South Dakota Magazine reported on April 9 that one of my favorite authors, Linda Hasselstrom, is returning to her ranch outside of Hermosa, SD, after living for a number of years in Wyoming. I’m one of the people who’s thrilled to hear it. I’m even happier to hear that she has a new book coming out called No Place Like Home.
I read through several of Hasselstrom’s books about a dozen years ago, and her writing, along with Kathleen Norris‘s Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, played a fundamental role in forming my sense of place, as well as helping me come to terms with being a South Dakotan. Not just in the “yeah, I grew up here” sense but in the very deep down South-Dakota’s-in-my-DNA-and-I-just-can’t-get-it-out sense. Both Hasselstrom and Norris wrote primarily about the western part of the state, but what they said about rural places and people rang just as true for me here in East River. They encouraged me to be unapologetic about being from South Dakota, to honor my place while being honest about it. To appreciate its beauty and be content with its limitations, which sometimes turn out to be blessings.
This was all around the time I graduated from university and shortly thereafter. I took a job at my alma mater in the town where I had grown up. Although I liked living there and had no burning desire to be anywhere else, I struggled a bit with staying. I still somewhat bought into the idea that I couldn’t really be considered a success unless I left the place where I’d grown up and been educated. It’s a subtle but pervasive attitude that I’ll wager strikes people in all but the most metropolitan of places.
Linda Hasselstrom was one of the people who helped me navigate through all of that and come out on the other end firmly committed to South Dakota. Now that I think about it, I can also probably trace my organic gardening urges to reading her poem Mulch many years ago. So, in the midst of this blizzardy, blustery Thursday (and what I hope to be the last of our winter storms), I leave you with that poem and the anticipation of good things growing very soon.
by Linda Hasselstrom
A mulch is a layer of organic matter
used to control weeds,
and improve the fertility of the soil.
You will not find naked soil
in the wilderness.
I started cautiously: newspapers,
hay, a few magazines;
Robert Redford stared up
between the rhubarb and the lettuce.
Then one day, cleaning shelves,
I found some old love letters.
I’ve always burned them,
for the symbolism.
But the ashes, gray and dusty
as old passions,
would blow about the yard for days
stinging my eyes,
bitter on my tongue.
So I mulched them:
gave undying love to the tomatoes,
the memory of your gentle hands
to the squash.
It seemed to do them good,
and it taught me a whole new style
Now my garden is the best in the
and I mulch everything:
bills; check stubs;
dead kittens and baby chicks.
I seldom answer letters; I mulch them
with the plans I made
for children of my own,
photographs of places I’ve been
and a husband I had once;
as well as old bouquets
and an occasional unsatisfactory lover.
Nothing is wasted.
Strange plants push up among the corn,
leaves heavy with dark water,
but there are
[Photo note: all image rights belong to Erin Heidelberger. Please, DO NOT use the photo in this post without my permission.]