Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Writing, Teaching, Language, Landscape, Life

Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal by Linda Hasselstrom

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Gathering from the Grassland

There are certain voices who sing the song of the land. Linda Hasselstrom is one of these voices. Hasselstrom writes the landscape and life of ranching on the Great Plains of western South Dakota. Her latest book Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal  (High Plains Press) shares the journey of her reading her father’s, mother’s, and her own journals from previous years and the insights and continued questions of time around these three interwoven journeys. Both of her parents have passed and there was much of their final years that was far from easy. Hasselstrom’s embraces humanity, in all of its beauty and pain. Yet, what shines through the years within the written words are a fierce love. A love not always expressed with gentleness. Yet through the sharpness and silences, the connection between Hasselstrom and her parents pulses on every page. The honesty Hasselstrom brings to this journey often made me stop and stare, lost in the familial world she opens the door for us to share.

“April 6. Today I woke remembering the strong voice of Meridel LeSeuer saying to me, “I covered some terrible wounds with lyricism. (p.91)”

What resonates is the sheer authenticity of life, family dynamics and rhythms, love lost, love found—underlying all, love. Hasselstom’s love for the land, love for the ranch, love for her parents within the tangled web of history, memories, and emotion that comes with every family, love for a life she lost, and love for the shared life she created. 

Hasselstrom overlooking the Hasselstrom Ranch. © Linda Hasselstrom

Hasselstrom’s writing and ranching life run deep within these pages, and the people who influenced her come to life. 

“I think the view of women as incapable of owning land was similar to the view that women’s writing wasn’t worth reading, especially if it was about their daily lives. When a woman like my mother wrote about her ideas and work in her journey, she was actively claiming the right to be heard, even if she didn’t realize it….Those other women who taught me  how to live mostly recorded their lives and loves in other ways: in quilts, in jars of vegetables in the cellar or freezer, in embroidery and gardening and taking care of other people in their communities. The work was their art, and their journals; their labor was the books they didn’t write.” (p. 131).

Hasselstrom’s quilts and embroidery ©Linda Hasselstrom

Prairie Mail – bouquet left by Linda.

A treasure, just arrived!

Hasselstrom has been a huge influence in my own reading and writing life. When my parents moved to the ranch nearly 25 years ago. On my first visit to the ranch, Mom gave me a stack of Linda’s books, “Here, if you want to understand the prairie, you must read Linda Hasselstrom.” So, I did, and I’ve never stopped. Linda’s ranch lies on our route between Santa Fe and the ranch. One of the highlights of the 14 hour drive is leaving and receiving “prairie mail” tied to the fence post at the top of the lane. 

Like all of Linda’s books, I wanted to know more about the story of this book. I posed some questions to Linda, and she graciously shared her time to share more about the book, the people, and ranching:

DW: To read your parents’ and your own journals from the same time period is an inherently emotional experience—What was the inspiration? 

LH: See p. 20: I started with a practical job to fill in while I was not writing a great deal: to record the temperatures from when my father began doing so, to address the questions about climate change. As I began to delve into the journals, I remarked “perhaps I am making the job seem important” by beginning to read his entries. Then I began to remember incidents that were happening while he was recording only the bare essentials, and of course at my age (74) I fear losing my memories, so I enjoyed being reminded of the past.

Hasselstrom at work.

DW: What did you wrestle with in making the decision? 

LH: On January 4 I asked myself if his journals are important, and the book is my answer: let those who fear or dislike ranching see who we really are. p. 25: future requires knowledge of the past. If we discard it entirely, we discard the lessons along with the mistakes.  I hope the next owner of this land knows how we operated, even if s/he operates differently.

I’ve seen and participated in the sudden cleanup after deaths, and know how easy it is in the heat of “we have to get the house ready to rent/sell/burn” to throw out letters, diaries, other things that might be significant later. I have no child of my own, and my stepchildren are far removed from this ranch, so it seemed to be simply responsible to consider what might happen if I die before Jerry, who is 10 years younger than I. I don’t think it’s fair to make my partner responsible for my family decisions, especially whether to save or destroy journals that are part of my family’s history.

Clouds over Hasselstrom Ranch © Linda Hasselstrom

” Thousands of us hurl ourselves into cities like nuts into a hopper, and there by grinding and rubbing against one another we lose our natural form and acquire a superficial polish and a little more or less standardized appearance. In the country, the nuts are not subjected to the grinding process.”  Archer B. Gilfillian, Sheep: Life on the South Dakota Range (Opening quote)

© Linda Hasselstrom

DW: What felt peaceful in making the decision?

LH: Hasselstrom collections were established—my aunt Josephine—so that suggested doing this again. I have no control over what people will think of me once I’m dead, so why try to control those thoughts by destroying any more of my journals, or those of my family? I’ve already regretted destroying my journals when my first husband read them, so I know the pain of losing those records of my entire childhood to a liar who had no sense of morals. I didn’t want to make the same mistake again. As I began to read through the journals and take notes, I was filled with admiration and respect for what my parents and others lived through and commented on.

DW: What aspect/s of the writing this particular book came most naturally?

LH: I feel a responsibility as one of the few (so far) writing ranchers, to explain how ranchers operate, to tell the vital stories. We need ranchers and others who understand the importance of grasslands to explain why all of us—whether we eat meat or live here or not—need to care passionately about grasslands.

“March 31. I started reading about Vipssana meditation, about gurus and yoga, but stopped when I realized that the prairie is both my path to enlightenment and enlightenment itself.

The prairie is suitably immense in age and serenity; its silence and depth provide a meditation room for everyone who pays attention. Sit in silence and open yourself, say the gurus, and you will see god or goddess in whatever manifestation most appeals to you.

Around me, I see nothing that is not holy. Goddess in the grass, the birds, the clouds, antelope, muddy pond. Goddess in the sunlight.” (p. 84)

Linda on the land. © Linda Hasselstrom

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Author: Dawn Wink

Dawn Wink is a writer and educator whose work explores the beauty and tensions of language, culture, and place.

11 thoughts on “Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal by Linda Hasselstrom

  1. Oh Dawn – I absolutely love Linda Hasselstrom’s writing! I have missed Dakota terribly while living here in California – and Linda’s books have been such a source of joy, beauty and strength. I just took a photo of her books in my little personal library but I don’t know how to attach it here – but I have Windbreak, Land Circle, Roadkill, Caught by One Wing, Feels Like Far, and Going Over East. Thank you for telling us about her new book, Dawn. You have once again captured the magic with your writing. Sending love & hugs your way.
    PS I’m in the process of trying to find a small home in the Black Hills! Finally going home!
    Take care, dear friend. Warm regards, Mary Harding

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Mary Harding! If you email me your address at lindamichele777@gmail.com, I’ll send you signed bookplates so that all your books will be signed copies. I hope you can find a home in the Black Hills that will suit you; we’ll be neighbors.

    • Dear Mary,
      Oh, I love this! I can just visualize the photo of your personal library of Linda’s work. Please send to me at dawn@dawnwink.com, so I can truly see. I love reading of how Linda’s books brings the prairies—and home—to you in California. Thanks so much for taking the time to connect about our shared love of Linda’s work. I love knowing this. I will lift up good thoughts around your finding a home in the Black Hills! Then, we’d get to see each other!
      Love and hugs,
      Dawn

  2. Today is October 15. I spent the weekend at the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers gathering in Denver, handing tiny journals to booksellers as I talked about my journal, Gathering from the Grassland. Today I drove from Glendo, WY, where my publisher Nancy Curtis (High Plains Press) lives, home to my own grassland, enjoying every mile, from the 21-degree fog along the river up up up toward Mule Creek Junction and then Lusk, WY, and across Coffee Flats (where I started a poem) to the first pines of the Black Hills, past the mammoths drowsing at Hot Springs and on up Highway 79 to my own ranch home. At every mile the prairie reminded me how glad I am, how fortunate I am, to live here. And then I sat down at my computer and read your fine words about my book. What a perfect day, Dawn. My thanks to you.

    • Dear Linda, I loved reading of your time at Mountains and Plains, the tiny journals, and your drive back to the ranch. I can visualize all and love sharing the journey. I look forward to the poem started across Coffee Flats. I read by candlelight and allow myself to enjoy the wonder and beauty of how your Gathering from the Grassland, and your reading/writing journey, has cast its ripples across the plains and the oceans to landscapes around the world. Amazing how solitude creates such a web of connection. All of this makes my heart smile. Thank you so very much for your courage to create.
      With great gratitude,
      Dawn

  3. Dear Dewdrop Dawn,

    Thanks again for keeping me on your list and unwittingly timing your musings at sacred moments. I’m moved. Many ways. Technically since I last wrote you, from Tularosa to Alamogordo, just below the “A” on the west side of the mountain, a waist n a bit high wall between our back yard and the foothills to the sky…Popo Agie my youngest, about to turn 17 in less than a month is a senior biking down to the highschool, ballet, modern, TKD, physical therapy & TKD internships and walking, riding and running, reading and writing her way into life full force, retake of ACT two weeks out, college applications & visits and laughing and chatting with new vigor, on new planes with new people and holding my waist and soul on our walks. My eldest holds my new grandbaby Lola in her arms, jots snippits digitally, sounds, words and pics, resumes work pouring her gifts to others, figuring her new path and little family, noticing time in new ways. My soulmate teaches kindergartners, our family, the world and the spirit of life in daily humility, sucks in life and his breathe and lets out the air without a scream as he finds I have two cancers: we’ve never done things by half measure in this little family – two for one special.

    August blurred along to today, now five days into the regime of isolation, bacterial isolation from most people, which marks the decision to tackle best medical odds with chemical warfare inside my bodily vessel: yet the vessel holds true – 11/11 drugs, each with potential interactions with me, or between any of each other to be lethal, which have obligingly clung inside without a fuss… so here I, the previously organic Tanja Burns, sit on my back porch typing you my first toxic letter very inorganically – thankfully we have no understanding of how toxins totally work: they are but mysteries from the void and I find I am dancing with their yin yang; they seem to be aligning to their best ability with my organicness. Uncomfortable and sucking energy but then again giving return somehow as I attach and merge with them.

    We’re lining things up, sorting things out, deciding the how to and so forth – and I the keeper of my own heap of chattels yet – time so much of the essence of it all, memories & life yet to live and give – and I’ve been holding steady, feeling an odd ride upon these unchartered waters, yet I float. I’ve much to mull, condense, let go and a little to pass along, much to absorb, more to stay wide eyed to and be bathed in. I finally rest a moment to crack a sliver of my brain’s lightness at my parent’s things for which I feel such sacred responsibility, the holocaust documents, the Aboriginal language tapes, the stories…the music in the grandpiano Dad left me 10 000 miles south in Perth Western Australia, which sits awaiting? We’d play, he it and I the recorder or flute, dancing out tunes to the stars in the language of the ancients, music for its own sake, just for us.

    And what’s odd is that I’ve given up my income, my job, my lifestyle, my self in so many ways so fast, yet life is leaking INTO me from so many sources at such force it almost is knocking me numb – your beautiful Dewdrop so gently arriving at just the poignant moment, as it always does. Things are fragile, yet love sustains what has to be. Numb warms to life and living, each butterfly and bee, the drying grasses and tunas on the cholla, chaparral smells and birds, the gecko on the screen, the honeysuckle by my bedroom window.

    THANK-YOU Dawn, for always, always continuing to write and share, to venture, explore and create and be up at dawn to greet the day and world, the love of family and place, of spirit and movement, of the depth and swirl to the very most still meander and pause.

    Please know the diligence of your finest spirit is with me on this journey and sustains me with such awe of its beauty and laughter and gamut of fullest of emotions. I will keep my youngest reading to me through it all, if things get weak and she will find this dewdrop place you give, she will touch its wetness and soak up the life giving water.

    Popo Agie is water, she writes as her river name; and we know not what yet, yet she is our greatest writer of all time… may she find her place Dawn, as you have found yours, for to think of it gives me the fiercest of courage and faith, yet moreover fills me with love to eternity.

    Vaya con dios,

    Tanja

    • Dearest Tanja,

      I sit by candlelight to read your power and poetry. Thank you so very much for sharing with me the journey of all here. I send love, love, and love to you and yours. I have read all you wrote several times and with each reading some new bit of wisdom of beauty settles into my heart.

      Please know how I treasure you, your words, your spirit, your wisdom, and the honor of sharing our journeys, especially now in this new chapter of life.

      With love
      Dewdrop Dawn
      (I love this. Thank you for my new name!)

  4. Dawn, this came at the precise time I needed it. I have been rereading over 1300 pages that my sister put together a couple of years ago – hundreds of letters, and the family histories (from both my mother’s and my father’s sides, some reaching down to the 1500s). But letters mainly from the time when she was born (1938), the war times, all the difficulties our mother had, alone with us 3 children. Utter poverty, and still cultural richness, with music, books, philosophies, reflections on both demanding everyday life, with lots of illness (mainly my mother) and Bjarma with a husband who drank heavily and was violent; I was the only lucky one) and the cosmos, and everything in between. We three (my sister Bjarma and I, and our mother) wrote letters to each other almost once a week (our little brother Erik, 3 years younger than me, was a lousy letter writer), ever since both Bjarma and I left home. Less when all of us got phones, but still, until our mother died in 1980. And even after that, my sister recorded a lot of what happened.

    Your posting really moved me. As usual. Thanks to you, and to Linda.

    • Dear Tove,1300 pages of letters and family histories from the 1500s. Incredible. Thank you so very much for taking the time to connect. I am grateful to know more of your own family history. I can just see you, your sister, and your mother writing all those years. And, then what to do with all. I love knowing this, Tove. Thanks so very much for sharing your own intimate journey of journals and letters.
      Much love,
      Dawn

  5. So glad you enjoyed, Stephany! Thanks so much for connecting. Sending hugs!

  6. Beautiful and fulfilling, Dawn!

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