An undercover country girl returns to town

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This week marks 10 years since I moved to the ranch, and to celebrate, we moved off the ranch. Yes, you read that right! In a surprise twist that no one, including us, saw coming, we are now residents of the tiny prairie town that sits adjacent to our east pasture.

Lest you think the purview of this column will be permanently altered, I hasten to add we are still spending most daylight hours on the ranch. Our new house is on the edge of city limits; we can almost see our fence line from our new back door. But we are definitely in town, with neighbors and a paved road, and a view of the grain elevator by the highway.

I’ve joked in the past that I’ve got a hobby farm on the ranch, accidentally turning livestock into pets that we therefore never sell, and now it’s literally true. Our new house is set on a two-acre lot that features a narrow red barn with a small fenced corral.

The two orphaned Nigerian dwarf goats who have never served a single purpose other than sweetness will be joining us here, as will our little flock of docile hens. Two of the extremely elderly ewes I don’t want to breed this year will probably winter with us as well. They can get spoiled and we won’t have to worry about them getting mixed in with the bucks.

While creating a separate haven for my menagerie was by no means the intention behind the move, I do think it will be good for my marriage. My husband is an unusually patient and accommodating spouse, but even the coolest heads are liable to heat up when a hundred head of cattle need to be routed around a corral containing a handful of retired sheep, or a wayward chicken decides to start roosting (and pooping) in the cab of the tractor.

And of course, there’s the issue of the barn cats that keep trying to become house cats and rush the door every time we enter or exit. If you ask my husband, in fact, he will tell you escaping these cats is the sole reason for the move.

The real reason is more complicated. We’ve known for a while that if we wanted to keep living full-time in our 110-year-old ranch house, we’d need to make significant investments in plumbing, new wiring, a new roof and new windows.

Moreover, we had no idea what we would find when we started opening up walls and digging up pipes. The house was built long before records or codes, so our septic system is a mystery as are many other things about the house’s origin story.

The idea of trying to do that kind of rehab — a rehab that will likely take months if not years — while living in the house was daunting. The idea of building an entirely new house was similarly overwhelming.

When this house came up for sale, we decided we should take a look. The rest, as they say, is history, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I came right up to the closing date with significant trepidation.

I spent the first 35 years of my life living in cities and suburbs, so I was shocked to discover I was an undercover country girl, but since transitioning to ranch life it never once occurred to me that I’d live in a town again.

Life does have a funny way of making its own decisions though, and the fact that we now have plumbing that can support a dishwasher and a toilet that consistently flushes has softened the blow. Heating ducts in every room, and windows that don’t ice up on the inside are also pretty great.

Then there is the matter of our closest neighbors: a circle of stately cottonwoods in our new front yard whose branches are full of birds all day long, proving the beauty of the other-than-human-world is all around us even if if the streetlights do make it a little harder to see the stars.

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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.

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