What does the title mean? Why "gathering"?

My inspiration for writing arises from the grasslands, in the same way that my gardens grow in the raised beds in front of my house. In both cases, I am gathering, harvesting, gleaning what the world of nature offers, whether it's tomatoes or insight.

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Q: Is that you on the cover?

Ho, ho.

I do appear on a few of my book covers (Windbreak, Dakota Bones, Feels Like Far, The Wheel of the Year). Some of my book covers are photos taken at my ranch, but without people (Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky and Dirt Songs). Some are photos taken elsewhere (Between Grass and Sky and No Place Like Home). But others of my books have artwork rather than photos (Going Over East, Land Circle). The cover of Gathering from the Grassland falls into that fourth category.

We tested various photos for the cover-- for example, my hand holding grasses to illustrate "gathering"-- but ultimately my publisher, who knows the book market, decided that wrap-around art would be best.

As we took photos of me holding the cover proof outside, my assistant noticed that the colors on the cover perfectly match the soft colors of the brown and green summer grasslands and the often smoke-hazed sky of southwestern South Dakota.

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Some of the journals I read had microscopic handwriting.

Q: How did you decide to write this book, comparing your parents' journals and your own?

I began going through my father's journals to transcribe his records of the high and low temperatures into a weather journal I was keeping, so that eventually I would have a record of the weather for this particular piece of heaven-- er, I mean South Dakota-- from the 1960s through my lifetime. Of course I couldn't record his temperatures without reading his journal entries. My father started with terse notes about where bulls were located, how much hay he bought, which cows were "with the bull," but he began to write more through the years.

As I've mentioned in other writings, I foolishly burned my first batch of journals, from my childhood through the middle of my first marriage (because my husband at that time violated every standard of decency and privacy and read them) but as I read my father's mention of events I began comparing them with my own journals from the mid-1970s to the present.

Next I put my mother's journals in chronological order and began to consult them as well, though that was especially difficult because her handwriting got ever tinier as she aged. Before I had cataract surgery to correct my vision, I could read them with a magnifying glass for only a few minutes at a time.

Reading all three of our viewpoints gave me a much clearer understanding of our family dynamics. At the time the events occurred, I was too immersed in my life and in the hard labor of the ranch to think much about how things were working. My journal entries were especially revealing, and extremely painful as my reading approached the date of my beloved second husband's death.

That may have been when I realized this was going to become a book as I worked to understand more clearly just what I-- the product of a disastrous and broken marriage between an alcoholic (my biological father) and a fragile woman-- am doing here, and my utter devotion to this particular piece of real estate at this particular time.

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Q: Any other memories you have of writing Gathering from the Grassland?

I remember when I finished reading through my journal documenting the hard winter of 1985-86, which is the basis for my first published book, Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains. The reality of that winter was so brutal that the editor of Barn Owl Books and I decided to tone down the intensity of it to make Windbreak more "believable." Reading again the endless record of the cold weather, deep snow, machinery breakdowns, injuries, human and cattle suffering and death, reminded me how very tough the ranching business can be. Hundreds, thousands of cattle died that winter on the plains, so we were not alone.

The famous Cattleman's Blizzard (Atlas Storm) of October, 2013, in which more than 50,000 head of livestock died, was similar to what we experienced in the 1980s, proving that such storms are still as devastating even in this digital age. Read about that storm in my archived "Home Page Essays" on this website, posted October 31, 2013.

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Q: Any advice for people about using journals to write a family history?

You could look at my archived "Home Page Essay" on this website "Looking for Grandmother" (December, 2011) to read my suggestions for using journals, letters, photos, and other historical artifacts when writing a family history.

And never never never destroy your journals, or those of anyone else, no matter how personal they are. Long after you are dead and no longer capable of embarrassment, some future reader may understand his or her life better by reading your words, and survive to do something wonderful-- live a good life, find a cure for cancer, or some achievement we can't imagine.

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Q: You have kept journals for many years—what do you plan to do with them? Who will read them in the future?

As part of the Hasselstrom Literary Trust, I've willed my journals to the Linda M. Hasselstrom Collection at the University of South Dakota, where I first attended college. Representatives of the archives toured my personal collection of documents this summer (2017) as they took delivery of many boxes of research documents and other papers.

If my writing has enough value so that it's read in the future, I assume that researchers, or at least overworked graduate students, will delve into these archives and find material that interests them.

Giving the journals to this collection seemed to me logical, though this is not the only collection associated with my family or my writing. As I looked at the future of my literary materials, I also became aware of the great collection of pioneering objects I had acquired, mostly through inheritance, and began an organized program of giving those away as well.

The American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, WY, purchased my Lame Johnny Press archives a few years ago.

The Devereaux Library at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City, South Dakota, houses the Josephine Hasselstrom collection; Josephine was the wife of my uncle Harold, and asked me to find a suitable place for the journals her ancestors had kept since immigrating to this country.

During the past year, I also delivered to the Devereaux the Mildred Hasselstrom collection, which includes many of her favorite books, family photograph albums, postcards, and her journals. Also in the collection are the journals kept by my father, John Hasselstrom, as well as a small diary kept by his brother Harold. In addition, the Hasselstrom family ledgers kept by their father Charles (Karl) are in the collection, with a diary kept by William Snable and one kept by Jonathan Sharpe, both pioneers in this region.

The Custer County Historical Society in Custer, S.D., houses another Mildred Hasselstrom collection including the Hasselstrom buggy and blankets, a cream separator, blacksmith forge, branding irons, snowshoes, photographs, children's books, and toys. Since the Hasselstroms bought the Jonathan Sharpe and James Hartgering properties, some of the ranch tools they owned were also donated to the collection. Charles (Karl) Hasselstrom came to America after apprenticing as a cobbler in Sweden, worked as a farmer in Iowa, and then homesteaded in Custer county. He married Ida Sanders Callahan, who had four children by her first husband Tom Callahan, so we gave some of the Callahan memorabilia to the Historical Society as well.

The Hermosa Arts and History Association (HAHA) collection in Hermosa also houses other family heirlooms.

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2017 May Sarton Women's Book Award Winner

Gathering from the Grassland was the 2017 winner in the memoir category.


The award program, sponsored by Story Circle Netwrk, is named in honor of May Sarton, who is remembered for her contributions to women's literature as a memoirist, novelist, and poet. Awards are given annually to women authors writing chiefly about women in memoir, biography, and fiction published in the United States and Canada and selected from works submitted. Sarton award winners are published by small/independent publishers, university presses, and author-publishers.


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Reader Comments and Reviews

John A. Murray, founding editor of American Nature Writing and the author of many books, including The Sierra Club Nature Writing Handbook.

Linda Hasselstrom is a national treasure. This exciting new book, written by a quiet but determined revolutionary, is filled with her love for the natural beauty and open spaces of her muse, the American prairie.

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Email comment from a reader.

It is so moving and so lovely, Linda. You paint pictures with words and with such candor. I'm getting to know you better with every page, and I'm only in January

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Susan Wittig Albert, author of Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place, and other memoirs, historical fiction, and mysteries, including the China Bayles series.

Linda Hasselstrom's lyrical journal grows, organically, out of a passionate love for the land, the land's creatures, and the land's people, present and part of her personal past. This enduring, endearing litany of a year in the life of a writer, a poet, and a rancher takes us deep into the heart of what it means to belong to a place, to live a deeply-rooted life-- to grow old with the land and to remain young with it, too. A precious glimpse into a year richly, uniquely, profoundly lived.

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Kathryn, in a comment left on the ASK LINDA page of this website.

Linda, I am enjoying Gathering from the Grassland from page 1. It will keep me company day by day. Thanks for the enchantment your words offer!

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Alan Wilkinson, British author who writes of the American Plains, author of The Red House on the Niobrara and other books.

This book is a rumination on the daily lives of an extraordinary writer-rancher, on the folk who raised her, and on the many ways-- physical and spiritual-- in which grass has sustained them and their cattle on this daunting South Dakota land. Hasselstrom's new journal, created day by day over an entire year, one blade at a time, unfolds like a new season's grasses. On the horizon, encircling everything she has seen, are echoes from the past. In offering a companion volume to her thirty-year-old Windbreak, Hasselstrom brings her prairie to life and puts her own self, and her forebears, under the microscope and makes sense of what once seemed chaotic.

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A reader from New Mexico, posted on Facebook.

I just finished reading "Gathering from the Grassland" To say I enjoyed your book does not even come close to how much I enjoyed your book! Your daily thoughts, observations and insights you shared grabbed me by the gut, squeezed my heart and soul and had me putting the book down to go outside and look at my landscape. Thank you!

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Dan O'Brien, author of Wild Idea: Buffalo and Family in a Difficult Land and other books, and an owner of Cheyenne River Ranch.

Hasselstrom takes us through a year on the prairies of South Dakota that she has dedicated to reading histories of her less-than-functional family. Framed by the daily observations of capricious Great Plains weather, she methodically builds a picture of flawed parents and flawed marriages in a harsh land. Yet, somehow there is optimism. There are profound lessons in these pages. Good stuff for the young looking forward and the old looking back.

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Facebook comment from Shawn, a reader in Montana.

I'm enjoying & soaking up Gathering. It's really nice to read something real.

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Art Elser --- review posted on GoodReads

I'm just starting July in my "signed" copy of Gathering, having finished half a year's entries. Wonderful book and a great view into life on a SD ranch, the coyotes, cattle, herons, red-winged blackbirds, the grasslands and the people who live at and around the ranch. Some beautiful passages about ranch people helping each other, helping take care of their cattle, fences, lives, and how the people who have migrated into new developments have such different takes on life. An intelligent view of the soft, and sometimes not so soft, clash of these cultures.

In Gathering, Hasselstrom also delves into the lives of her departed parents through reading their journals, matching their experiences with her own as she also reads through her journal entries for the same events. She comes to discover not only who her parents were and why they acted as she perceived them to, but also how and why she acted as she did then and how that may well have affected both how her parents reacted to her and how she perceived it.

I'd recommend Gathering to anyone who is interested in nature and humanity. I'm learning about myself and perhaps even viewing my parents differently, although they kept no journals for me to read. But Hasselstrom's clear-sighted view into her own life helps me better understand my own.

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Susan J. Tweit, plant biologist and author of twelve books (including the memoir, Walking Nature Home: A Life's Journey).

Excerpts from a book review for Story Circle Network www.storycirclebookreviews.org:

Hasselstrom's journal is a rich record, not just of family and the ways we both nurture and betray each other, but also of the land that shaped her and continues to provide her inspiration, solace, and community. Woven through it are pithy and sometimes poignant observations of ranch life, an existence nourished by that same land.

This book is a real look at real life and a real place, at the pain we inflict on each other, and the healing grace of being in place, of knowing a piece of ground so intimately that its seasons become a part of flesh and bone. Hasselstrom's voice is as authentic as the harsh and wild prairie it springs from, by turns reflective, cranky, impatient, and lyrical.

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John T. Price, Associate Professor of English, University of Nebraska, Omaha

From the Preface to the book:

This wonderful new book, Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal, is Linda’s multi-layered story of return. In it, she reflects on her return to the ranch, and her renewed commitment to living there as a writer and teacher-- the very passions that led to her exile-- now sharing it with other women writers and artists as a retreat. It also marks a return to the journal form, which she originally used in Windbreak. It is a literary form that demands a degree of discipline reminiscent of her work as a rancher, but which also immerses readers in the kind of attentive wonder required to see in individual, daily life the multitudinous ways we are connected to others and to the larger sweep of time. This includes connections to the natural world immediately around her, where blooming wildflowers and bison dung and the paw prints of coyote and mountain lion are, as she puts it, their own kind of journal, full of mystery and wisdom for those willing to learn. It also includes people, past and present, such as her long-time partner, Jerry, who have influenced the person Linda has become. Of particular significance are her now deceased parents, whose journals provide Linda with new insights into the difficulties that separated her from them, as well as into the values and habits of mind that still link them, revealing opportunities for understanding.

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Ann Stanton --- review posted on Amazon

Started reading Linda Hasselstrom's Gathering [from] the Grassland today and my head is full of pictures. Touching, eloquent descriptions of people and places and times in her life, shared truths about living, told with humor and utter honesty.

The grassland she loves and describes with deep affection (and what little I know and love of it, too) could be in real danger. As development encroaches on the prairie, grass being replaced by concrete and asphalt, will a dislodged population flee regions that are exposed to increasingly occurring catastrophic natural events, and resettle in places farther inland, away from coastal perils? Will that migration of 800 individuals per day who formerly headed for the semi-tropics of Florida have second thoughts? Will the explosion of unbridled development that left Houston so vulnerable to Hurricane Harvey become the fate of Linda's beloved grassland? Maybe not hurricanes, and maybe not tomorrow, but we're just beginning to get knocked in the head with the reality of climate change, and the world is filling up with people needing someplace, anyplace, safe to go.

If you haven't already read any of Linda's books of prose or poetry, you really want to. Nobody tells the story of life on the grassland of South Dakota better than this woman whose life has been spent writing and ranching and thinking about it all. You will begin to understand and appreciate the natural beauty all around us here while there's still time.

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Mary Strachan Scriver, on her Prairie Mary blog ("An eclectic blog on which appears daily one-thousand word essays on somethingorother.")

Excerpts from "Gathering the Grassland" posted Monday, April 03, 2017

This book is part of a shelf of Hasselstrom books, a steady stream of life to share and ponder.

Linda’s book is an accounting of daily things, as faithfully recorded in three sets of journals: her own, her mother’s, and her step-father’s. The problem, like the problem of the four Gospels, is reconciliation. Her mother wanted her to be pretty in pink, her step-father taught her how to run a ranch but refused to leave it to her, and she herself managed to save the ranch until today, when subdivisions threaten to overwhelm it. . . . That’s the real meat of her story: her fight to stay in control, to accept responsibility, to struggle for her own justice. She’s part of a circle of rural women who write about this, each in her own way, but with deep understanding of the twists of love and hate. . . . One of Linda’s ploys for survival is the establishment of Windbreak House, which is a writer’s retreat on her South Dakota ranch. The writers who come to work there are primarily women. For Linda, and perhaps for some of them, writing is as grass, the sentences marching over the hills in rows and bunches, their roots threading deep into the sorrows of generations in search of spiritual water. They are not writing romance. They value faithfulness, reflection. . . .

What Linda questions at this stage of life is whether she could have done better. Should she have written more instead of responding to all the demands to speak or teach? Should she have concentrated on ranchwork more? Or writing more? Why did she fall in love the first time with a cheating husband just like her mother did? Should she have had children? What does it mean to be an achiever? . . . I have many of the same questions as Linda. Maybe every generation has them, wondering if the youngsters can even understand what we’re talking about.

Linda finds metal artifacts on her ranch and puts them all up on a railroad tie wall. There are hooks, home-blacksmithed for catches on gates and doors. They often have a twist in the shaft, and Linda’s partner says they are for ornament, but might also increase ease in handling. This book is like that, practical, but with a little twist in the shaft.

Excerpts from "Gathering from the Grassland -- A Second Look" posted Monday, September 18, 2017

I am not ordinarily a reviewer, but this is not just a service to a friend, but also to the local readers who prowl the library. . . . Much of what Linda is doing here is revisiting old letters, journals, photos. Her grandmother, mother and stepfather kept journals in the way that ag people do, keeping track of weather and crop cycles and in the process recording their human lives. One visits such records again and again, always finding them a little more revealing, a little more relevant. In the end she conveys them to historical societies . . . Much of what attracts others and leavens the heavy thoughts is lyrical passages according to the seasons.

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Lilah Pengra --- review on Amazon

Linda M. Hasselstrom, in her 17th book, Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal, grapples with her ghosts as Hamlet did with his fading and yet still powerful uncle, “the king of shreds and patches,” by hearing the unexpressed and deeply buried messages in many kinds of journals. She reveals parts of her pain and much of her joy as she moves back and forth from observation to introspection, from ranch work to housework, from longing to fulfillment. Hasselstrom finds parallels and poetry among seemingly unrelated patches of food, photographs, memories, critters’ lives, favorite quotes and insightful analyses of irreversible changes to our grassland. At times I felt she was telling bits of my own story, then her journal entries demonstrated how those tattered shreds were elements of a more inclusive and universal truth. Most important, her book challenges us to discover rather than merely argue about the past and future of planet Earth.

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An old valentine from my mother's scrapbook.

Valentine for My Mother

--From Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal
High Plains Press, 2017.
Paperback, 320 pages, $19.95
Limited edition hardcover, 320 pages, $29.95

February 14. Valentine’s Day. 10 degrees with a cold wind at 5:26 a.m..

Valentine for my Mother

Cut flowers don’t last
says a woman’s voice.
I spin around in the Safeway aisle
expecting to see my mother
who’s been dead all winter.

Cut flowers don’t last,
she says again,
the woman with blue hair
beside the flower display,
shaking her head at the young man
still reaching for a bouquet
wrapped in red paper.

She sounds like my mother,
mouth pursed, not smiling,
each time I brought a bouquet
to the nursing home. You shouldn’t
have spent the money, she’d say.
Cut flowers don’t last.

I picked them
from my garden, I’d say.
She’d snort.
Cut flowers don’t last.
So I brought slips
from my plants,
potted them for
her window sill. She didn’t
give them water.

When I was growing up
Mother served our meals on Melmac
scrawled with scratches,
kept the good china
in the cupboard
so it would last.

During that final year
she was alive, she asked once
about her good china. Safe
in my glass-front hutch, I told her.

At ninety-two she took her final breath.
I covered her pink enamel coffin
with roses the color of every blouse
she gave me no matter how many times
I told her I hated pink.
As I paid the florist
with her money, I told him
Cut flowers don’t last.

Now in the Safeway aisle
I smile at the young man
who is carrying the flowers
toward the checkout stand.
Cut flowers don’t last
she says once more.

Tomorrow all the blooms
that do not sell will pucker
in the dumpster
brown as the roses whipped
by the cemetery wind
the day after my mother’s burial.
Cut flowers don’t last
I muttered to the mound
above her heart.

I gave her dishes to my cousin’s
daughter. In my gardens,
I cut flowers, thinking of my mother.
Blooms scent every room,
reflect themselves even
in the bathroom mirror.
Every night from the arbor
I watch the sunset
that will never come again.

I’ve worked on that poem a long time, half embarrassed because of its negative mood, but it expresses feelings I’ve carried for a long time too, and my recovery from them.

February 15.

And all day, whenever I looked down at the ranch buildings, I thought I saw my father just stepping into the corral or my mother shaking a rug on the porch.

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