Hasselstrom lives on ranch and writes about grasslands

By Jeff Smith

Linda Hasselstrom holds up her book “Gathering From the Grassland: A Plains Journal” at the South Dakota Railraod Museum on Dec. 9. She writes about living on the prairie and her experiences ranching as well as her family’s history.

Linda Hasselstrom has recently released her new book “Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal”. It is her 17th book. It offers readers a look at a year of living mindfully on a western South Dakota cattle ranch. It is full of diary entries of reflection of ranching more than the details of ranching itself.

Hasselstrom has lived 62 years on the prairie. She grew up ranching and observing ranch life.

“I’ve left here at different times and taught at the University of Missouri- Columbia but then eventually moved back to the ranch,” Hasselstrom said.

Everything she has done in her writings has centered on her ranch in Hermosa.

Hasselstrom aims to educate people so they understand that prairies are extraordinary. In a society where there are screens around us almost 24/7 and there are flashy images on the screen, a prairie might not seem that important.

“It’s just as extraordinary as the rain forest, a great desert, or the arctic,” Hasselstrom said.

She  thinks people who are in South Dakota might have this attitude that something is not useful or profitable unless there is a building and asphalt.

She is an environmentalist who promotes ranching too.

“There are many environmentalists who are against ranching and think it’s exploitative,” Hasselstrom said.

She has tried to show people the best possible use of the grassland is ranching and raising cattle. Grasslands have been growing for a millennia in the area and it wouldn’t make sense to tear it up to plant short-term crops.

She believes that the most important thing is not to change the environment but use what is there.

On Dec. 9, she was at the South Dakota State Railroad Museum signing copies of her book.

One of the people who stopped and picked up a book was interested in Hasselstrom’s story and had a place that her grandparents owned which turned into a challenge.

Hasselstrom said almost everybody has some type of rural background. People’s hearts are still in the land and to keep it the way it is supposed to be.

In a way, that is what Hasselstrom wants to protect: family ranches and places where the American West is still alive.

There is so much that is in grasslands. More than people think, Hasselstrom said.

In order to get across her views about grasslands she intermingles stories about her personal experience so it’s not like a textbook.

“I just don’t want to write an essay about how great grasslands are because I’m not sure people would read it,” Hasselstrom said.

She has interesting stories as she is a rancher.

A lot less of her time is spent ranching these days. According to Hasselstrom, 50 percent of her day is spent writing.

She talks to people about how they use the land and observes what goes on throughout her property. Hasselstrom leases out some of her land and wants it to be properly taken care of.

She likes that she has had the ability to spend a lot of time alone or on a horse.

“I think that is one of the reasons I am a writer,” Hasselstrom said. “You can think a lot on a horse and if you carry a small notebook you can write a lot on a horse.”

She has even written while moving cattle but can also remove herself from the action to write down what she is seeing.

When she finds flowers she likes to find out more information about them but also wants others to know about it too. On her property is the only prairie botanic garden in the world.

Growing up Hasselstrom took English courses because she did well in them. She never took creative writing classes and considers herself more of a journalist.

She has worked for two newspapers and in addition to her books she has written short stories and poems. Hasselstrom wants to tell the truth. It might be tough for her to want to make ranching and ranchers better than they are. Hasselstrom said some of them are not very smart and some can be jerks. In her books she gets to take sides but she said it’s important to remain objective.

“I always try to remember what I was taught about trying to see both sides of the story,” Hasselstrom said.

“That has made me a greater writer in some of these later books.”

In addition to her own writing she does writing retreats and e-mail exchanges where she will provide feedback to other writers. Hasselstrom said it is challenging because she can’t see the person’s face and can’t relate to their feelings over e-mail.