Hawk Flies Above:
Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills

by Lisa Dale Norton

Picador, 1996. ISBN 0312168616.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 10/12/2005

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

Lisa Dale Norton writes about place. She writes about how place affects her, how place slowly and patiently healed her, about the wind, the water, the plants, the birds and the people of a certain place—the Nebraska Sandhills, filling the entire northcental part of Nebraska. And she writes even more specifically about Ericson, Nebraska, and her family summer home, the Big Six Country Club on Lake Ericson.

She writes lyrically about how much she loves the Sandhills, about the nature of the Sandhills and how she knows that she is only a secondary character is this vast hilly, sandy, treeless and marshy prairie. Interspersed between the stages of who she was and is are lovely vignettes from her notebooks about the unchanged, here, and the changing, there. By the end of the book, she wonders how long the water table will support the people she loves and the landscape she is passionate about.

But she also writes her own story, that of feeling abandoned by her mother as a young teen, about being attacked, raped and left for dead in her twenties and about her healing and regaining trust. "The things we do in our twenties and thirties are pilgrimages to find lost pieces of our youth." After years away from The Big Six Country Club, she returns to write her master's thesis on Ericson and The Hungry Horse Saloon. Although she writes in her journals and photographs life, she drifts through that summer and fall not knowing that she must wait and just be in that place for the healing to commence. Norton writes of equating growth with movement and finally realizing that inner landscape must be cultivated with stillness.

Norton's Notebooks are filled with prose poetry (the in-between vignettes). In "Dragonflies," she writes "Their gossamer wings moved like wind through riverside grass. Sometimes in flight, a dragonfly would coast, riding a current but only for a moment. I dreamed those magical creatures were relics from another age and I was some clever character, kneeling at water's edge gathering flowers."

In her narrative, she writes, "What succor is it, then, that rises from remembering, from the stories I tell? Slowly I come to believe that the mere telling itself is food for my soul. Story nurtures. I tell a story and I feel more whole."—as it is with us all.

Yet this is not a sweet and sentimental book. Norton writes with an edge of expectation, moving us forward to see the beginning of healing. She writes of the history of the land and the people as well as her family, long time Nebraska citizens. She writes, "What purpose do these stories serve, which rise from my childhood and haunt me as I travel these hills? I can not give up the belief that these memories, burning like lamps in the night shine through to me for a reason. Could it be a simple as the power of those things we love rising to remind us that we must name them? If I do not name those things I love, who will know what is worth saving and what can be let go?"

This is a good book. It tells of a life, a place and a heart that is healed.

Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills may be obtained from the author; contact her via her website.

(See another review of this book, here)

Check out our interview with the author of Hawk Flies Above.

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