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Study Guides for Linda's Books

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Study Guides and more for the following books are available:

Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains
Dr. Doug Werden's Study Guide to Windbreak
Linda's featured book information for Windbreak
Index to Windbreak

Going Over East: Reflections of a Woman Rancher
Dr. Doug Werden's Study Guide to Going Over East

No Place Like Home: Notes from a Western Life
Linda's featured book information for No Place Like Home

Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
Linda's featured book information for Land Circle

Roadside History of South Dakota
Linda's featured book information for Roadside History of SD

The Wind Anthologies:
Leaning Into the Wind
Woven on the Wind
Crazy Woman Creek

coming soon . . .

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Study Guide for Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains

This is one of a series of "Werden's Guides for Book Clubs and Classroom Study" created by Dr. Doug Werden.
Used with permission.

For more information:

Dr. Werden's page on Linda Hasselstrom

Study Guide:

Windbreak (1987) is Hasselstrom's journal of four seasons working her family ranch. She observes nature at its finest and at its worst: From bitter freezing temperatures of the winter to the heat of the summer. Along with exceptional descriptions of nature, readers' view the daily life of a true working ranch. Hasselstrom includes throughout the text her own poetry, which gives insights to Hasselstrom's life on the land. Throughout the year, Hasselstrom’s strength to remain working with her family’s cattle is inspirational.

Study Questions

1. Each entry begins with the date, temperature and weather conditions. How does this affect you as a reader? How does this shape the narrative?

2. Hasselstrom creates a chapter for each season. Does this appear to make it more realistic than fictional?

3. Why start the book in the fall? How would other choices have changed the book?

4. As this is a diary, do you believe Hasselstrom wrote this for herself or for a public audience? Why? Is there any evidence that this was written for the public? If she wrote it for the public, who might the audience be? Ranchers? Easterners? Western urbanites? Males? Females? (What evidence is there in the text?)

5. How does Hasselstrom deal with the traumas of her life in this year? (i.e.: George’s possible relapse, the accident of her friends and their daughter, the horrible death of Phred). Do these events affect the way she writes?

6. Hasselstrom hints at tension in her relationship with her father. Does she write anything that would be hurtful or embarrassing to anyone in her family or within her community? (Has her immediate community appear to have shaped her writing?)

7. What does the title Windbreak signify? Is this important to capture an audience? Why isn’t it entitled Journal of a Year on the Ranch? What other titles MIGHT it have been given? Why?

8. The poem “Calving Time” follows the statement “Well, something will survive. It may not be us, but something will survive” (135). Is putting the poem following this statement relevant to Hasselstrom’s comment about survival?

9. Hasselstrom comments, “There’s something about the struggle when it’s really life-and-death that always makes me feel more alive, as if this work I’m doing really means something” (113). Why does this seem to be true in the book? Do you think this statement has any significance to her writing this book?

10. What is the significance of going on “rendezvous” to Hasselstrom, George and Mike? Is it merely a vacation?

11. Why does Hasselstrom end Windbreak with her poem “Hands”?

12. If you read the poem “Rankin Ridge: Only An Ancient Moon,” before reading the text and then read the poem again after the reading of the text, do you find a difference interpretations of this poem (2)? Does this poem shape your reading of the text?

13. In what ways is the narrator a “feminist? How would you describe her variant of feminism?

14. Do you think this was written over one year or a melding together of the diaries of several years? (Could ONE person really experience this much in a year?) Why or why not? Is there any internal evidence?

15. Where does the power of this text come from?

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Study Guide for Going Over East: Reflections of a Woman Rancher

This is one of a series of "Werden's Guides for Book Clubs and Classroom Study" created by Dr. Doug Werden.
Used with permission.

For more information:

Dr. Werden's page on Linda Hasselstrom

Study Guide:


In Going Over East, Linda Hasselstrom writes about a one-day trip to another farm nine miles away to check the cattle they are pasturing there. A ditch has mistakenly been dug across part of their land and has not been filled in yet, and a young calf fell into it. They are going to check to make sure that no other animals have fallen into the trench. While the three people travel through across farms, she relates to her husband and stepson the history she sees in the land.

Begins at 8 a.m. when the temperature is 100. Ends in the afternoon.

Hasselstrom appears to be writing for two different groups. First, it is for rural people who feel a connection with the land since she explores what this land means to her. "When we head over east I become, more than at any other time, a composite of a hundred years of history here; the spirits of earlier dwellers in the land seem to follow my pickup like dust” (8). “As we drive, I try to explain to them something of what this dry, hot land has come to mean to me” (10). Second, it is written to address concerns of environmentalists who want to preserve the land. To the latter audience she wants to show her connectedness to the land and by extension, the connectedness of family ranchers. She argues that distinctions should be made between family and corporate ranchers, as family ranchers work to preserver the land while money-focused corporate ranches exploit the land.

a) Present the problems and antagonism created by solutions offered by “Easterners” whether they are from the eastern seaboard or eastern South Dakota.

b) Not to offer neat solutions to the environmental dilemma of wanting to live on and care for the land, but to expose the problems with many naïve ideas.

c) Reveal the depth of her connection with the land, despite her family having been in the area less than a hundred years.

Closed Questions:

1. This book begins on a July day 8 at a.m. The temperature is 100 degrees. How realistic is that? Why choose such a hot day? What other options has she discarded?

2. Describe the members of her family/characters in the work
a) George (Notice he does not have a last name. Why not?)
b) Mike (Notice he does not have a last name. Why not?)
c) My Mother (Mildred)
d) My Father (John Hasselstrom)
e) My uncle Harold (Harold Hasselstrom)
f) The “autobiographical I” (the Linda Hasselstrom that we are told about).
g) The “narratorial I” (the character of the narrator, the Linda Hasselstrom that is speaking to us).

(Many people are named "My ______"). Why? How does this shape the work?

3. Examine the following motifs: abandoned root cellars, sagging buildings. . .

4. Discuss the problems that Hasselstrom sees in corporate ranches.

5. Discuss the tensions between ranchers and those who want to live in the country. (120, 121)

Open-Ended Questions:

1. Very little action occurs in the book as most of the book/memoir is based upon the narrators reminiscences. The “action” is primarily in the mind of the narrator. What type of thoughts does Hasselstrom focus on?

2. The narrator/"narratorial I" has no vision for the future, no idealization of what she wants to do. She only looks into the past and into roots. Why? How does this affect the text?

3. “A metaphor: we're all blundering in the dark and afraid to trust our horses” (99). The narrator is very good at seeing metaphors in the daily. To what extent are free to read her work as metaphoric?

4. "What will I inherit? Perhaps nothing that I don't already have: the knowledge and love of the land I have gained from my father and from my own absorption in this unique world" (199). What else does the text show that she has inherited? What is the significance of her asking this question?

5. Why does the narrator not mind litter (including everything from garbage dumps to fallen down houses and caving root cellars) that is over fifty years old, but recent litter bothers her to distraction?

6. What is the logic in her chapter grouping? Is there any progression of any sort? If this is purely a “series of essays,” why do you think she has arranged them this way (5)? Click here for the contents of each chapter.

7. Hasselstrom has likely “moved” things onto her path, such as the issue of using national parks. Is there any clear evidence of something being moved onto her path? What has she not moved onto her path? Why not?

8. For most of the incidents that she was involved in, Hasselstrom uses dialogue (“fictionalizes”). However, when she recounts a story that others have told her, she does not use dialogue. Why would she do this? How has it affected the work?

9. a) Why is it called "Going Over East"? Why "East" instead of "West"? Why put in the "Over"? Should it be read "Going Over-East" where "Over-East" is a specific place?
b) Why add "Reflections of a Woman Rancher"? Would "Reflections of a Male Rancher" be any different? In what way? Why?

10. Hasselstrom sees the negative affect of an agrarian "monoculture" yet the book promotes it by validating her cattle ranching. Discuss this tension.

11. This story could be written as a "success" story of the Hasselstrom family. She hasn't done this. Why? Why not? (Or more accurately, how does that affect the work?)

12. The text constantly notes that the Hasselstroms are not “efficient” ranchers like the corporate ranchers who look to make money. “Of course, if we ran the ranch with the efficiency of the people who call ranching and farming “agribusiness,” we'd sell her for dog food” (64). Where have the Hasselstroms adopted the ways of the "corporate" ranch? Discuss the tension between her desire for the "Hasselstrom way" and her desire to survive as a rancher. Does the narrator believe that the "Hasselstrom way" of ranching can survive?

13. She is always passing death: dead cattle, dead prairie dogs, dead horses, dead houses, dead trenches, dead fields, and . . . Yet she quotes her father, and seems to agree with him, “Never count the dead ones” (136). Why does she see the "dead" so much? How does it affect the book? Is she undermining her father's assertion?

14. She often notes who lived on land and any stories she knows. How does she use her descriptions of the failed homesteading era to bolster her current concern for the land?

15. Why include twelve gates? There may have literally been twelve gates, but she could have cut the number down, even as she added the chapter “Epilogue: The Final Gate” to her 2001 reprinting of the text. There may also have been cattle gates/guards, since she doesn’t mentioning opening all the gates such as gate eleven. Do you count these gates? When they drove up to old homesteads, they likely also drove through defunct gates. Why not mention these?

16. Does the narrator believe there will be a future? What might it be like? Does she see the possibility of a financially-viable and environmentally-friendly ranch existing somewhere between the large corporate ranch and the small family ranch?

17. "The center of the universe is South Dakota" (200). While Hasselstrom's narrator may have her tongue in her cheek, she may also be serious. In what ways is South Dakota the "center of the universe"?

Quotes to Spark Ideas:

“Any choice in this country is a balancing of the odds, and then taking a gamble anyway. No matter what you decide, the land or weather may have other plans” (18).

"Whenever you see a 'cowboy' thundering along behind a herd of cattle, yelling and swinging their rope, he’s either in a movie or he doesn’t own the cows” (31)

“One can't build too much on this slender fact, but it seems to me symbolic in an important way of differing views of the world: the Indians adapted to nature; white men try to make nature adapt to their desires” (35).

“I think of our lives as circular: our work is dedicated not just to profit-making but literally to feeding ourselves. We are sometimes able to choose work that sustains us mentally, or at least gives us variety, and to plan our own days rather than working to a schedule set up by someone else. But the steady rhythm of night turning to day, spring to summer, birth to death, the progress of the moon and sun, the sweep of wind and rain--those natural cycles determine how we arrange our lives. What does not fit into the smooth circle of our days, into the repeating cycle of the season, does not belong here" (36).

“If this were a western romance, I could lie and say we worked patiently with him, day after day, until he forgot his bad habits and became a wonderful horse. We’re patient, but we don’t have that kind of time to waste, nor do we care to take unnecessary chances. We sold him to a good home.” (104).

“The longer I live here, the more I fear such generalities, and study details in my lifelong attempt to understand my surroundings more completely” (104).

"It’s easy to romanticize and distort the West; our history invites it, being filled with gunmen, cattle rustlers, conflicts over land, bawdy houses and madams with hearts of gold. People who visit the West briefly and then write about it tend to do so in sweeping generalities: Purple mountains have majesty above fruited noble horses into the sunset. The longer I live here, the more I fear such generalities, and study details in my lifelong attempt to understand my surroundings more completely." (104)

"Broad generalities and shallow theories confuse and anger me. Reality hinges on practicality, on knowledge that has daily use. Many people here dehorn and castrate calves just before or after the new moon to cut down on bleeding, butcher during the first three days after the full moon for tender meat, harvest and kill weeds when the moon is old, in its third or fourth quarter. This is reality, the real West—sturdily defying the shallow theories dreamed up by metropolitan thinkers in high-rises, people whose well-shod feet and clean hands never touch earth or blood." (105)

“how could it matter to anyone if I wrote their stories; all that good material was going to waste! How could it matter to anyone if I wrote their stories,, once they were dead? But now I feel a kinship with them. Their stories were their lives. Why should I entertain anyone, even myself with fictionalizing them, dressing them in thoughts and attitudes they might not have had?” (110)

“those old professors were urging me to give up the brutal life of physical labor to which the ranch would tie me, and enter the exciting world of the mind. I now know those professors wasted a lot of my time” (200)

“professors. . . urged me to abandon my provincial attitudes and think about larger issues—things like Truth, Beauty and sonnets” (199)

“My professors smiled indulgently at my rural ideas, and joked that I actually believed south Dakota was the center of the universe” (199)

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