Only those who have lived with the land, dirty ragged fingernails, clinging cow smell, persistent winds, wildflowers, chokecherry jelly, dandelion wine or crackling wood fires will really appreciate this book for what it is -- a chronicle of reality snapshots of life on the high plains by the women who cried, moved, laughed and loved within those moments they describe.
A combination of essays and poetry, the sentiment is as varied as the lives of the women who lived them, but as universal to the high plains of the American west as the dry relentless winds and the freezing drifting snow. But I think all of you will enjoy the antidotes and poems about the hardships, loneliness, humor, and attachment to the earth as told by those who lived them. - Naomi Sherer - Here are some intriguing opening sentences:
Phyllis M. Letellier begins her story: "Blowing snow immediately plasters my
glasses and all the cold-weather clothing I own isn't enough to deter the
twenty-five-mile-an-hour wind at twenty below." ...as she tells of her
experiences struggling through blizzards to tend her lambing ewes.
Nellie A. O'Brien says: "Before farm subsidies, soil banks, social security, and welfare payments came the age of survival, maybe even survival of the fittest. Nature was to be conquered, a living wrested from her. Every predator was an enemy to be shot on sight. Wild animals fell into two categories: those that could be used for food or profit, and competitors." ...as she traps muskrats so she can buy store-bought clothes for school.
Nancy Curtis has a neat twist on tradition when she describes: "Ranching is a job nearly perfectly suited to women. Most jobs that involve caretaking --raising children, teaching school, nursing, caring for the elderly -- have traditionally been women's work. And ranching, at least the day-to-day tending of livestock, is based on the same skills as these traditional women's jobs. I can't imagine two more similar occupations than cowboy and mother. In fact, the similarities are so obvious that I wonder why cowboys weren't, from the very beginning, called "cowmoms." ...as she goes on to give examples of intuitively handling cows that reflect experience with kids or vice versa.
Lucille Cress Baker recalls: "We moved to this very barren soil, built a boxcar-type palace -- oh, palace, did I say? Oh no, 'twas what most would call a shack, but you know a shack can be a palace if it's where you live, where there's love and a family." ...as she tells of getting water from streams, using kerosene lamps to turn back the darkness, and driving cattle out of sage brush and cactus, wary of rattlesnakes.
Elizabeth Canfield watches a fox: "She didn't know that I watched from the north window. For several days I saw her move like a little ghost, alert, testing the air with her sharp vixen's nose, slipping out of sight at the least sound or movement." ...knowing that she must have that fox destroyed to protect the chickens and lambs that were their livelihood.
Nancy Heyl Ruskowsky reveals: "According to some Native Americans, the seven directions include the four compass points, the heavens above, the earth below, and the seventh, the most important: inward, into the territory of the heart and spirit." ...experiencing with her daughters lessons that dispel fears of the night.
Nellie Westerskow says simply: "By the time I filed for my homestead, I knew my neighbor Nels was a good, kind gentleman, so when he asked me to marry him, I said I would." ...and goes on to tell of riding cottonwood draws, mending broken fences, shooting ducks for a welcome change of diet, seeding oats by hand, and milking cows back in 1921.
Hardcover, 388 pages
When Cowgirls Get Down Off Their Horses and Write on April 15, 1998.
Copyright © 1997 Naomi Sherer - All Rights Reserved