At Home in the West |

At Home in the West

Owing to decisions made by my ancestors a century ago, I am a child of the Great Plains. Had my Great-Grandfather Janssen chosen otherwise, South Dakota may have been the state of my nativity instead of Montana. No matter, I find beauty in the arid landscape, expansive horizons and demanding seasons. The worst traffic delays I encounter are caused by pheasants and deer. However, it is an hour-long drive to the nearest supermarket and 90 minutes to a supercenter.

My view of the American West is different from someone living 100 miles to the northeast. They are closer to the supercenter but must contend with traffic woes caused by booming oil activity. In the Black Hills of South Dakota, subdivisions sprawl on either side of roadways where native grasses and forbs once flourished.

Linda Hasselstrom writes candidly about subdivisions, disappearing traditions, and the challenges facing the West in No Place Like Home: Notes from a Western Life (University of Nevada Press, 2009, 224 pages, 6×9, hardcover ISBN 978-0-87417-796-1). The book is the 2010 WILLA Literary Award winner for creative nonfiction.

Raised on the South Dakota ranch she now owns, Hasselstrom is a writer, publisher, teacher and outspoken steward of the land. (Follow her blog at Rodney Nelson once wrote of Hasselstrom: “She can deliver a calf and a poem on the same day – after mending a fence.” Accepting that as accurate, she nonetheless feels the same could be said of a great many women living on farms and ranches, women “who choose to be where we are because we love the wide land, the independence, even the occasional harshness of the prairies.” (For more on Hasselstrom:

There were times while reading No Place Like Home that I swore Hasselstrom was writing about me. In other instances, I was dumbfounded to learn what was happening in her neighborhood; what was being ignored. An admonishment against living for the moment, it is filled with hard-earned wisdom. There is no happy ending, just as there is no happy ending to the growth that threatens to tame the West.

Hardback copies of No Place Like Home are $24.95; the paperback is $18.95. Add $5 for media mail; $7 for priority. Send checks to Linda M. Hasselstrom, PO Box 169, Hermosa SD 57744-0169; 605-255-4064;

Yvonne Hollenbeck shares a glimpse into her life on the Plains with Sorting Time. Ranching with her husband in south-central South Dakota, Hollenbeck’s life is rife with material for the award-winning poet. She selected something old, something new, and something tried-and-true for this 14-track poetry collection, composed primarily of humorous tales.

There’s nothing contrived about the mayhem described in the title track. If you’ve ever been assigned the daunting task of running the gate, you’ll see the reality in the scenario. Likewise, there’s great truth in Hollenbeck’s bittersweet tale of sitting with a widow while the auctioneer works his way through carefully arranged rows of tools, equipment, and furniture at a farm sale. (Read “The Auction” at Rounding out my favorites are “The Ranch Wife’s Top Ten List.” The fiddle music is provided by Hollenbeck’s father and Old Time Fiddle Champion, Harry Hanson.

Sorting Time sells for $18. Order from Yvonne Hollenbeck, 30549 291st Street, Clearfield, SD 57580; 605-557-3559;

Jerry Brooks’ window on the West looks out into a canyon near Sevier, Utah. It wasn’t always the case. Brooksie, as she is known to friends and fans, was raised in New England. At the age of six, she was reading books by Jack London. Not long afterwards, she delivered “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes at a poetry recital. (For more about Brooks:

I was excited to hear Brooksie was working on an album. Her first, it was long overdue. Shoulder to Shoulder, released in conjunction with the 2010 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, could aptly be described as audio theatre. Despite its unassuming package, it is much more than a typical CD; more than a rudimentary recitation. Brooks’ inflection and delivery put flesh on words and give them life.

Among the 12 tracks is “The Walking Man” by Henry Herbert Knibbs, the first piece I heard Brooksie recite. Other knockouts are “Morning on the Desert” by Katherine Fall Pettey; “The Free Wind” by Charles Badger Clark, Jr.; “When They’ve Finished Shipping Cattle in the Fall” by Bruce Kiskaddon; and “In the Droving Days” by A.B. (Banjo) Paterson.

If you’ve never before purchased a poetry recording this should be your first. If you are a discerning fan, you will delight in Brooks’ ability to finesse the spoken word. It is easily one of the finest recitation albums ever made.

To purchase Shoulder to Shoulder, send $15 to Jerry Brooks, 4845 W. Clear Creek Canyon Rd., Sevier, UT 84766.

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