Awestruck and thankful for starry night

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I am out walking the dogs at dusk. To my left, the western horizon is alight with yellow and orange and red streaks. On my right, the eastern horizon is so blue it looks like an azure sea of moving water, and the grass swaying below it is yellow as lemon custard. 

It’s cold, but not bitter, and I walk fast. My young dogs tangle together, wrestling and barking, making their own wild games as they go. 

My old dog walks two steps behind me, watching to make sure I’m okay. She’s getting old, and she works hard guarding the ranch, so I wish she’d stay home and rest instead of following me around, but she won’t hear of it. Looking after me when I wander around at twilight is one of her responsibilities, and she takes them all very seriously. 

The four of us meander to the ridge where the first draw splits our north pasture in two. I walk down into the draw’s dark bottom and then up the other side. The trees are just shadows, but there’s still some snow caught in the tall grass. 

Most of the snow melted during last week’s warm afternoons, and what’s left glows white against the silhouettes of trunks and branches. I hike up and around. The dogs follow. 

When I cross back over, I realize dusk is past; it’s night and it’s getting dark fast. I quicken my pace while the dogs race ahead. Seeing that I’ve turned homeward, Ellie lopes off too. She’s got other work to do now that it is nightfall. 

Solitude

I’m left alone with only the grass and the faint brush of wind for company. There are no trees to drop branches, few holes or even divots in this section of the pasture, so even though I can’t see very well, I don’t stumble. I trust my feet will find the ground beneath the tall, yellow grasses, and they do. 

I’ve almost reached the gate to the little pasture directly behind the house when I have the funniest thought. I’m tired. More tired than I’d expect to be considering I slept well last night. And suddenly I think: “Wow, it would feel great to lay down right here in this soft grass.” 

My more practical self immediately responds, “No, it wouldn’t! It would be cold and hard and damp.” I take a few more steps trying to decide whose side I’m on and then my body decides for me. I lay down and say aloud, “I can always get back.” 

As soon as my back touches the soil, I am overwhelmed by the feeling that this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The ground is neither hard nor damp, and I am wearing a warm coat, so I’m not a bit cold. My face is circled by waving grasses, and directly overhead the dark blue sky is woven with luminous woolly clouds. 

Mesmerized

As I lay, breathless with amazement, I spot the first twinkling star peeking from between the wispy, white fingers of the clouds, tiny as a baby’s fingernail, as a lost diamond, as a miracle. 

The star looks like it is moving, but it’s the clouds that are moving. The star appears and disappears and reappears again. It remains still, but I can’t shake the sensation that is traveling somewhere, and I’m invited. 

Beneath me the ground softens. If I were the kind of being that grew roots, I’d be growing them now. 

When I finally stand up and walk home, I mean to go to my writing shack and begin this column. I’m planning to tell you about last week’s feasting and celebration of gratitude and about the gorgeous ram my friend brought all the way from Minnesota to ensure some finely fleeced lambs will arrive this spring. 

But when I sit down to type, I keep thinking of that dark sky full of soft clouds, and of that star, unwavering in its small magic. And when I begin to write, I write this instead. 

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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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