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Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills Hardcover – October, 1996

10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

First-time author Norton strikes a fine balance between memoir and nature essay in writing of her homecoming to the wellspring of her childhood memories, the Cedar River of Nebraska. She had come home to nurse the grief of having been raped and of trying to drown the memory of that horrible event in alcohol. "For long years I felt afloat without mooring, without anchor," she writes, until she finally returned to that lean and austere place of childhood pleasures. Her account of finding a psychic center among family and friends is affecting without being sentimental, and Norton writes warmly of the plants and animals that inhabit this place--cranes, curlews, sand roses, and other denizens of the High Plains--and of the people who work the land.

From Publishers Weekly

Growing up in a small Nebraska town, Norton had a magical childhood until her mother abruptly abandoned her family. Because of this and another traumatic event (shortly after college, she was raped and beaten by a stranger who left her for dead), life seemed meaningless, and for years she wandered aimlessly around the country, drinking, smoking pot, overeating and trying to run away from herself. In 1984, Norton returned for six months to the cabin on Lake Ericson in the Nebraska Sandhills, where she and her family had spent their summers, ostensibly to complete graduate school by writing about the place but actually to come to grips with her troubled past. Six years later, she went again to the Sandhills, this time to discover that the land she considered idyllic was suffering from its own problems?soil depletion, lakes fouled by farm chemicals, limited water resources. In this memoir, Norton recounts with disarming simplicity her attempts to find a purpose in life by returning to her childhood home, weaving her story together with sensitive descriptions of the windswept dunes, the vegetation, the wildlife and the people of the endangered Sandhills. Norton teaches writing at the Neahkahnie Institute in Oregon. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 219 pages
  • Publisher: Picador USA; 1 edition (October 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312145918
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312145910
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,926,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


Lisa is a specialist in memoir writing and narrative nonfiction.

Ever since she was a kid, Lisa has looked at a piece of writing and thought about its structure--what a particular author is doing at any given point in the writing to make a point or draw the reader forward, or make him laugh, or cry.

When she was in college she would tear apart articles in "Esquire" and "The New Yorker" writing in the margins of the magazines about what was happening NOW, and then NOW!, as the writer careened through the twists and turns of the story. (You can imagine how that pleased other readers in the household.)

Ever since then Lisa has been writing different forms of narrative nonfiction (nonfiction that has a storyline), and teaching other people how to do it, too.

She works privately with writers around the globe who want to pen stories that include parts of their life journey, teaches classes on-line at her website (, and speaks at conferences, colleges, and universities about the power of the written personal narrative to transform lives.

Lisa is sure that writing down a narrative about your life has the power to take your understanding of your life into a new realm.

"The power of story," she says, "is transformative. This power is built right into the bones of story, the very structure of what a story is, what it must do."

And what is that?

Lisa: "A story needs to present the reader with a question, or a problem, trouble let's say, and then take the reader on a journey of exploration that addresses that question. In the end the reader needs to feel he has learned something new, right along with the narrator, the person telling the story.

"When you apply that basic structure to the personal narrative (a story about your life) there is, by default, some change in perception about the material explored that has to happen. In memoir, that means a change in perception about your life.

Lisa's book SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR is about helping people go on that journey of exploration, and about having fun while doing it.

Lisa welcomes invitations to talk about all this in your classroom or to your writing group, or to help you write your life story:

Lisa lives in Santa Fe.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on July 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Part memoir, part travelogue, Norton's book centers around her family's cabin on a small lake on the edge of the Nebraska Sandhills. The story is told in three parts: her childhood at the lake in the 1950s and 60s, a sojourn there in 1984 where she sets out to write a thesis and settles instead into a job at a small-town bar and becomes romantically involved with a man she meets there, and a return visit several years later as she crisscrosses the Sandhills gathering material for a book.

Read uncritically, the book is a rhapsody of appreciation for the beauty of the Sandhills and a story of recovery, from a violent sexual assault far from home and a subsequent period of hard drinking and restless wandering. It speaks of the healing powers of nature and of the search for a lost self through memories of childhood innocence.

Read more critically, the book often doesn't quite follow through with some of the themes it puts forward. I wanted to know more about her relationship with her mother after her parents' divorce, an event that shattered Norris' world. While her accounts of the men she came to know there as an adult (most of them cowboys who are predatory in their attraction to her) are vivid and unsettling, I would like to have learned more about how she came to feel safe with a man again and to love.

Her roaming around Nebraska in the last part of the book tends to be a catalogue of places seen without getting much beneath the surface of them. There's a little history, some talk of the impact of corn and cattle on the environment, and many references to the depletion of the great underground reservoir, the Ogallala Aquifer.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By on May 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book was so much more than I had anticipated. I initially bought the book because it's about an area of the country that I know well. I found it to be a moving narrative about recovery and growth. It's about coming back from the edge. The author does a masterful job of explaining the healing power of home. I look forward to what she writes of next. This is a book by a woman that will be very readable by women, but not limited to women. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's not quite clear what the subject of Hawk Flies Above: Journey to the Heart of the Sandhills is. Is Norton's subject the Sandhills of Nebraska, the land Norton experienced during the three seasons that are the subject of this book, the seasons of a child, a wounded adult and finally a successful journalism instructor? Or is her subject her recovery from being abandoned by her mother and later brutally raped by a stranger? If her subject is the Sandhills what purpose is served by her digressions into the trauma she experienced? And if her subject is her own recovery, why isn't that recovery developed? We never know why her mother left or how Norton and her mother repaired their relationship although we see the two women together after their separation. We never know how Norton regained her ability to relate healthily with men. She tells us about a relationship to which she is unable to commit but we never know why. Norton writes about herself from a distance, as if she is still afraid to allow herself or others to get close.

Norton does tell us that the land helped her heal. The reader cannot doubt the importance the land holds for her for it is in writing about the land itself that Norton shines. Her vivid, careful observations are stark but filled with life as is the land itself. But how the land helped her heal is left woefully vague.

And the story of the land is also incomplete. In Part 3, the final part of the book, she begins to explore the adverse impact cattle ranching and the excessive growing of corn are having on the land. But these are themes that are new to the book and not supported by what has come before.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on December 30, 2007
Format: Paperback
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).
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