Poet Laureate of South Dakota? Not Right Now, Thanks.

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In October of 2014, I was invited by the South Dakota State Poetry Society to apply for the position of Poet Laureate of South Dakota.

Because many people urged me to apply and questioned my decision not to do so, I felt the simplest response was to explain my reasoning in a letter to the president of the SD State Poetry Society. I hope this examination of the obligations of the post will spark discussions and lead to some responsible changes that will benefit anyone who assumes the post of Poet Laureate of South Dakota.

Here’s an excerpt from my letter:

I certainly believe that asking the legislature to establish a term limit for the poet laureateship, and particularly at four years, is a useful idea. I also commend your efforts and those of the board to clarify the duties and requirements of the position.

I have studied the mission statement and have found what I consider to be innate contradictions in the current definition of the Poet Laureate position. As I considered whether or not to apply for the position, I considered some of the positive and negative aspects of doing so. I offer this analysis hoping that it may help the SDSPS as you work toward selection of a new Poet Laureate.

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A reading at the Piedmont Valley Library, June, 2014. I enjoy the energy of an audience, but I travel much less than I did twenty or thirty years ago.

You indicated that SDSPS wants an active Poet Laureate, willing to travel to the state’s colleges and universities, public schools, libraries, book clubs and other venues to present readings, talks, and workshops. You mentioned that several poets have decided to “run” for the position; that description seems to be particularly apt since the job would require so much energy.

I believe this unpaid poetry ambassador needs a job other than free-lance writing, i.e., a secure position that allows frequent absences, possibly with an employer who would contribute toward the expenses in return for the prestige.

Conversely, it seems to me, the post of Poet Laureate is intended to recognize a poet for a lifetime of achievement in writing and in supporting the state’s cultural growth. These requirements suggest the Poet Laureate should be an older, much-published resident writer with a deep and broad knowledge of literature and culture in the state and region, and a record of working to enhance citizen appreciation of poetry. Further, as a representative of South Dakota’s best writing, this poet should be known and respected widely throughout the region and nation.

However, in this largely rural state, many writers who have achieved publishing success spent their early years as I did, traveling the state to promote writing while working for the SD Arts Council, a school system, or other entities. An older writer, conscious of his or her limited life span, may have specific projects in mind to complete. Thus, requiring that the Poet Laureate travel and teach extensively may exclude older writers regardless of their worthiness to hold the position.

Badger Clark survived on a limited income and the pittances paid for his graduation speeches, but he lived in the woods with few amenities. David Allen Evans had the financial support of a secure teaching position. I think it’s significant that, despite 60 years of involvement in South Dakota’s writing, I know almost nothing about the poets laureate Adeline Jenny, Mabel Frederick and Audrae Visser. I suspect this is in part because their employment precluded much travel, and their efforts to promote poetry were necessarily limited to chapbook production. The South Dakota Book Festival did not exist as an opportunity to showcase state writers.

Today, however, electronic venues such as email, Facebook, and websites would make the job of bringing poetry to citizens much easier.  A Poet Laureate might, for example, provide examples of inspiring poetry and commentary to English teachers via email or Facebook, so the teachers could incorporate the poetry into their classroom at their convenience. This might offer a more efficient use of the poet’s time than driving for hours to reach a single venue where attendance might be sparse

I wonder if the solution might lie in acknowledging these differences in what a Poet Laureate might do, and changing the definition to fit modern circumstances.

LMH notebook 2014--8-16

“An older writer, conscious of his or her limited life span, may have specific projects in mind to complete. “

Perhaps the governor could be encouraged to appoint a Poet Laureate who is honored for his or her lifetime achievement as a published poet. This position would not be applied for, but conferred. SDSPS would nominate candidates from the state’s best-known poets who have also worked to encourage the writing and appreciation of poetry by others. Since the intent would be to honor the poet, the Laureate would be invited to attend major events such as the South Dakota Book Festival, gatherings of state poets laureate, and other important events, but would not be obligated to do so. Instead, the poet might continue to do what he or she has done best: promote poetry by writing it, and supporting poetic literacy in whatever ways he or she has always done.

Second, the governor might also appoint, from a qualified body of applicants selected by SDSPS, a second poet who would actively promote poetry throughout the state. This poet, who might be called the State Poet (Nebraska) or Writer in Residence (Idaho), might be in the position of an apprentice, a “laureate in training,” and might advance to the post of Poet Laureate in later years. Perhaps the legislature, the poet’s employer, or the SDAC and SDHC could contribute compensation in some form to help this writer fulfill the duties of the post without financial hardship. A few four-year appointments of traveling poets would provide the state with a group of writers who were experienced in teaching and speaking. If they continued to write and publish their own work, a Poet Laureate might be chosen from among them.

These ideas have been as part of my thinking about whether or not to apply for the position of Poet Laureate. I offer them in the hope you will find them useful in your discussions.

Respectfully, for the reasons I have outlined, I decline to apply for the position.

My thanks for the hard work the SDSPS has always done in promoting the benefits of poetry in our state.  Your work on these issues is incredibly important, offering the first chance in eighty-seven years to alter the original plan.  I send my warmest wishes as you lead us into a new era in Writing South Dakota.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

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While I rarely join organizations because I preserve my time for writing, and have not been a member for some years, I have always urged state writers to support the work of the SDSPS.

See their website:
https://sdstatepoetrysociety.wordpress.com/

Follow them on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/South-Dakota-State-Poetry-Society/212808486683

Pasque Petals, the official literary magazine of the South Dakota Poetry Society, is published spring and fall.  See their website for information on how to submit work or obtain a copy.

As of January 28, 2015, applications for the Poet Laureate position have been closed and a nominee has been forwarded to the Governor.

On March 12, 2015, Senate Bill 86, an amendment to South Dakota Codified Law 1-22-7, was signed into law by Governor Dennis Daugaard:

FOR AN ACT ENTITLED, An Act to place a term limit on the office of poet laureate.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA:
Section 1. That § 1-22-7 be amended to read as follows:
1-22-7. There is created the office of poet laureate of South Dakota. The Governor shall appoint the poet laureate to serve at the pleasure of the Governor. No person is eligible for the appointment unless the person is a resident of this state. No person may be appointed unless such person has been recommended to the Governor by the South Dakota State Poetry Society and has written and published poems of recognized merit prior to the appointment.

The term of the poet laureate is four years and begins the first Tuesday, after the first Monday, in January in years following a gubernatorial election. No poet laureate may serve for more than one term consecutively, however, this restriction does not apply to a partial term to which the poet laureate may have been appointed.

Poet laureates shall for life have the status of emeritus

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Clicking “Like”

Sensory Overload

Sensory overload and emotional turmoil on the internet distracts attention from writing and research.

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The abandoned dogs stare out of the screen with huge innocent eyes.

A bald eagle peers down at me from his perch just over my head.

I seem to hear the cries of abused babies echoing in my office until I click on a photograph of a castle on a misty isle.

A politician stands tall as he utters inanities. A group of young men in kilts play drums on stage.

Within ten minutes of beginning to look at Facebook, my head is spinning as my brain switches moods from anger to pain to pleasure to outrage to pleasure and back down the same trail again. I’m exhausted by the emotional turmoil.

Writing requires sustained attention. I believe most worthwhile activities require sustained attention. The whirlpool of emotion offered by Facebook is so distracting that on the days when I’m writing, I have to stay away from the site until evening.

Of course I empathize with the poor dogs and children and all the other ills being perpetrated in the world. I also appreciate the folks who call to my attention cheerful news focused on the world’s joys instead of its sorrows.

But after a few minutes of the muddle I turn away in frustration.

If I see a lost dog as I drive down the street, pick it up and take it to shelter, I’ve helped that dog’s life improve, at least temporarily. If I give money to charity, ditto. When I send a hand-written note to a friend who’s having a tough time, I’m doing a positive good.

???????????????????????????????Clicking “like” doesn’t fix anything.

I find it contradictory to click “like” under a story of a politician speaking proudly of how he’s misrepresented me today. I don’t like what he’s done at all, though I’m glad to know about it.

More importantly, however, a thousand people could click “like” beneath that story and the politician might never know how much we disapprove of his actions. Unless he has a staff member who keeps in touch with social media, collecting the comments folks who agree with one another make under these news stories, the politician will remain clueless.

To express my opinion in a way that counts, I need to write, call, email or fax my message directly to the congress person’s office.

In addition, I have to be wary of posts that appeal too much to my prejudices. I have to ask is this story true? Rather than ignoring my suspicions, I must go to a reliable site and check for its authenticity before I pass it on. Otherwise, I may simply become one more strand in a web of untruth that’s hard to untangle.

Here’s another problem.

retro letter phone

Don’t just “like” some political story– write a letter or make a call.

I remember the activism of the 1960s, when a lot of folks were protesting the expansion of the Vietnam War. Many of these people believed that marching down the street on a sunny day constituted political action. A few got additional exercise by waving flags or extending middle fingers to those who lined the sidewalks. If the thousands of people marched, and the cameras rolled and the news media showed the waving flags and shouting multitudes on TV screens all across the country that night, perhaps the action had an effect on our leaders. But for many protestors, writing to a Congressperson was just too darn much work.

Similarly, I’m afraid that clicking “like” may become a substitute for taking action. After a half hour on Facebook, righteously hitting that “like” button and writing a few comments under news stories, I might feel as if I’ve paid my dues for my citizenship in this country.

Look at what I’ve accomplished already and it’s only ten o’clock in the morning! I’ve let a lot of people know how much I disapprove of the actions of my state’s representative in Congress. I’ve shown that I empathize with abused dogs and those who rescue them. I’ve demonstrated my love of cuddly animals, birds of prey, a few artists, and I’ve approved of some humorous grammar corrections. Whew! What a workout!

But what have I accomplished?

I haven’t compared the statistics on the percentage of people who use social media to those who vote, because I’m afraid the figures would be depressing. It’s a lot easier to click “like” than it is to study all the issues, drive to the polling place, show ID and register your opinion in a lasting way.

I don’t mean to suggest that Facebook and other social media are without value. Each is a tool, and like any tool can be useful– and may be misused. But on days when I’m deep into a writing project, I intend to limit my time with these diversions for my own mental health.

And when I want my legislators to know how I feel about their actions, I’ll write to them, investing my reasoning, my time, and a stamp to be sure they get the message.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

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For more information:

How to write, call, or email the White House
http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

How to call or email a member of the US Congress (House or Senate)
http://www.usa.gov/Contact/US-Congress.shtml

Thinking Is Writing: The Bathtub

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The tub is surrounded by curtains hung on a framework of copper pipes suspended from the ceiling by chains.

One of my favorite methods of dealing with pain, with lack of inspiration or with almost any other problem is a hot bath.

The main ingredient for a truly inspiring bath is a cast iron claw-foot bathtub, which holds heat as no modern plastic tub can do. The one in my basement, though, is somewhat shorter than I am, so a relaxing soak requires some bending. As I sink into the hot water, I often dream of the six foot long tub I discovered in Scotland. Even as short as it is, though, the tub fulfills its promise as a Writing Aid.

Turning the hot water on full, I pour in an herbal mixture that includes eucalyptus, peppermint, wintergreen, clove and juniper oils to soothe muscle aches. Then I’m ready for the ritual.

First one foot– if the water is too hot, I may have to modify it, and I’ve scalded my poor right foot several times. If the water is perfect, I step in, sit, cross my legs to fit in the tub, and lie back with a sigh.  Sometimes I just close my eyes and visualize how the hot water is soothing muscles and sinuses. Secure in the knowledge that no one will disturb me, I can let my mind free of everything that has concerned me for days or weeks. I may immerse myself completely in the steaming, echoing water, hearing the cast iron ping and bong as it absorbs heat.

I may try to remember the words to the Janis Joplin song “Mercedes Benz,” or think of a poem I memorized in high school. When I sit up, spluttering suds, I feel renewed.

When I’m conducting a writing retreat, my first task in the hot bath is to think of the writer I’ve been working with during the day. What have I failed to mention? Have I been encouraging enough? Are there other resources to suggest, or other handouts I could provide?

Almost always, I capture a thought that I missed while I was intently reading the writer’s work, or talking about it, so I’ve made a hot bath part of every retreat so I don’t miss that vital notion. I apply the same logic to my own work when revising: a hot bath often reveals an answer that eluded me during days of walking, thinking, and staring at the computer screen.

???????????????????????????????Sometimes I take a book to read, placing it on the table behind my head as I scrub or while I meditate. I love to read until the water cools enough to remind me it’s time to get out. But I have to exercise care not to drop the book– especially if it’s from the library.

But most often, after a period of reflection or reading, I write.

On a shelf at the head of the tub is a stack of small squares of recycled paper and a pencil. It’s easy to grab one of the little squares, scribble a thought, and toss it on the rug beside the tub.

Thinking is writing, I’ve often said, and lying back in a tub at the perfect temperature is conducive to thinking.

A brass hook to hold my bathrobe.

A brass hook to hold my bathrobe.

One idea often sparks another, so that at the end of a truly great bath, the rug is littered with a half-dozen little squares of paper.

After I’m dry, I gather them, stacking them by topic, and carry them to my computer desk, where I’ll find them the next day– and get a great start on the day’s writing.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

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Valentine’s Day

Valentine Group

All of the Valentine’s Day cards posted throughout this blog are from a scrapbook collection kept by my mother. The one at the far left in this row of cards is signed “From Stella, Feb 14, 1923. Eighth Grade.”

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We’re really celebrating Valentine’s Day this year, going all out. I think our celebration will be entirely unique, even for us.

No, we’re not reserving a suite at a fine hotel, with lobster and filet mignon. No champagne in my slipper. I don’t expect diamonds or a dozen roses. I’m expecting much, much more.

Like many U.S. holidays, Valentine’s Day probably began as a liturgical celebration for one— or maybe more— early Christian saints named Valentinus. Several martyrdom stories were invented for the various Valentines, and all are associated with February 14.

ValenHands Group

Small mass-produced valentines.

One account says, for example, that Saint Valentine of Rome was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. As if that weren’t enough, according to legend during his imprisonment he healed the daughter of his jailer. No evidence whatsoever exists for this lovely myth or other religious associations for Valentine, but these fragile foundations support immensely profitable enterprises.

The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages when the tradition of “courtly love” flourished. Unlike many examples of real love, “courtly love” emphasized nobility and chivalry. In other words, the lovers might not consummate their love but enjoy all the fun of a flirtation, complete with sighs, illicit meetings, and secret messages and gifts.

In 18th Century England, lovers began to express their love on Valentine’s Day by offering flowers, sweets, and homemade greetings which became known as “valentines.” At this time, some of today’s symbols evolved, including heart-shaped outlines, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid.

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Sentimental verses.

In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Too bad some of today’s love-song-writers don’t have a copy!

Printers had already begun producing cards with verses and sketches, so when postal rates dropped during the next century, sending valentines became more popular. During the early 19th Century, paper valentines were assembled in factories, with real lace and ribbons used to create the fancier ones. In the U.S., the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were made around 1847 by a Massachusetts woman whose father ran a large book and stationery store.

Later, handwritten valentines were mostly replaced by mass-produced greeting cards. Encouraged by manufacturers alert to the power of the dollar, many lovers sent gifts such as chocolates in red, heart-shaped boxes, flowers, and jewelry. The diamond industry began to promote Valentine’s Day with vigor in the 1980s.

???????????????????????????????Today, the U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that about 190 million valentines are sent each year. On Valentine’s Day 2013, according to the experts, the average American spent $131 sending greetings— mostly to family members and teachers.

The rise of the Internet is creating new traditions as millions of people send digital greetings— e-cards, love coupons, or printable greeting cards. An estimated 15 million e-valentines were sent in 2010.

None of this hoopla will make the slightest difference to me or to Jerry. We’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day in our own ways, and our expenditures will be considerably less than $131. Possibly nil.

Since the holiday falls on Saturday, I hope to entice Jerry to make crepes, which I’ll fill with strawberries and sour cream with a touch of powdered sugar. I plan to spend the rest of the morning doing what I love: writing, and being as grateful as I am every day for my freedom to choose my work. I’ll have lunch with two women friends, and spend the afternoon helping them clean the Hermosa Arts and History Museum. Because I want to.

Meanwhile, Jerry will be attending a special blacksmithing event called a “Hammer-in.”  He’ll spend the day firing up a forge, heating chunks of iron until it glows like the fires of hell or the glowing eyes in those tacky werewolf movies. The hammers will clang and ring as he discusses with like-minded friends— not all of them male— the fine points of blacksmithing.

???????????????????????????????At the end of the day, we’ll get together, share a meal and tell each other how much fun we had. For dessert, I’ll serve some old-fashioned heart-shaped candies with loving slogans on them; I paid thirty-three cents for the box. We’ll probably play Scrabble.

We’ll do this because we know what sustains real love isn’t chocolate— luscious as it is— or greeting cards or diamonds. Love means allowing the loved one the freedom to choose, even on special days.

A month or so ago, as we walked the dogs up the driveway, I picked up a black stone that resembled a heart. Jerry promptly claimed it. A day later, he gave it back to me slightly reshaped, and polished. I often carry it in my pocket. That’s my permanent Valentine card.

I hope that you and your special loved one will enjoy the same loving freedom, on Valentine’s Day and for the rest of the year.

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The black, heart-shaped stone.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

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Cowboy Poetry Gathering

LMH jacket 2015--1-13 small

Ready for the Gathering in my fringed jacket.

A week ago, on February 2, I arrived home from the 31st National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, sponsored by the Western Folklife Center.

A trek to the Gathering from South Dakota requires a serious investment of time; Elko is about 800 miles from Hermosa. I left home Monday, January 26, to drive to Glendo, WY, to meet Nancy Curtis, who had agreed to drive from her home, and Yvonne Hollenbeck, who, like me, was an invited performer.

I consider the financial compensation for this gig to be perfectly adequate, especially considering how poetry is valued in this country, but I suspect nobody goes to The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering just for the money.

So why do we go, I’m asked every time. I always think of an old cowboy song I hear on every visit, “The Night Rider’s Lament.” Part of Michael Burton’s chorus to this song is:

He asked me why do you ride for your money
Why do you rope for short pay
You ain’t getting’ nowhere
And you’re losin’ your share
Boy, you must have gone crazy out there.

Perfectly defines the attitude of a lot of folks about writing cowboy poetry! If I’m crazy I’m in good company. One night I sat under the spotlights on the stage of the G3Bar in the Western Folklife Center in the company of Wallace McRae, Paul Zarzyski and John Dofflemyer. I was marveling at the fact that 300 people had paid $30 or $35 each to hear us read and recite our poetry. No musicians, no other attractions shared the stage—just poets.

CPG LMH John Dofflemyer Barbara Bernstein 2015--1-30

With John Dofflemyer at an autograph session. (Photo by Justina Bernstein.)

But the audience doesn’t necessarily have to pay to hear the greatest cowboy poets and musicians in the nation. During every day of the Gathering, many sessions are free in the convention center. If you’d wandered into the Turquoise room last week, you could have spent an hour with me, John Dofflemyer, and Elizabeth Ebert, from Thunder Hawk, South Dakota, who was a closet poet until 1989. In 2005 when she was 80 years old, then-Governor Mike Rounds proclaimed February 24 as Elizabeth Ebert Day.  (Learn more about her at www.cowboypoetry.com). Her work is hilarious, honest, and bone-deep true.

I admire the hard work the staff does to name the various sessions, especially since they know the writers will interpret the titles any way they darn please. This year we had titles like:

Love of the Well-Crafted Line

Living the Deep West (a prose session with me and Wally McRae, hosted by Texas poet Joel Nelson)

And We Shall Ride

Stories in Verse

Best Laid Plans

Southwest Song and Sonnet, and

Dames Don’t Dally, among many others.

Or you could wander up to the high school building behind the convention center where volunteers kept the music going all day long– some of it open mic and some from respected and well-known musicians. One of the highlights of this gathering was listening to the music of Baja California Sur played by residents of that lonely place, who also set up an exhibit showing how they live.

Besides all the poetry, there are sessions on a variety of other subjects. The early part of the week is usually devoted to workshops on writing, rawhide braiding, silversmithing, ranch tours, talks and discussions about conflicts between ranchers and others. Students from Owyhee Public School and other filmmakers worked on videos about the Deep West.

One of my favorite musical events at this year’s gathering was watching Glenn Ohrlin, 88, play guitar and sing with Brigid Reedy, 14. The two shared a real joy of music, and it was a joy to watch them tease each other. Watching Glenn was painful, because he was so thin he looked like a walking skeleton, but his voice and mind were clear and strong, and he played beautifully. We heard that he drove to the Gathering with a passenger who was not happy with his driving. Ohrlin always preferred to travel by pickup truck. His rule was that if there was more than one way to get somewhere, he always took the road he’d never traveled, even if the distance was longer and the road narrower. Glenn lived in Mountain Home, Arkansas, where he operated a cattle ranch and lived in a stone house he’d built himself. As I finished writing today, I got word that Glenn has died.

Keynote speaker Gary Paul Nabhan is an internationally-known nature writer, food and farming activist and proponent of conserving the links between biodiversity and cultural diversity. He has been honored as a pioneer in the local food and seed-saving communities by a half-dozen magazines, and written numerous books. (I was once fortunate enough to dine with him at one of the local Basque cafes and immediately became a fan, though he’s been writing books faster than I’ve been reading them.)

Gary spoke about the work on conservative conservation being done by a group of ranchers and environmentalists loosely organized as the “radical center.” Groups like the Quivira Coalition (quiviracoalition.org), founded by two environmentalists and a rancher, aim to “build resilience by fostering ecological, economic and social health on western landscapes through education, innovation, collaboration and progressive public and private land stewardship.”

Nabhan quoted Aldo Leopold on a fact much of our society has forgotten, “People starve when land and water are degraded and forage declines.” But he had good news too: the market for grassfed beef is growing faster than that for any other commodity, as 60% of the farmers and ranchers in the U.S. have made changes in their methods that lead to better conservation of resources that belong to all of us. The Cowboy Poetry Gathering always features keynote speakers who challenge and enlighten.

Another pleasure of going to Elko is eating Basque food available several places that originated with the Basque sheepherders of the region. My favorite meal this trip was a pork chop at the Toki Ona Basque Diner, accompanied by salad with a zingy dressing, soup, spaghetti, and Potatoes Ana. Our waitress, Kelly, happily described how to make Potatoes Ana, and I’ve made them twice since I got home. If I make them any more before July, I won’t be able to fit into my jeans.

LMH and YH Bonneville Salt Flats 2015

On the road to Elko. Yvonne Hollenbeck and I on the Bonneville Salt Flats with the Silver Island Mountains floating on the horizon. (Photo by Nancy Curtis.)

Another important part of the travel to the Gathering, at least the way I’ve done it fairly often since my first invitation in 1993, is the companionship of the trip. Driving can be a challenge, but it allows for long and deep conversations. Some of my best friendships have deepened and matured as we rolled along I-80, through Rawlins, Rock Springs, Evanston and the Three Sisters– the three long hills truckers hate. We slide through Salt Lake City and pass the great lake and wheel along the broad flats where travelers stop to arrange rocks in messages and symbols. In Wendover, Nevada, the casinos are always lit and very few people notice the shabby trailers and shacks housing the folks who keep those games spinning and those motel rooms clean. And then Elko, which I am told is surrounded by beautiful mountains and desert; I’ve rarely gotten outside the streets and sites of the various programs.

And in Elko, we are hip by haunch with folks who come to hear cowboy poetry. In some cases, the clothes they are wearing would buy the ranches of the folks who are reciting on stage.

I always admire the togs, but I’m there for the company of people who were writing about rural western life long before cowboy poetry began to attract crowds.  As Badger Clark remarked, we just love “slingin’ ink and English” among other folks who understand the job that we’ve taken on: telling the truth about our rural western lives.

Linda M. Hasselstrom

Windbreak House

Hermosa, South Dakota

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Sunrise

Sunrise 2015--2-5

Sunrise at Windbreak House, February 5, 2015.

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Sunrise this morning began while I was sitting in bed writing in my journal—just a long stripe of light blue beneath a shield of heavy black, like a crack opening into another universe.

I’d let the dogs out and logged into email to find a tangle of conflicting, angry messages from members of a group of which I am a member. Glancing through them sent my stomach roiling, so I shut down and climbed back into bed with today’s book.

The book, while it means well, concerns recovery from stroke, so while its message is upbeat, the general topic did not especially cheer me.

So I put it aside and pulled my journal out from under my pillow—I like to keep it handy for late-night inspiration–determined to write something positive to offset the email clamor I’d have to face later.

As the light grew with the earth’s slow rotation, I realized that this was going to be one of our especially gorgeous sunrise experiences. What looked like a flat, heavy layer of black clouds began to ripple as the light strengthened, the clouds heaving and shifting in shades of gold and peach. Swells of light like the ocean’s waves rolled across the prairie’s beach.

Below the clouds, the air was still at twenty degrees or so, the grass still dusted with snow. But the light promised that the day would improve.

As Jerry took the photograph, I realized that the very best sunrises are those with clouds in them. When the sky is clear, the sun’s light simply flows like honey over a table, golden and lovely–but flat.

Clouds ripple and heave and turn from black to blue. Clouds churn and lunge and wrap around each other. Their darkness should encourage us to appreciate sun’s light and warmth.

The metaphor was so obvious I laughed out loud, startling the dogs out of their post-awakening, pre-breakfast nap.

When everything in our lives is streaming along as smoothly as a river in spring, we may not appreciate just how lucky we are. Clouds—murky, roiling , threatening—make us pay attention, and remind us that things could be considerably worse.

That barbed-wire tangle of emails waiting to snag my attention made me appreciate the complications of sunrise. How fortunate I was to have this quiet time to read and write before the day’s concerns began to rise over the edge of the horizon.

The troubles I encounter every day should remind me how fortunate I am for days when there are no complications, when my writing flows like honey.

Today’s clouds encouraged me to appreciate the light around their edges. When I return to the computer, I’ll answer those emails as quickly as possible so as to get back to the day’s bright promise.

Or perhaps I’ll put the emails off until sunset.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

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