Beauty always finds a way


Spring in western Dakota usually involves quite a few fits and starts. The weather warms. We tumble from our houses in T-shirts praising the sun. The next day it’s back to winter coats and knit caps, and we grumble to our neighbors, “I’m ready for this cold to be over.” The sun returns, and so does our joy — until the next morning when we wake to snow. And so it goes, for most of the months of April and May. 

When spring finally arrives for good, it lasts about a week. It’s a beautiful week brimming with lilacs and chubby bumblebees, gentle breeze and ripening green grass. We do our chores in shirtsleeves without breaking a sweat while the evening pools sweetly around us. 

Then, quite abruptly, it’s the height of summer. The pasture smells like bread baking, the heat of midday leaves hazy mirages on the horizon, and the lilac blossoms turn brown and shrink back to dry seed shells. Our week of spring is over. 

I thought perhaps last week was our week of spring. Then, after only two days, it seemed to be summer, leaving me to wonder if we weren’t going to have a half week of spring this year instead. “Short but sweet,” I thought to myself, as I walked out to check the very last ewe to lamb. I was sweating by the time I found her, and she looked equally miserable and overheated.

Today, it is cold and stormy. Much to my chagrin, I donned a coat and knit cap for chores and wondered if I shouldn’t break out the insulated coveralls as well. The lilacs were late to bloom because it stayed cold longer than usual; many of the buds were nipped by the last freeze a few weeks ago. Thankfully, there were still enough blossoms to bundle into bouquets for graves on Memorial Day, but now, against the gray sky, the bushes look a little shriveled. The buds that remain still aren’t fully flowering. I wonder if they will. Meanwhile, that last ewe hasn’t given birth yet. Instead of worrying she’ll get overheated and exhausted during the exertion of labor, now I am worried about her lambs (I’m pretty sure it is twins) getting chilled down by cold wind and rain. 

I’ve written many times before about how April and May are by far the most intense on our ranch. Lambs and calves are born at all hours and in all kinds of weather. One day I’ll be sweating in short sleeves, trying to turn a lamb that’s in a breech presentation, and the next day my husband will appear on the porch, his coat soaked through from sleet and snow, carrying a chilled-down newborn calf in his arms. Apparently this year the dance party between winter, spring, and summer is continuing into June. 

Thank goodness we are tough. The plants that grow here without aid do so because a thousand years of evolution taught them to thrive in circumstances other plants couldn’t survive. Humans in Dakota have to be like that, too. We know pleasant weather is the exception, not the rule. 

The same is true of the lilac and rose bushes that encircle the yard. Even in a year like this when harsh conditions have thwarted their growth, the blossoms offer their beauty and their enchanting scent freely; a memory of the hardworking gardeners who tended them so well that despite our climate they have thrived. Did whoever planted those glorious shrubs guess at the abundance they were granting future generations? I certainly hope so. 

Mother Earth, of course, remains the best gardener of all. It truly is amazing, after several years of drought, to see the moisture from the April blizzards transform the hillsides. Unlike the lilacs that look a little worse for the wear, there are more wildflowers blooming right now than I’ve ever seen here before, the fields alive with tiny blossoms, the grasses waving a brilliant green. A reminder that if you don’t give up, beauty will find you one way or another.


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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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