It’s time for summer weather in South Dakota

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rainbow in South Dakota

On June 1, we hosted a big community event — the arrival of a small herd of bison to a ranch at the outskirts of our little town of Bison, South Dakota — by gathering together to sing, dance and practice some old-fashioned neighboring in the front yard of our new house.

Preparations were months in the making, but like almost everything in western South Dakota, we all knew our best-laid plans were completely dependent on the weather. The chance that there wouldn’t be some extreme meteorological event to deal with was almost impossible to imagine.

During the waning days of May, the forecast looked surprisingly mild, maybe a little on the too-warm side, but nothing particularly extreme. Of course, that just made me and the rest of the planning committee worry harder. We couldn’t get away with holding a large gathering and not have sudden hail, a heat wave or tornadic gusts of wind, could we?

Our new house has a large shop. It’s unfinished but keeps out, most, of the elements. “Worst comes to worst we can hold the event inside there,” I told everyone, grimly sure that is exactly what we would have to do.

Holding it inside came with only one problem. The shop, even unfinished, would be just fine for the event except that we’d never fully moved into the house and everything we hadn’t moved in was still heaped in a messy pile right in the middle of the building.

Almost six months in the new house and we hadn’t missed any of the stuff still in boxes. Thus, we’d been grappling with the age-old question, do we chuck the boxes without opening them, or do we actually try to sort through the detritus of our own lives in case there might be some gold in all that dross?

Meanwhile, late spring is the most intense time of the year for us here on the ranch. During the first part of May, babies are still arriving; during the second part, we shift to preparing herds and flocks for the move to summer pastures.

Seeds that are going in the ground need to get in the ground. With such a short growing season there is no time to spare between the last frost date and planting day. And daily chores are still heavy as there is a profusion of young animals around that need extra care.

Outside, the grass is green and lush, the air fresh and mild, the sky so expressive in its many iterations that you could almost die from the sheer beauty. And yet, with so many jobs left undone at the close of the day, it’s also not unreasonable to fear you could die of exhaustion. The feast and famine of it all is a bit much if you ask me, but who has time for asking anybody anything?

Somehow, we did get the shop cleaned. We got the calves and lambs docked and vaccinated. We got enough of the garden planted that I’m calling it good for now. We got the chicken coop and run for the teenage chicks built. We even moved the fast-growing ducklings into an outdoor pen. (Although the little “pond” I made them was a flop. They still prefer bathing in a bowl.) So we are on schedule, and that feels like a real life miracle.

And of course, the weather on June 1 was perfect. The artists and musicians, the neighbors and far-flung friends, the bison whose arrival we were celebrating, were all gifted with one of the more perfect days we will have all year.

Now, I am luxuriating in the newly cleaned shop — though we didn’t need it for shelter, it is still very nice to have finally cleared out — the many animals under my care are thriving and growing, the seeds in the soil are just beginning to pop up and greet the sun and days are long enough to hold all the work and a little play. In other words, I’m going to officially say it’s summertime, and I am ready!

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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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