January in October

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snow

Most of the trees in the windbreaks still had their leaves when winter abruptly arrived this week. The storm started as lashing rain then turned to sleet. The sun set and the wind came up. By morning, when the snow started to fly, the western side of every tree and blade of grass was coated thickly with ice. The wind kept blowing and the snow kept falling, and when it stopped, we found ourselves in a glistening, glimmering winter wonderland except for one thing: While many trees lost leaves in the high winds, many did not — the ice that covered the branches also kept the leaves firmly attached.

The result is a very in-between-y feeling world. The trees look like autumn, the rest of the landscape, white and windy, not so much. We had lunch at the truckstop just outside town the other day during a break in the storm and it was almost humorous to see the cozy, little tables decorated with bright red and yellow leaves and miniature pumpkins as centerpieces while the view outside the large windows was a-wash in swirling white.

At the time of this writing, it is still October for a few more days, a month that no one would mistake for deep winter, and yet here we are. As I write, I am listening to the wind howling, in fact, and I am recalling the trudging steps to do chores this morning, bent over, completely swathed in thick layers. It all feels very familiar, and, perhaps needless to say, very unwelcome. I wasn’t ready for it to be deepest January!

Thank goodness it is NOT actually deepest January, despite what my senses are experiencing. Perhaps there will be some fairer weather ahead. The kids may have to wear their Halloween costumes stretched over their snowsuits for trick-or-treating this year, but then November might be golden and lovely. Who knows?

The last couple of years have made it more clear than ever we can make all the plans we like, we can establish expectations and goals, but we can’t actually control for all, or even most, outcomes. This is kind of a relief but also so hard to accept, especially for me, as a chronic overfunctioner. No matter what I might tell you (or have written here over the years) I still operate most days as though the world stays spinning on its axis in part because I work so hard to keep it there. I’m currently trying to change that habit, but old habits are hard to break.

There’s a saying I’ve seen a lot lately in self-help memes and literature: “The only person you can control is yourself.” As I continue to deal with chronic, unexplained health conundrums, I can tell you with surety sometimes we can’t even do that. Sometimes you can’t control anything at all.

Outside my window, a mumurating flock of blackbirds silhouetted by the gray sky and white horizon line rises and falls together. They gather briefly in the tops of an ash tree and then lift off again, carried in swirling circles by the wind. I imagine they land where they mean to, but how do they know how to do it together and with such seamless elegance? How have they perfected this dance of constant, controlled improvisation?

It seems to me the best kind of magic that guides them, and I’d like to think it’s possible for us humans to be guided in that way too. Maybe we already are and don’t know it. Maybe we would realize it more often and enjoy it more if we just let ourselves relax into the rhythm and the flow of the trees, or the wind, of our fellow travelers.

(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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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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