Photo by Sandy Benson, used with permission by Lyn Messersmith.Lyn Messersmith and her son, Martain DeNaeyer, are headed out to round up a stray.
Do you ever wonder what life would be like on one of the ranches in the Sandhills? The rolling hills and deep river valleys? Do you wonder what it would be like to wake up with the sun and have to feed a herd of cattle instead of rushing to getting ready to head to the office?
Is life slower? Is it grander? Simpler?
You can find out about cowboy and cowgirl ways at the 20th annual Nebraska Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Old West Days which will be celebrated October 6-9, 2011 in Valentine, NE.
One of the talented poets, Lyn Messersmith, will be the Host for the Saturday evening performance which begins at 7:30 p.m. She recently completed her book My Sister Mariah, The Journal of a Windwalker. Lyn will let you in, one day at a time, not just on daily activities, but how the land attached itself to her heart. These aren't words she'd tell you in conversation, this is much more intimate.
There are lessons as well...daily lessons. Not just cowboy or cowgirl lessons either. They're lessons of the heart, soul, and it goes without saying, the land, the open sky and the way the wind is always present. It's about the beautiful, life sustaining Sandhills.
Let's find out from Lyn what her motivations were when writing this wonderful glimpse into the western ways:
What was your inspiration for this assignment?
I’ve never really fit into the traditional mold of spirituality, because guidance comes most clearly to me through nature. Over time, this conviction became so strong that it seemed like I was being given marching orders to put it in words and share it.
Did you really write it a day at a time? How long did it take to complete?
The book was written a day at a time, over the period of one year, based on whatever experiences or lessons came to me that day. So the actual writing took a year, but revisions were ongoing. After about six revisions I began querying publishers.
As you’re journaling about life on the ranch, are the stories true? Embellished? Maybe a little? Not at all?
The stories are true; so true, in fact, that it was hard to share my heart some of the time. And yet, I knew that part of this “assignment” was meant for my healing and understanding of life experiences, so I plunged ahead anyhow.
Who was your best encourager? Or maybe you didn’t need one?
My encourager, as always, is my husband Bruce. He’s also a good critique, and honest about what doesn’t work, while respecting my right to be wrong!
Do you write day or night, or whenever an idea comes to mind? Scraps of paper stuffed here and there until it gets to the computer?
Writing is a disciplined occupation, and yet my life is more of a patchwork quilt, in regard to routine. I don’t set aside a particular time of day to write, but there are notebooks all over my house and scraps of paper in glove boxes of vehicles.I’ve been known to write a word on scraps of feed sacks with marking chalk meant for cattle, or scribble on the back of my hand when no paper is available. I seldom compose on a keyboard. The connection between my hand and the pen flows best for me.
Is this your latest book? How many books to your credit?
My Sister Mariah is my latest book. I have two books of poetry, Downwind from the Smoke (1994) and Ground Tied (2004)
and my friend Deb Carpenter-Nolting and I collaborated on a book/CD based on pioneer women’s diaries which is called The Heart’s Compass. We also have a CD about people who helped open the West, which is titled Leaders and Legends.
Ground Tied won a Will Rogers Medallion from the Academy of Western Artists.
Do you have others in the works? One that’s being a bugger? Stinker? Or do they all seem to just flow?
I knew from the get-go that Mariah would have a limited audience because it is written from the perspective of a rural woman. But I also knew better than to mess with the assignment. This wasn’t MY idea! I did query about 60 publishers, and some were interested but it didn’t fit their genre or they felt it wouldn’t sell well enough to be a good investment. So most of my savings went into the self publication of it. I almost left it lying on a shelf, but my training has always been to turn in the homework, whether or not I got a good grade, so that’s why you have the book on your shelf!
I don’t know if I’ll publish another book. Right now I’m working on a collection of stories about the people I grew up with and the community that has held me together for three score and ten. It would fall into the category of memoir, but whether there’s anything of general interest may be questionable. It seems somehow important to leave a record of the way we were, in those days, for my kids and grandkids.
What I have come to know is this. Most of the time I don’t know what I think until it falls out of my pen onto paper. So writing is both spiritual practice and a way to ground myself, and I will always be writing. Often I begin with an idea and find it going somewhere totally unexpected. Writers know that when this happens it means they were paying attention. I hope I never stop paying attention!
Lyn has done a magical job of capturing the Sandhills and the spirit of the people who live here very eloquently. You can pick up a copy of the book at Plains Trading Company on Main Street in Valentine or write to her at: 4241 269th Trail, Alliance, NE 69301. The cost of the book is $20.00 which includes tax and postage.
It would be great to come out to Old West Days and meet Lyn and pick up a copy of her book for yourself and for a great friend! What a way to share the courage, strength, determination, and zeal of the Sandhills...My Sister Mariah, The Journal of a Windwalker.