Linda M. Hasselstrom. Between Grass and Sky: Where I Live And Work. Nevada: Reno, 2002. 215 pp.
Reviewed by Cameron Cushing.
In a world in which ranchers are becoming a dying breed, Linda Hasselstrom discusses the importance that ranching has to our American West. In a beautiful writing style, she tells her readers stories of her youth while growing up on her father’s ranch in South Dakota. “Just enjoy the experience, and know that this writer, flesh and blood created of grass-fed beef, is somewhere on the prairie, between grass and sky,” she writes (19). Hasselstrom’s central theme in Between Grass and Sky is how hard ranching is, and why it is essential to the health of the American West’s prairies and forests.
Between Grass and Sky is a compilation of short essays. In one chapter, Hasselstrom tells a story about something that happened on the ranch while she was growing up and that she learned from her father to respect all that nature has to offer; in another chapter, she explores how humans destroyed nature by developing condos or shooting anything that moved. Then another chapter discusses how important ranching is to the West. She shows that allowing livestock to graze, but not over-graze, improves plant life, keeps un-wanted weeds away, promotes healthy grass to grow, decreases erosion, and helps the surrounding wildlife. Going into the battle between ranchers and environmentalists, Hasselstrom indicates that extreme environmentalists believe that cows should all be killed because they presumably destroy prairies and that ranchers shoot everything in sight. Instead of arguing against these environmentalists Hasselstrom wants environmentalists and ranchers to come together and discuss how they could help create a healthier American West.
Hasselstrom’s style is intriguing and sometimes also amusing: “These days, some folks venerate golden girls and coins, expensive cars and politicians with stiff hair. All are more liable to double-cross us than an honest rattlesnake” (79). As readers find themselves in awe over her description of nature–the wildlife, the hills, the prairies, the mountains, the trees–Hasselstrom also discusses the hard work she went through daily on her father’s ranch: learning to mow hay underneath the hot summer sun at the age of ten, trying not to hit baby deer in the waist-high alfalfa, and constantly having to twist and turn in the old tractor seat to the point when she woke up the next morning she couldn’t move her neck at all, let alone her body. These are only a few examples of what Hasselstrom endured as a young child. Similarly, her winter stories about life on her father’s ranch are both shocking and eye-opening.
Hasselstrom’s approach of telling her readers stories of her life and mixing in what she thinks is essential to our American West is both effective and entertaining. However, the very last chapter called “Rising From The Condos” seems unnecessary and out of place. Throughout the book Hasselstrom focuses on personal accounts, but this chapter talks about the explosive population growth in Jackson, Wyoming, around 1977. The chapter does not speak about ranching. Although the chapter was meaningful, it is out of place here and would be better suited in another book.
Between Grass and Sky doesn’t cover things up; Hasselstrom admits ranchers have made mistakes, and she doesn’t make false claims about environmentalists like some do about ranchers. Hasselstrom wants her readers to understand the truth and she does it by not telling her readers but by showing them. Ranchers have been in the American West for centuries and have been essential in creating a healthy American West that not only benefits the land but Americans overall as well. Hasselstrom convincingly shows that today, however, ranchers are being forced to sell their land to harassing developers because they can’t afford to live on their family’s ranch anymore. Struggling to keep their heads above the ground, ranchers are truly becoming extinct.