Jane Morton comments:
While working on my book, Turning To Face The Wind, I learned of Linda's retreats at Windbreak House and knew I had to go. That peaceful, focused time with Linda helped me crystallize my ideas, refine my poetry, and go deeper into my writing than I ever thought I could. She's an insightful teacher and mentor, and I treasure my memories of working with her in that beautiful, natural setting. I hope that someday I can do it again.
Jane Morton, past Lariat Laureate at CowboyPoetry.com, is the author of ten published children's books and books of poetry about ranch life. Her most recent book is Cowboy Poetry: Turning to Face the Wind, stories of her family's ranch, told through poetry. Read more of her work here.
Yvonne Hollenbeck shares an article she wrote about her Windbreak House experience:
RANCHWIFE LEARNS TO WRITE THE WEST
I put the potatoes on to boil and noticed the thermometer read ten degrees above zero. Last night's snowfall added a couple inches of fresh snow to the two feet we already had, so I knew the morning cattle feeding might take longer than usual. I learned years ago that a cattleman's wife must be patient while waiting for the men to come to dinner, and I often take advantage of that time to read mail or catch up on some bills. I don't get many magazines, but on this December day I found one in the mail pile.
I stirred the gravy and sat down to read an article in the South Dakota Magazine by Linda Hasselstrom about an early-day horse thief named Lame Johnny. Engrossed in the article, I began thinking about all the "Lame Johnnys" in my neighborhood...people whose stories may be lost forever because nobody writes them down. A sidebar with the story mentioned that Hasselstrom holds writers retreats for women at her ranch near Hermosa, South Dakota. I started my letter of inquiry immediately. By the time I heard the feed tractor and caking truck pull into the yard, I'd almost burned the potatoes.
As the men were washing up, I slung hot dishes of meat, taters and gravy, corn and biscuits on the table, thinking about the possibility of attending one of these retreats. While the men discussed matters of snow depth, feeding, and plans for the afternoons work, I was thinking about how I could arrange my duties so I could be gone several days if I was accepted for a writers retreat.
I had been writing poetry about my life as a cowboy's wife for some time and had performed at many of the Cowboy Poetry Gatherings around the country, but I wanted more. I wanted to write about pioneer characters too. There were "Lame Johnnys" in my community, even in my family, whose stories died, buried and never told, simply because no one bothered to write them down. But where does a rancher's wife who lives in a remote area obtain assistance with writing?
A writing retreat seemed like the answer to my question. In a couple weeks, information arrived from Hasselstrom's Windbreak House, and my husband encouraged me to apply. One of the requirements was to submit examples of my writing. I felt intimidated, but sent a copy of my book of poetry, a few articles I had written, and my application.
I was thrilled when the acceptance letter came, and my tentative dates were set during the second week in June, which was perfect because brandings would be over, the cattle in summer range and the garden planted. I felt as excited as I was when I attended my first church camp as a child. Now that I have attended three retreats, I can laugh about how nervous I was as I got closer to Hasselstrom's Ranch. I wondered what the other two ladies would be like; if my work would measure up; if I had made a mistake; and mostly, what this famous writer would be like. I would be spending several days with people I did not know from a bale of hay. Nearing the ranch, my fears were increased as rain fell and the sky darkened, blacking out the view of the beautiful Black Hills. My fears were put to rest as I pulled into the driveway and was met by Linda, a friendly woman of the plains; one of us.
There was no mystery as to why Hasselsrom chose this rural setting as a site for her retreats. The retreat is held in her ranch home overlooking a small dam occupied by numerous types of wildlife. The ranch is settled between the Black Hills to the West and the picturesque Badlands to the East, alongside the L7 Draw. One can visualize the vast herds of Longhorn cattle being driven Eastward down the draw and hear the whoops of the cowboys that made the final roundup in 1902.
Perhaps she used the retreat as a way of healing after the death of her husband, or perhaps she realized that many women harbored the same desire to learn writing skills as I did. In any event, Linda Hasselstrom opened the door for many aspiring women writers and shares her expertise, her knowledge, her research files and expansive library, and most of all, her home and her life to help other women achieve their goals in putting words on paper.
As Linda helped carry my bags into the house, I apologized for her getting rain-soaked when I could have done it myself. "No problem," she replied, "we need the moisture!" I knew right then that coming here was a good decision. As she showed me my room, my eyes went immediately to the beautiful antique quilt on the bed. I found myself scolding her for using it. "Nonsense," she said, and gave me her theories on enjoying things rather than letting them rot in a musty trunk in an effort to preserve them. I found myself agreeing with her, but did lecture her on keeping the West window shades pulled in the afternoon to prevent sun fading. I may not know squat about writing, but my knowledge on quilting gave me the confidence to be the teacher on this subject.
There is a limit of only three students per retreat and the first evening is set aside for getting acquainted with one another and our surroundings. Before long, Linda and I were explaining "ranch lingo" to the others, who in return told us about their urban life. Suddenly we became a family; a small group of women with the same desire to learn about writing a chapter of history that perhaps will become another story like "Lame Johnny."
The next morning we found ourselves on the deck with our coffee, watching the ducks on the water through binoculars, and discussing our goal for the day. Assignments were made and mine involved poetry. Since I came here believing I was an accomplished poet, it wasn't long before I realized how little I knew in that field. I was soon learning how to write a sonnet, then free verse, and more of the same, with each attempt becoming easier than the one before. These items were then critiqued by Hasselstrom and the learning process was in full gear.
Occasionally we all gathered together where we read and enjoyed each other's work. Our work was critiqued; questions arose and were answered; and it seemed a lifetime of writing experience was gained in just a few short days.
Too soon I was loading my bags, which contained new poems and stories I had written and the many instructional materials I received, and was saying goodbye to my new friends. As my van crossed the bridge over the rain-swollen "Lame Johnny Creek," I felt as though I had just experienced one of the greatest events in my lifetime. I returned to my home filled with chores and distractions not found at the retreat, but I brought into it enough ideas and confidence to spend the rest of my life writing the stories I had only dreamed of doing.
My writing family has now grown immensely. I have attended two more of Hasselstrom's retreats and am currently involved in the formation of a writing group to include both men and women in rural Nebraska and South Dakota. We will learn from one another. None of us may ever become a Mari Sandoz or Willa Cather, but we will do our best to prevent the "Lame Johnnys" in our generation from being put to rest before their story is recorded. The knowledge and experience I received from Linda has been one of the most rewarding chapters in the story of my life.
Yvonne Hollenbeck, and Honored Guest at CowboyPoetry.com, is a frequent performer at Western gatherings and the author of award-winning books and recordings about her experiences as the wife of a South Dakota rancher. Her books Where Prairie Flowers Bloom and From My Window both received the Will Rogers Medallion from the Academy of Western Artists. Read more of her work here.
Read more participants' comments at the Windbreak House web site
More About Linda Hasselstrom
Photo by Nancy Curtis
Books and Recordings
Books and Recordings
Read about Linda Hasselstrom's publications and recordings
at her Windbreak House web site, where you can order her books directly.
I was born in Texas in 1943, moved to South Dakota in 1947, and lived there, with absences for college and other experiences, since. I began writing at nine years old, when I moved with my mother to my father’s ranch on the plains east of the Black Hills and got my first horse-- there IS a connection between those two phrases. I’ve kept an almost-daily journal. Like most writers, I published a little as I worked for the degree that would give me "something to fall back on," as mother always said.
I graduated from the University of South Dakota with degrees in English and Journalism and worked a year on the night staff of the Sioux City Journal while finishing my senior year and one year of graduate courses. With my first husband, I moved to in Columbia, MO, where I taught Journalism at Christian (now Columbia) College, and received an M. A. in American Literature from the University of Missouri.
When I returned to South Dakota in 1971, I continued to write, as well as founding Sunday Clothes: A Magazine of the Fine Arts, with the help of grants from several agencies, including the South Dakota Arts Council. I also began operating Lame Johnny Press, an independent publishing house which published 23 books by Great Plains writers --but none I’d written. I derived great satisfaction and some financial support from the magazine and press, publishing the work of several hundred Great Plains writers and artists.
By 1984, the magazine had survived several serious financial crises, including my divorce from my first husband and remarriage, but was still not self-supporting. I received hundreds of submissions of work for both the magazine and press from all over the country, and had little time to write. During that year, I edited and published an anthology of South Dakota writers, with help from SDAC. I edited Journal of a Mountain Man: James Clyman for Mountain Press of Missoula, MT, and my first book of poems, Caught By One Wing, was published by a San Francisco letterpress. At the end of that year, I received a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. This combination of events solidified my decision to suspend operation of the press to spend more time writing.
I learned a lot about regional literature while operating the press, and miss no opportunity to encourage teachers and the public to explore regional writing and art, and to appreciate our native cultures. I think contemporary regional literature can be a powerful tool for teachers and citizens, encouraging our children to appreciate their region, to remain there, and to value the Great Plains for its uniqueness--rather than turning it into an imitation metropolis.
I began writing Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains from the journals I have kept since I was nine years old. After rejections from 24 publishers it was published by a one-woman press in Berkeley, CA in early 1987. Reviewed widely and well, the book got notices in The New York Times Review of Books and Ms. magazine, and was accepted as the alternate selection by Doubleday book club. A book of essays, Going Over East: Reflections of a Woman Rancher, won the first American Writing Award by Fulcrum, Inc., including publication in hardbound in September, 1987. Roadkill, poems primarily about my rural experiences, was published in 1987 by Spoon River Poetry Press, and sold so well that Spoon River reprinted my first book of poetry, Caught by One Wing in 1990.
The ranch where I lived and worked cattle provided a large part of my financial support, but demanded year-round work. I began doing fewer workshops and less teaching and cut back on active participation in environmental and social organizations in order to have more time to write; I was more effective as an environmentalist by writing instead of lobbying.
A journal of my activities during the spring following the death of my second husband, George R. Snell, was featured in the July 1989 issue of LIFE magazine, with photos by Jeff Jacobson, a nationally-known photographer. I was named South Dakota's Author of the Year by the Hall of Fame in 1989; that year I received the Governor's Award for Distinction in Creative Achievement, and used the award ceremony in the capitol rotunda as an opportunity to call upon the governor and other elected officials to preserve South Dakota's natural resources.
In late 1991, Fulcrum published my second collection of essays on the environment, with poems, titled Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land. Dakota Bones, a collection of poems including my first two books plus about thirty new verses, appeared in 1993 from Spoon River and The Roadside History of South Dakota was published in 1994 by Mountain Press.
Encouraged by the acceptance of work I had feared might never be published, or find a wider readership, I began studying and writing about rural and ecological problems from my own experiences in the Great Plains. As my knowledge expanded, I encouraged ranchers and farmers in better practices to help keep more rural people employed in agriculture. I wanted to help inform the American public about the ruinous costs to all of us of the kind of development we've seen in agriculture over the last fifty years.
This writing, I believe, is as closely connected to more "artistic" writing--fiction and poetry--on environmental problems, giving me an opportunity to use my ranching background in educating others about important problems. I see the plains as the final frontier, and in danger of utter destruction if it serves more populous areas only as an energy reservoir, source of labor, and waste repository.
I believe one's work should complement the rest of one's life, and blend smoothly into a whole that keeps the physical body healthy while also working the mind.
I work to bring my life into a circle: writing things I can respect, publishing work I respect, laboring at riding, branding, gardening, taking care of the land, and doing it all with an awareness of how those things fit together. More and more, as I grow older, I feel that it is important to keep my roots in this arid soil, to learn from it all I can, in order to continue to grow as a writer and as a human being.
A new collection of my sixteen connected true stories about losing, and regaining, the family ranch, Feels Like Far, was published by The Lyons Press in 1999. High Plains Press published a Bitter Creek Junction, poems, in 2000.
In 1997, along with Gaydell Collier and Nancy Curtis, I edited the anthology Leaning into the Wind: Women Write from the Heart of the West. I also wrote the introduction. The nonfiction anthology was published by Houghton Mifflin and reprinted three times in cloth before the paper edition appeared in May, 1998. The three editors’ second anthology, Woven on the Wind: Women Write About Friendship in the Sagebrush West, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2001. A third anthology, Crazy Woman Creek, featuring more than 150 Western women writing about their place in Western communities, is scheduled for publication in 2004.
Rodney Nelson, writing in Dakota Arts Quarterly, once said, "She can deliver a calf and a poem on the same day--after mending a fence." I like that statement, and believe something similar could be said of many farm and ranch women, who choose to be where we are because we love the wide land, the independence, even the occasional harshness of the prairies.
In 1992, due to my father's illness, I was forced to leave the ranch, I moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming. My father died in August, 1992, and I spent four years untangling business affairs and arranging for my mother's care. My mother died in 2001.
I now own the ranch, but no cattle. The land is rented to a neighbor. This abrupt dislocation means I am no longer responsible for the day-to-day operation of the ranch. But I have a fresh prospect.
In 1996, I began operating my ranch home—now called Windbreak House—as a writing retreat and base for teaching women writers. Since I winter in Wyoming, commuting to the ranch to teach, I write from a changed perspective, but am still rooted in arid southwestern South Dakota.
In 2001, with the Great Plains Native Plant Society, I dedicated the Claude A. Barr Memorial Great Plains Garden. The garden will preserve white penstemon, red globe mallow, lanceleaf bluebells, golden pincushion cactus and dozens of other native plants on 350 acres of my ranch. By the end of 2002, the society hopes to survey and label many of the plants, install pathways, and open the site to the public.
Additional biographical information can be found in the following sources:
Contemporary Authors, Gale Research (835 Penobscot Building, 645 Griswold St., Detroit MI 48226-4094), Vol. 153, pp. 144-145, 1996.
American Nature Writers, editor John Elder; written by Kathleen Danker, Vol. 1, "Edward Abbey to John McPhee," pp. 337-348; Charles Scribner's Sons, 1997.
Dictionary of Midwestern Literature Volume 1: The Authors, ed. Philip A. Greasley, Indiana University Press, 2001.
Such News of the Land: U.S. Women Nature Writers, ed. Thomas S. Edwards and Elizabeth A. De Wolfe; University Press of New England (Hanover NH), 2001.
Read some of Linda Hasselstrom's poetry here.
her 2005 review of Cowboy Poetry, Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark, edited by Greg Scott
her report on the first annual Badger Clark Memorial Society Western Prose and Poetry Writers Workshop, held in Custer, South Dakota, in September, 2006
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