Iowa State UniversityField Trips to Linda's Ranch
Iowa State University
ISU offers an MFA Program in Creative Writing and the Environment.
Linda worked with this program as affiliated faculty from 2008 to 2011.
For more information:
Website for Iowa State University MFA in the environment.
The MFA class makes an annual field trip to the Badlands and Black Hills of western South Dakota, and a highlight of the trip is a day spent at Linda's ranch, exploring the prairie and learning from Linda.
Linda hosts faculty and MFA students at the ranch, usually over the Labor Day holiday in early September. The students hike, discuss the surroundings with Linda, and do some writing.
We've posted some photos of past field trips below.
Each year a group of ISU students and staff drive across Iowa and South Dakota to visit Linda and her ranch.
In 2008 the field trip was held in May. As of 2009, however, the field trip has been scheduled for the Labor Day weekend in early September.
Below are some photos from previous field trips and some typical activities, though the itinerary will vary depending on the weather and interests of the participants.
The group may camp in the Badlands the first night (about 40 miles east of Linda's). After a morning hike in the Badlands, the group continues on to Linda's ranch.
When the group arrives everyone settles in, getting sleeping arrangements ready before dark.
Homestead House has three beds and two futons plus a few foam mats and plenty of floor space. But as long as the weather is good, many choose to set up tents or hammocks in the sheltered yard.
The house also has two bathrooms with hot showers, a welcome thing after camping in the Badlands.
Once everyone is settled in it's time for a group supper.
Plans are laid for the next day: a hike into the grasslands and maybe a visit to the pasture near Battle Creek.
The next morning everyone finds hats and water bottles and notebooks. Cameras and binoculars might come in handy too.
Then the group heads east across the low, flat hayfield and up the rolling hills into the grasslands.
At times during the hike everyone gathers together to look at some specific plant or animal, or for a short talk by Linda.
The group will amble across the prairie and discuss whatever comes to mind or to hand.
The hike may pass through the bone yard, a place where dead cattle are left for scavengers. Linda can supply a picture of a cow skeleton so you can reassemble one if you like.
Field trips like this involve a lot of time in a group.
As a contrast, Linda often suggests that students spread out and spend some time completely alone to write or just experience the enormous sky and the silence of the prairie.
Some students move just far enough away to be alone. Others strike off across the prairie to investigate a specific landmark in sight, such as that stock pond in this photo.
After the writing exercises are done, folks gather at the appointed time and head back to Homestead House for lunch.
Students may make an afternoon trip to "The Creek Place" to see a hayground, winter cattle pasture, an abandoned homestead, and the riparian habitat improvement done with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (2004-2009). For more information, see the riparian habitat improvement page on this website.
Linda no doubt will talk about flood plains and the upstream housing development as this area has been the scene of a "100-year" flood in 1972 and again in 2007.
And then everyone can spread out to do some bird watching or cool off and take a closer look at the creek.