Prairie Ribbons

Rusted steel ribbons spiked down on creosote ties
Connected dreams to ambitions with dollars and a note.
Silver tracks pointed westward reflecting bright prairie skies
Passenger trains paused at despots allowing bankers to promote

Crowds listened closely seeking a regions familiar word
Stories filled with promises, backed by early settler’s success.
Distributed by first year explorers, repeating what they heard
Hard work is the moral, no one suggested less.

Land is turned by team or yoke and planted with desire
Potatoes are set deep in the furrow to break the age old grass
A hardy root to feed the farm and any extra buyer
A fitting meal for a prairie home, to make a season pass.

Dakota winters came and go, silver tracks remain just there
And each few years more neighbors left, seeking changes in the setting.
But some prairie homes were built to last; sod walls still enclose the stair.
A solid foundation held their dream and a life with no regretting.

– Clarence Holm

What else is left?

Dad stretched the wire, full of double twisted barbs
Along the newly dried section line, where drain tiles run so deep.
Cud chewing cattle eyeing the sweet uncut clover
Guarded by the fence line, too high for cattle to leap.

Above the geese keep flying, historic wetlands gone.
Potholes once patrolled by rows of twisting sentries; Ash, Elm, and Oak,
No longer guarding fragile prairie life, no longer providing forest cover
Cut down, bulldozed, and covered by a brittle honeysuckle cloak.

Land once turned by a single bottom steel edged plow,
Farmer guided oxen powered cutting knives, that changed a prairie stage.
Working from sun-up to down, unknowingly ensuring the family’s doom.
Extracting a generation’s promise, for less than a living wage.

160 acres homesteads, bought by five years toil.
Advertised as paradise, with fertile land to secure.
Desperate Swedes and Germans, Russians and Norwegians too
Most ended up with nothing, except crumpled railroad brochures.

-Clarence Holm

Slow Dancing Prairie

Sadly, it’s much easier to create a desert than a forest.

– James Lovelock

Before mankind struggled on this land, the prairie was home to a vast amount of life. With no one to interfere, the land flourished and provided sustenance for the prairie animals and flora. It was only with the introduction of the steel plough, allowing the prairie sod to be cut and turned, breaking the ancient bond of heaven and earth, was the balance broken.

Slow Dancing Prairie
– Clarence Holm

Summer spirits ride with the wind and throw lightning bolts
Rolling like tympani to echo the hillside’s delight.
Fox and coyote runs to cover, forsaking easy prey
Storms clouds are churning adding terror to nature’s plight.

Twisting, turning, slow dancing prairie winds
Carving and cutting bold rhythms in the earth.
Partnering with rivers and cold seasonal streams
Transforming terrains, allowing grassland’s regular rebirth.

Buffalo look to heaven, casting a wary eye
And begin bracing for the storm.
They’ve roamed these meadows for eons
And have mastered every norm.

Nature and spirit working in harmony
Making alterations and feeding the land.
Balancing changes following cosmic instruction
Working for heaven, just as God planned.

When Pride Is All You Have

As dusk approaches in the rural Midwest, farmers grab their hats to go for a drive. “Gotta check the crops” my Grandpa would say as he drove slowly down the dusty gravel roads. It was a time tested tradition, a friendly competition to make sure you were the best.

Who had the staightest furrows, whose equipment was fastest, was under inspection… and judgement!

– Clarence Holm

Tractor furrows judged with a sociable squint,
Cast from trucks through window’s blueish tint.
Assessing neighbor’s and guaging the men,
Measuring their worth, checking at dawn and evening again

Pride is valued highly by those who worked the fields,
When no payments were given for all of their yields.
When what little you had was in your heart,
And effort and commitment held you apart.

Some men crack under the load
When fate filled them with forebode.
Dreaded thoughts of failure became all too real
As creditors brought accountants with no room for appeal

A man’s worth is more than a simple measure
Of one seasons work held hostage by some weather.
That’s why farmers work so hard each day,
To leave their best efforts on display.

The Final Remnants

Trains that brought the hunters hauled out the bones.

Trains that brought the hunters hauled out the bones.

The survival of the early homesteaders of the prairie depended on fully unitizing the resources that were easily available; Sod substituted for wood in the earliest dwellings, potatoes planted under furrows to break up the turned sod, providing hardy meals or the gathering of bones of the bison; the final remains of the rotting carcasses left by the contract hunters, who decimated the great herds, while only being interested in the best meat and hides.

The 1880’s brought many settlers to the prairie who found their future farms covered with these buffalo bones. At first these bones were seen as a nuisance, another chore in the task of clearing the fields. But, it didn’t take long for the struggling Minnesota sugar beet industry to take advantage of the bone bonanza. Cleaned and dried, buffalo bones were ground up for fertilizer or transformed into charcoal, which was used to clarify the sugar, giving us the white sugar we are all use to putting on our cornflakes.

Cash starved homesteaders could have the entire family out on the prairie gathering the bones and stockpiling them. The settles hauled the bones to the railroad which bought the bones for about $10.00 a ton, enough money to keep the family going in those early years.


senseless plain slaughter-
bison bones collected for
homestead salvation

– Clarence Holm



I play solitaire!

I play it because I enjoy it. I like the simple challenge of mixing suits only to later realign the ranks.

When I win, all is right with the world, the stars are momentarily united into one numerical plane. I like that! When I lose, I reshuffle and start again. Red on black, black on red, and then each to their own kind.

My grandmother taught me the game as a child, with a worn deck of cards. She said it was a perfect game; quick to play, no other players needed, with very little in the way of set-up. In fact, there was even virtue in the skill of the shuffle and the deal. Seven piles, top card exposed.

Thanks Grandma! I hope to see you again, after I’ve been shuffled about and then reunited with my kind.



Frost heaved remnant out on the plain,
Exposed to the weather and pounded by the rain.
Some sedimentary rock, from the bottom of a sea
Rose in swales to be collected as debris.

Senseless journeys that churn the soil,
They leave no trace and are absent turmoil.
They anchor the prairie and provide an edge,
For life seeking substance, boldly claiming a hedge.

A witness to history, silent and strong
An observer half buried, no right and no wrong.
Wind and rain work eons shaping a face
That speaks no words to spoil the place.

– Clarence Holm

The Prairie Meadow Farm

– Clarence Holm

You may have noticed the new header on my blog. It is another one of the pictures held by the Carver County Historical Society of my Great Grandfather’s Farm in Barnes County, ND.  It’s nice picture of the seven threshing crews cutting grain circa 1900.

John Erickson Holm owned as many of 6 sections of land along with a Mercantile Store in Cuba, ND and farmed a few more for his cousin John Anderson.  A section of land is equal to 640 acres or one square mile. All of this was accomplished with a combination of horse and manpower. His strategy was to plant till harvest began and harvest through fall and winter.

Pictured are the sons and hired help harvesting the land. My great grandmother wrote to one of her cousins “I am so glad we were able to build a bunk house, so those smelly smoking boys are out of the house!” Great Grandpa and his boys were well known for working hard, smoking and drinking a beer or two. He was also proud of the fact that he had made enough money to marry off his girls and give each child a section of land to start their life.

So Much To See In a Photo

– Clarence Holm

I posted a picture yesterday of two of my Aunts holding my father as a baby. All three plus their younger siblings have passed away. This picture is such a wonderful reminder of them. That is why sharing this with family and friends brings me such pleasure.

I spend so much time collecting and sharing genealogy, I do it as a way of keeping people I love with me. I look at the picture of my father and his sisters and they speak to me. The older girl seems to be holding her little brother so tightly as to protect him from the world. The other, the second oldest, is close, but is holding back a little bit, perhaps unsure of what this little boy is going to do to her position in the family.

Both girls are beautifully clothed, with their hair up in bows.  What is unseen is the fact that these children live on a farm in North Dakota, miles from the nearest city – No running water, bath water warmed on a stove. Their mother, my grandmother took great care in getting them ready for this picture.

That tenderness my grandmother shows through this picture. It’s could be easy for me to remember only her as working in the garden, pulling weeds or yelling at us for chasing and bothering the cattle in the pasture. She had a tough life, her father along with three sibling died before she was five. Her mother remarried a widower who had 5 children from the previous marriage and then 10 more before dying in childbirth with the 11th. My Grandmother helped raise them all.

She could have been excused for harboring some resentment because of a tough life – but she didn’t.

As the eldest boy, my father worked hard on the farm and I would like to think I have inherited some of his North Dakotan stoicism allowing me to accept that hard work is part of life.

But mainly I would like these people to know that through and because of them I am able to see beauty in so many parts of my life.