Candy Moulton: Reading the West 9-12-11
Big Piney, Wyo., ranch woman Helena Linn has written two fine novels that capture the essence of ranch life.
Kate Webster flees her city life following the death of her husband and infant son to find solace in Wyoming. She intends to join a friend in Jackson Hole, but first detours to the ranch her grandparents once owned, and where she had spent some of her teen-age days. But this city dweller fails to understand the land and how it change from pleasant fall day to winter storm almost in an instant.
As a result, she finds herself stuck in a ranch bunkhouse with Jake McClary, with whom she’d had a run-in as a teenager, and Charlie Grady, as accommodating to the unexpected houseguest as Jake is unwelcoming.
As winter settles in and the men deal with the very real struggles to feed the cattle each day, Kate takes over the domestic chores, struggling with operating (and cleaning) the separator, finding ways to provide a Christmas gift to each of the men when there is no way – and no place – to shop. She takes her own turn outside helping with the feeding chores, and though the long winter comes to grips with her sorrow and loneliness.
But as spring returns to the land, she finds it necessary to leave the haven at the ranch and go to Jackson Hole, where all is not as she expected it to be since her friend, now engaged, is leaving for the Pacific Northwest.
“Summer and Sagebrush” picks up the story where “Winter” leaves off, and soon Kate and Jake are making their home together as husband and wife. They still live in the bunkhouse with Charlie an ever-present house companion. These two books constitute a saga in that they present the story of this ranch family through the generations.
Linn accurately portrays the lifestyle, the struggles of making a place pay, and the joys that come from being neighborly. While the plots of both books are somewhat predictable, these are good reads with nuances of the lifestyle of ranchers, no profanity, and characters you truly get to know.
The cover art for each book is done by Linn’s brother, Donny Marincic, an accomplished artist and skilled wagon driver. He and I have spent many a day traveling the overland trails on the Mormon and California Trails. His realistic ranch art is a welcome addition to the novels.
Both “Winter in the Bunkhouse” and “Summer and Sagebrush” are published by Seven Cross Lazy L Productions.
A nice companion book in the same spirit as Linn’s novels is “Always Plenty to Do: Growing Up on a Farm in the Long Ago” by Pamela Riney-Kehrberg and published by Texas Tech University Press. This slim book is a story of childhood on farms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Drawn from primary sources from the Great Plains and Midwest, this reveals what farm children saw, heard, tasted and did. There are stories of lunch pails filled with biscuit “sandwiches,” of living in homemade houses, eating homemade food, wearing homemade clothing, and treating illnesses with homemade medicines.
There are tales of holiday festivities from Halloween where “The lanterns were all lighted and big pumpkins were placed all around the room” and “the ghosts sold popcorn and candy. The witches sold fortunes at a table and two of the girls had them [visitors] guess the number of grains of corn in a bottle.”
And of course there are stories of childhood games and play times, where little girls used corncobs like Lincoln logs and old crates or boxes became a play kitchen.