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Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Most Pleasing Review From South Dakota Rancher-Writer Linda M Hasselstrom

The more time passes, the more I miss these almost daily scenic delights

I was both taken aback and delighted to find a clutch of new reviews on the website for my e-book The Red House On The Niobrara, so delighted that, rather than post the links, I’m going to copy an extract right here.

The first came from a third-generation rancher, and a writer of some renown, Linda M Hasselstrom of Hermosa, South Dakota ( I still delight in reading parts of her Going Over East: Reflections Of A Woman Rancher.  It’s particularly satisfying for me to get a good notice from her. I was very much a Brit in cowboy territory, so publishing my reflections was something of a risk. Mercifully, I seem to have escaped the ritual tarring and feathering that awaits the tenderfoot who gets it wrong.

No matter where he goes, Wilkinson listens, remembers and records. Fascinated by the writing of Nebraska's Mari Sandoz, he spent several spring and summer months living in the Sandhills where she was born and where her best writing (Old Jules) originated.

When he moved to the Sandhills, he intended to write a book about her. But, he says, he "soon became more interested in my immediate surroundings: the ranch, the folk around me, the community of plants that thrive on this dry, sandy soil. I think I perfectly understand Mari's attachment to the region now, as well as her reasons for having to leave. I doubt that I've contributed a great deal to Sandoz scholarship, but maybe I'll persuade a few people to read her works. I've learned a lot here, and tried to record the best of it, but the truth is I still feel massively ignorant around my neighbors."

Wilkinson has written a revealing and fascinating book about a region not well known to the rest of the country, or even the rest of
Nebraska. He says he "wanted to get a feel for the pioneer experience" and he did. Even though he had amenities the pioneers didn't have - a car, electricity, running water - he encountered many of the hazards that still make life in America's rural areas challenging. His host had accidentally shot himself while pursuing a skunk. He encountered snakes of all descriptions, including rattlers. He didn't have to cook with cow chips, but he gathered wheelbarrow loads of the dry cow manure for fertilizer and worked hard to create a garden, just as the pioneers did. And just like them, he watched it struggle against wind, hail and finally grasshoppers -demonstrating just how difficult it was for our ancestors to survive in this harsh country.

I enjoyed Wilkinson's no-nonsense narration; he didn't try to make himself a hero or sneer at the rural folks as so many non-resident writers do. His humor is subtle humor, low key; in fact, at its best, it reminds me most of Western humor. There are four seasons in
Nebraska, one resident tells him: calving, branding, hunting and winter.

Though I'm a lifelong Sandoz fan, I must agree with Wilkinson that her fiction is less satisfying than her nonfiction writing because she was do devoted to research and she had to cram everything she learned into her novels. But he explains his understanding "that her history books were so painstakingly researched, took so long to write, and sold so slowly - steadily, yes, but slowly -that she could make more out of these novels, and could knock them out far more quickly. It's rather as if she were running up table-napkins out of material left over from a carefully made dress."

Wilkinson demonstrates his respect for the people among whom he lives. "The longer I stay here the more I marvel at the ability of the original inhabitants to survive this - and the many harsher environments further south and west." He mentions that a visitor might be tempted to compare the place with home and comment on the difference, but he doesn't indulge himself in making sport of the local folks. In fact, he defends
Nebraska from some Americans, including Nebraskans, who characterize it as "flat, dusty, empty" and "De-so-late."

"The spirit of the place, that's what I've been after," he writes near the end of the book. And he has succeeded in his stated objective, "not so much of describing the Sandhills as evoking them."

As with the best travel writing, a visitor has held up a mirror to a place I love and shown it to us more clearly than we see it ourselves.

There are a couple more reviews I’d like to showcase, but I’ll leave them until another day.

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