Essays by the South Dakota nature-writer and rancher (Feels Like Far, 1999, etc.).
Hasselstrom writes with grit and determination, but also good humor, about the hard work of ranching and the bad luck that has plagued her in the last couple of decades: the deaths of her husband, her mother, and her best friend; her expulsion from her ranch home by her father, “his mind damaged by strokes he wouldn’t acknowledge,” after she refused to give up writing; her subsequent exile to an apartment “in a city five hours’ drive away from the ranch that I love.” Formative experiences all, though they came well in middle age; Hasselstrom has made art of them, and while they will be familiar episodes to readers of her past work, those who are new to Hasselstrom will find this collection to be a useful introduction to her lyrical take on the High Plains. Many of these previously published pieces, however, will not earn Hasselstrom friends among environmentalists, for she insists often and forcefully that ranching—the bane of peers such as Edward Abbey and Terry Tempest Williams—is in the balance a good thing, not to be equated with mining, logging, and other extractive industries that have so badly scarred the West. “Even the most cursory thought reveals the fallacy of the generalization: mining companies remove resources from the land permanently. Logging companies remove old growth forests and “replace” them with rows of immature seedlings planted by underpaid laborers on hillsides bare of other vegetation. . . . Conversely, a rancher’s livelihood depends on harvesting some of the native herbage on his land in a way that keeps it healthy and growing, renewable and constantly renewed.” Hasselstrom’s defense of ranching is well taken, but some of her pieces on this theme—such as a rather pointless one insisting that cows are part of nature, too—are too ineffectual to serve her cause well.
A pleasure for her fans, then, but ammunition for bovine-berating detractors.