June 20, 2013 We took off this morning to head north for my parent’s ranch in western South Dakota. As we pulled out of Santa Fe this morning at 4:30, I marveled at how different it is to travel with teenagers, rather than babies or toddlers.. Wyatt, Luke, and Wynn each made their first trek to the ranch at 6-weeks-old, and have made it every year, often several times a year, since.
When we lived in California, the drive took 26 hours. I loaded the car seats, diapers, books-on-tape, juice boxes and massive amounts of goldfish, which I tossed back over my shoulder in the kids’ general direction with abandon by Wyoming. When we arrived at last and I opened the car doors, all slid and fell out of the doors. This morning the light of the dashboard shone on the faces of Luke, Wynn, and her best friend, Erin, and I marveled at the difference in the journey now. Work and life kept Noé and Wyatt in Santa Fe on this trip. Wyatt had just been with Grammie and Bop Bop on the ranch.
As I rounded the corner into the lane of the ranch, my heart sighed.
The kids went straight for the trampoline!
June 21, 2013 First morning on the ranch.
Here are the headquarters of the ranch, as looking north.
Cup of coffee on the front porch of our home on the ranch, the Prairie Parlour. People ask why I named our home here the Prairie Parlour. I wanted something that evoked the prairie, that evoked history—and it has a somewhat more lyrical ring to it than the single-wide. (That’s why Parlour is spelled with a U. Doesn’t it sound historic and fancy?) I love our home here. Here, let me show you around a little bit:
The Parlour faces south.
This is our view from the front porch, with the dam and ranch house. Throughout our time here, the kids run back-and-forth and back-and-forth between the two houses.
Living room of the Prairie Parlour. Yes, that is a Christmas tree, still there from when we were here for Christmas. The lights are wonderful for pre-dawn lighting the way to the coffee pot and journal. When we bought the Parlour, it had dark wood paneling EVERYWHERE and burnt orange carpet. Severals summers were spent painting. And, then painting some more. And then another few coats of paint for good measure.
My writing desk in the Parlour. Much of Meadowlark was written here by the of the oil lamp.
Boots, hats, belts, and bonnets from when the kids were small.
The Prairie Palace sits behind the Parlour. It was first a calving shed, then Mom’s writing studio, and most recently, the boys’ clubhouse.
Mom and I headed north for walk. This is the greenest the prairie in this country has been in years. South Dakota has experienced the same drought that continues to parch New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. Last summer, this country was straw-yellow and dry, without enough grass to cut prairie hay. Late-spring rain poured down at just the right time this year to the rejoicing of all. Dirt water dams nearly dry from years of drought filled and there is enough prairie grass and alfalfa to cut hay this year. Blessings all. This year’s grass and color is such a sharp contrast to the last several that I found myself exclaiming again and again, “I can’t believe how green it is!”
Mom and I walked up the lane and I glanced down to see this egg among the stones on the road.
After our walk, the girls and I were off to see the mares and foals.
I have a very special place in my heart for this mare, Josie. She inspired the horse, Mame, in Meadowlark. She’s a grullo (GREW-yo) in coloring, her coat shades of fawn brown, with a dusting of gold and tan. She glistens in the sun. Her mane and tail are dark brown with streaks of gold and red. She hairs-up in the winter more than any horse I’ve ever seen. In late spring when she loses her winter coat, great swaths and clumps of her hair cling together and hang from her. She looks like a yak. A big horse for a mare, she has a strong and gentle spirit. Remember her when you see the upcoming photos of Frankie; she is his mother.
This was my view of Wynn’s pony tail, as we drove the four-wheelers to see the mares. Her hair flapped in my face in the wind and we flew across the prairie. It was wonderful.
An eagle lifted from a fence post flew overhead on our way back to the ranch house. I nearly flipped off the back trying to take this photo.
The ranch lies along a main route for cattle trucks moving across the Great Plains. Luke stayed busy cleaning Wink’s Wash Out, our cattle truck wash out….
…And planted trees with Bop Bop. Trees are worth their weight in gold on the prairies. The land seems to conspire against their growth. Mom and Dad have planted untold numbers of trees around the headquarters for shade and protection from the wind and only a few make make it. They refer to the shrub that does seem to thrive as, “The Noble Hackberry.”
Wynn and Erin kept busy chopping out the Russian thistles around the newly planted trees. This probably would not have been the girls first choice of what to do for hours on a hot day. But, I ask, what are ranch memories without character-building experiences? I spent my summers picking up rocks out of pastures and tossing them into the bucket of the front-end loader, and walking behind a flatbed trailer and bucking small square hay bales onto it. Wonderful to pass along the family tradition! We feel all teenagers, and the world, might benefit from swathing several acres of Russian Thistles by hand. The girls may have a slightly different perspective on this…
Time with the new foals in the evening. Mom and I walked out to see the new foals just as the sun was setting and their roan and sorrel coats glowed.
The sun set over the barn that evening.
The next days passed in a swirl of horses, sunrises, prairie, and kids.
A meadowlark came to call the second morning.
We were on the ranch the night the moon was at its fullest.
A meadowlark outside the Parlour at sunrise.
The bead store at Prairie Edge in Rapid City is a feast for the senses. I love it here. The beads, the glass, the colors, the textures, the stories unfurled, the beaded treasures. In Meadowlark, the Lakota character, Daisy Standing Horse, beads. I spent hours here looking at the beads, the different shapes, the colors, the beaded works displayed. Treasures.
Dad’s boots. I walked by these one afternoon and they spoke to me. I love their worn leather, our brand on the spurs, and the gumbo mud that never seems to come off, still on the heels. When the prairie gets wet, the earth turns to gumbo – it sticks to everything in ways that defy physics. There is almost always an explicative uttered before it, when on boots, when cattle, horses, cars, and pickups are stuck in it, and inevitably if it’s been tracked into the house. I still really love this photo.
Joanie and Frankie – A Love Story. Mom loves this horse, Frankie, Josie’s son. The kids, Mom, Dad, and I watched his birth. When he was born, we thought he was an albino, then saw that he has blue eyes, not pink. Frankie is after Frank Sinatra, ‘Ol Blue Eyes and is a cremello (crem-AY-yo). To see him as a foal trotting next to dark Josie was gorgeous. Cremello horses can sunburn and often their eyesight is poor. On sunny summer days, Mom and Dad make sure that Frankie and get into the shade. Frankie adores Mom.
A rare evening moment to write in my journal.
The Cheyenne River runs south of the ranch. The southern tip of the ranch, along what we call the breaks, folds down to almost touch the river.
For the first time, we tubed along the river. Ever-cautious, the kids had to wear life jackets. Of course, the only life jackets we could find were those they were when they were three-years-old. While the drought filled the river more than in previous years, the river ebbed and flowed in depth. In some places, at least five feet and more – and in others, the kids had their life jackets on in a solid six-inches of water. They pointed this out to me. More than once. Clearly, I ignored this and focused on the rhythm of the water and the scenery, which was breathtaking. Cottonwood trees lined the river, grassy meadows underneath. Cliffs fell away into the water.
Four great blue herons, two golden eagles, one wipe-out and entanglement, which added adventure, and three hours later, we washed ashore.
And sometimes, girls on a ranch just have to dance.
This Winnie the Pooh was the kids’ when they were babies. At some point more than a decade ago, we left him in Dad’s truck. Pooh Bear came to live in Bop Bop’s trucks ever since.
Haying time in South Dakota.
New gate into headquarters. Dad, my brother, Bo, and Luke, balance, fit, and nail here. Luke worked with Dad for two weeks. As we left, Dad said, “He is a good hand.” When your dad’s a cowboy, there is no higher compliment.
We visited the graves of Mom’s mother, Janet Clark Richardson, who died when Mom was three-years-old, and stepmother who married her dad when Mom was 17, Mary Richardson. Mom and I watched the kids as for the first time, the implications of this seemed to sink in for them. The two graves lie side by side, with my grandfather’s grave above, an arrangement he chose and rife with with symbolism.
My great grandmother, Grace Richardson.
Wynn and Erin spent a week at Placerville Camp in the Black Hills. Mom attended this camp throughout her childhood, and Bo was a camp counselor here in college.
I spent years driving all over South Dakota and the plains, finding every bookstore and historical museum I could and buying books surrounding the history of the Great Plains to read and research Grace’s era for Meadowlark. I found treasures along the way – including published diaries and journals. I sank into the lives of the people of the prairie, absorbed their experiences of the times. With every book, every story, every life, Grace and her era came more and more to life for me. I wrote Grace’s story of life and place from my heart, and then came to layer in the fine details of the time.
One of the things I’d hoped to do while on the ranch was to get an author photo for Meadowlark. This is much easier said than done. Three things to work with when taking an author’s photo on a ranch: 1) The sun is out, 2) The wind is not blowing toooo hard, and, 3) Writer needs to be somewhat clean. The stars don’t naturally align for this on a ranch. They did one day and Mom and I both said, “Quick, before the wind picks up or the cows get out, let’s get some photos!” and Mom got this shot.
While on the ranch, I received one of those blessings and gifts that one would barely dare to hope for in the ebb and flow of life. Linda Hasselstrom writes of the realities and poetry of ranching in South Dakota. When Mom and Dad first moved to the ranch in South Dakota, I’d lived my life on ranches, but never on one in South Dakota. Mom discovered Linda’s work first and shared with me. As I read—inhaled, absorbed—Linda’s books, Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains; Going Over East: Reflections of a Woman Rancher, Land Circle: Writings Collected fro the Land, and more, I felt Linda walking beside me, talking about the land, giving voice to what I experienced on the plains, but didn’t have the language yet to articulate. The raw beauty of the prairie, so different than the Sonoran desert of my childhood ranch, came alive through her writing. As I read, I realized that the thread of the ranching life held strong throughout the landscapes, the climates, the people. In Linda Hasselstrom, I found a woman rancher who spoke with honesty of the realities of ranching as a woman, a writer, and a person who loves deeply, the people and the land. Here, she writes of our correspondence and my upcoming class, “Raven’s Time: Wildness and Beauty,” through Story Circle Network in her blog.
If you have not yet read Linda’s work, I encourage you to treat yourself and your spirit and do so. Her book are true masterpieces of the prairie, of ranching, and of what it is to walk through this world with passion, determination, and wonder. Here is one of her poems:
Being of sound body and mind,
I speak to you who will inherit,
though you were never part of me.
I give you grass roots wound in earth’s breast,
coyotes singing in the wind,
meadowlarks flashing in the grass,
buffalo shaking the world with his bellow,
plowing with his hooves.
I give you back what our ancestors had.
You earn the land
after your name is on the title.
The sacraments of inheritance
require payment in blood and sweat.
If you only accept, you lose everything.
To hold it, you must fight
the the plan to dump sewage in the creek,
fight the scheme to dump nuclear waste,
for people desperate enough to take them.
Fight the silence of the frozen land,
struggle to lift tons of baled hay,
fight for the lives of cows,
made stupid by pain;
fight fire in winter grass,
stand helpless as hail booms on the roof.
Even if you are homeless, landless,
beware this bequest;
look this gift in its barbed teeth.
If you’ve never felt the wind
breathe in your lungs,
earth’s blood singing in yours,
think before you accept this freedom,
I will be gone.
But I, who have no heir,
speak to you in my blood, and yours.
One day a hawk will fall
through blue air to eye you from a fencepost,
a sego lily will raise its fluted face
beside your path.
—Linda Hasselstrom, Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
The fifth generation now walks the land of this ranch. Throughout the years, through good times and rough, whatever the blessing or challenge, our family says, “It takes a ranch.”
And it does.
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