Coming out of the darkness of a long and cold winter


After several mild winters in a row, this winter is apparently intent on testing our mettle. Snow came early and has fallen often, accompanied by dangerously cold and high winds. Before the winter solstice even arrived, it felt like we were already several months into winter, because, well, we kind of were.

Then, the day after Christmas, we were visited by weather of historically horrifying proportions — tornadic winds, blowing, drifting snow and temperatures in the negative 50s with windchill. 

The whole state of South Dakota was shut down not once but twice, as was every single road in our county. The storm went on and on and on making solid, tree-high drifts all around our house.


This storm also happened to arrive while COVID was making the rounds through our household. Fortunately, my husband and the kids bounced back quickly, but I have not been so lucky. 

Even though my oxygen levels were good, the combination of an illness that can make it feel hard to breathe, and the reality of being trapped for days far from medical care, resulted in some of the scariest hours of my life so far. 

A quirk of the virus kept nudging me into full-on panic mode even though the oximeter said I was fine, and the harder I tried to push my panicky thoughts away, the more panicked my thoughts became.

In other words, the darkest days of the year felt dark indeed. I went into the holidays thrilled with myself for completely clearing the second half of December to dive fully into the holidays, to do all the crafting and baking our hearts desired, to roast marshmallows around our firepit and bundle up for evenings of star gazing, to enjoy slow evenings with our extended family. 

Instead, I only made it off the couch to lay on the bathroom floor — the place I kept going to panic in privacy, or to call friends on the phone for moral support — hoping I could somehow keep the days halfway jolly for the kids and also not completely lose my marbles.

Going out

I finally was well enough to go out for a walk on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps it was because New Year’s Eve day was the day I finally started to get better, but it seemed like the oldest and newest day ever; rebirth not only possible but imminent. 

With the late afternoon sun on my cheeks, the smell of fresh snow filling my clearing lungs, I felt like Ebeneezer Scrooge waking on Christmas morning to discover it wasn’t too late; there was still time to fall in love with life and find out it loved me back.

I’ve been joking with close friends that my word for 2023 will be “no.” That maybe, just maybe, this will be the year I set some better boundaries around my time and energy so I can say “yes” more often to the things that feed my soul. And maybe it will be.

Or maybe I’ll borrow another friend’s word: “acceptance” and get a little better at accepting things as they are, as well as accepting more help.

I don’t know. I do know I’ve left 2022 with less of a clue about what comes next than ever before, but I don’t feel scared anymore. 

It feels like I’m here. Right here, right exactly HERE in the midst of the messes, the infinite beauty, the extravagant losses that show me how much I’ve loved. Right here, sitting with my dogs on the hay bales to catch the last glimpse of the sun, that ushers in the darkness and the soft face of the moon and the sharp spark of the stars.

A little PSA: The last few weeks have made it more clear than ever to me that mental health IS health. If you are struggling, please know it is not your fault, and you don’t need to be ashamed. We all go through seasons where we need extra support and you are not alone!


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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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