Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Landscape, Language, Teaching, Wildness, Beauty, Imagination

Writing Meadowlark


The manuscript for “Meadowlark: A Novel.”

It all started with a question.

In 1911, my great-grandmother Grace came as an 16-year-old orphan bride to a sod hut on the prairie of western South Dakota where my family still ranches. My mom spent summers on the ranch as a child and I’d grown up hearing stories about Great-Grandma Grace, of her life, and of Paul. My own memories of Grandma Grace are of the feel of the paper-thin skin on her hands.

Grace, circa 1911 and the time of her marriage.

In Mom’s stories, her grandmother, Grace, came alive as a young woman – one who worked hard every day of her life, made sure my mom got the first weekly bath in the tin tub with one inch of water on Saturday nights, so all would be clean for church on Sunday. The line-up for water began with my mom, then Grandma Grace, then my Uncle Jim, and finally, once the water was cold and had seen three bodies already, Paul bathed.

There are not many stories of kindnesses that happened on the ranch in my mother’s childhood. Almost all center around Paul, the ranch foreman. In the summers of my mother’s youth on the ranch, it was the four of them: Mom, Jim, Grace, and Paul.

Again and again I heard the stories – of what happened on Grace’s wedding day after she climbed into the buckboard with her new husband, and of Paul galloping his horse over the rise and toward the ranch house shouting something nobody could hear and all ran outside as he raced toward the ranch to finally make out the words, “Skunks! Skunks!” and see his smile. Paul made Grandma Grace and my mom and uncle smile and laugh in a world that held precious little of either.

Abandoned shanty near the ranch.

One day years after first hearing these stories, Mom and I stood above the bed folding the mountain of clothes that came with my three young children, in the same ranch house where Grace and Paul had lived all those years. I had a sudden thought. “Mom, what about Grace and Paul?”

“I don’t know.” A slow smile spread across her face,”But, I’ve always wondered.”

I wrote a book to find out.

* * *

The stories I knew formed the cradle into which I started to place research and information gathered about the time and place of Grace’s life. I drove to every historical museum and bookstore I knew of and the piles of original journals, books written by pioneer women, stories and experiences of Lakota women, and cowboy journals grew on the shelves of my house, each filled with sticky notes and my own markings. Slowly, the stories I’d heard began to gain the context of history and place. I scribbled notes, stories, and observations about the landscape in notebooks. Through the seasons, the heat and storms of summer, cool bite of fall, the hoarfrost of winter, and capriciousness of spring on the plains, I walked the land and listened.

And then Grace’s story was interrupted by my own. My marriage ended and the intensity of the chapter of my own life took over. The books about the prairie and notebooks remained shoved onto shelves and closed for the next number of years. Until one day, Grace whispered from the past to begin to write her story again.

I had no idea that writing her story would save me.

Sunset light

Summer clouds.

* * *

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Author: Dawn Wink

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores language, landscape, wildness, beauty, and imagination.

26 thoughts on “Writing Meadowlark

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  4. Wow! Pretty neat! I’m anxious to know the rest of the story and how it effected you.

    • Eunice, Our own journeys and stories are woven throughout every book we write, aren’t they? I know you’ve experienced this with your own writing. More on this story and how it effected my life soon. We spent Christmas on the ranch and I’ve been working on a piece. Within the next month. I’ll make sure and touch base with you.

  5. Dawn – this is wonderful! I think you are right that the blog was the thing for you to do, whether you resisted or not. Beautiful writing. Best of luck with this project. Regardless of where it goes, it’s a winner. Hugs to you. LA

    • LouAnne, Thanks so much! It has evolved quite a bit since you read the manuscript. I’ve incorporated some key suggestions you gave me – and it is a much better book! Yes, resisting or not, I love the community and creativity of Dewdrops. Thanks so much for taking the time to write. Love to you, Dawn

  6. “Skunks!” Hmmm. Can’t wait to read more…. Fingers crossed for you and this story, Dawn. You are in your blooming time, I think!

  7. I can’t wait to read this! Cattle ranches, western South Dakota, dazzling great-grandmothers, tension, drama–awesome!

  8. I would love to edit read too if needed.

  9. Let me know when you get this published, or if it is already published.

  10. and a wonderful book it is…

  11. Wonderful imagery. Thanks so much.

  12. OK, where do I get this book?! Is THIS what you do when you’re up before the crack of dawn?! Terrific!

  13. Beautiful. I can’t wait to read the book. I love the imagery and I feel so grounded in the story. I want to know more about Grace and Paul and how she saved your life. Amazing!

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to write, Maureen. Hopefully, the book will be published sooner rather than later. More here soon on Grace and Paul and their reach across time. Thank you, again.

  14. First marriage 🙂 Soooo looking forward to reading it!!! Need a proof-reader?? 😉

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