Leaning Into the Wind:
Women Write from the Heart of the West

by Linda Hasselstrom, Gaydell Collier, and Nancy Curtis

Houghton Mifflin, 1997. ISBN 0395901316.
Reviewed by Susan Wittig Albert
Posted on 01/08/2001

Nonfiction: Memoir; Anthologies/Collections; Nonfiction: Nature/Place/Environment

Real women are all around us, but we are so used to seeing through the spectacles of our stereotypes that we don't always recognize them. The editors of this grand and courageous anthology, three ranchwomen who got fed up with the way Western women are imagined ("slim blonds in tight jeans on prancing palominos, or musclebound heifers who look and smell like old leather"), have given us the Real Thing—and we all ought to be enduringly grateful. Leaning Into the Wind is an amazing collection of writing by women of the High Plains, a chorus of distinctive voices, each speaking her own strong language. In it you will read bits of memoir about milking, lame horses, cowmoms, and sleeping with the pigs. You'll hear chilling descriptions of weather and winter, poetry about coyotes singing, a recipe for bug spray—and throughout, the voices of extraordinary women working, loving, mothering, living. The editors sifted manuscripts from 550 women in six Western states—"a tower of submissions twelve feet high" that included photo albums, letters, handwritten pages, diaries, and more—to give us this collection.

And a marvelous collection it is, with sections such as "Growing into the Land," "Pay a Holy Kind of Attention," and "The River of Stories." But the only way to tell you about this rare book is to give you a taste of it. Here are a few bits and pieces to whet your appetite for more:

The cow pivoted in the center of the corral, refusing to let me get behind her. The last thing I needed right now was a modest cow.

I could have used a warm breeze instead of the icy wind. Or grass underfoot—that would have been easier to walk over than powdery snow and frozen manure. But most of all, I could have used a glimpse into the future the day we decided to double our beef herd.—Audrey A. Keith

My Aunt Mary told me that she never saw my mother sit down unless she was breast-feeding one of us. She did not have the time or energy to care for so many children. Her sixth child was a son, which made my father happy; the baby lived only eight months.

After five years on the North Dakota homestead my mother was committed to an asylum in Jamestown, where she died three years later...In the asylum, my mother gave birth to her seventh child, a daughter. Friends of the family adopted her.—Ann Vontz

I carry the ranch inside me. I can close my eyes and see every sticky weed around our house, the gopher holes, the path to the coal house and the privy. And I can feel my feet on the path as I run barefoot from our house to the ranch house where the corrals wedge against the cottonwoods that line the river...Could there have been any other kind of childhood? There would have been no frontier in my mind, no wide open space that led on and on.—Phyllis Luman Metal

The prairie is in me like the dirt is in the earth.—Bernie Koller

I've loved good men and rode good horses.—Karen Obrigewitch

Just give me a vaccine gun in each hand and stand back!—Jody Strand

This is the story I want to tell you. The land helped save me. The fine dust like hot powder between my toes. The earth smelling of decaying roots and honeycombed with tunnels of wormholes. Daytime mud puddles alive with black tadpoles; the nighttime thrumming of toad concerts. The lone nightingale. The meadowlarks, red-winged blackbirds, and mourning doves. Ice storms, and the crystal-pink glowing midnight hour of an aurora borealis. All this, and the storms over the high plains.—Morgan Songi

Dear heavenly Father,
I've been thinking it over and I
   Just don't know.
Are there horses in heaven
   or hayfields to mow?
In this sweet black soil
   How the roots grow!

Maybe for me, less than eternity if I could just stay. Earth is enough. My hands are restless and rough; All wrong for the harp anyway. —Donna Parks

These stories ring with authority, truth, anger, fear, sadness, longing, strength. They are the authentic stories of women whose lives are living testimony to the way the roots grow in the sweet soil of the High Plains, under the shadow of the mountain, "between God and the ground." They show us that Earth can be enough, and teach us how to live our lives in the spaces between necessity and hope.

Read this book, please. It is nothing short of wonderful.

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