Preparing for a long winter

snow on fence
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

We dug the last of the carrots out of the raised beds as the first drops of freezing rain began to fall. The day had been misty and silent; the branches of the trees in the windbreak, and the tips of the tall grass were already painted silver and the temperature was dropping fast. A winter storm was set to sweep through in the night, and the whole prairie carried the weight of anticipation. 

We’d been prepping for the storm all day, and the only job left was gathering our little goat herd. They’d been in a moveable pen all summer and autumn, grazing weeds and grass by the hay ground. As we approached the two youngest shouted a greeting, their already frosty beards bobbing merrily. Did they know it was time to go back up to their little barn for the winter? Hard to say, but a pan of grain was enough to convince them to follow us up the hill. 

Dogs, children, goats, and one bum lamb who thinks she’s a dog tumbled through the sleet that was falling faster while the two mama goats softly murmured to their wild boys, “Stay close, stay close.” The boys replied back joyously, “Sorry, can’t,” and sped away, excited to be running fast, and even more excited that oats would be at the finish line. 

Once we had the goats safely tucked in, the kids ran ahead of me to get inside and warm up by the propane stove, but I stayed out calling the dogs. I picked up the buckets of carrots, and dropped them by the door. The sun was getting ready to set beyond the confines of the yard, the brightness dipping below the gray shelf of clouds for a few seconds. The bare field beside our house was suddenly burnished gold, the frost lit up like a hundred thousand diamonds. 

And then, just like that, it was over. The clouds closed around the setting sun, the hush of frost covering the gleaming grass in gray, the world returned to gloomy twilight. 

The last few Novembers have been mild and pleasant. They’ve felt more like Septembers that stretch into December, allowing us the fantasy that maybe, just maybe, autumn will last all winter long. When winter did arrive, the weather was only deeply cold for a few days at a time, and almost always was followed by a brief thaw. In other words, we are overdue for a hard winter, and the weather forecast for the next few weeks seems to support the conclusion that one has arrived. 

Most, if not all, ancient cultures have stories about the seasons shifting, and the stories about winter are often bleak. In Greek mythology, Persephone, daughter of the Demeter (who is the goddess of the harvest) is banished to the underworld for part of every year. During this time, Demeter is so aggrieved nothing can grow. 

Perhaps because I know every winter can’t be as easy as the last few, and perhaps because we had such a beautiful summer and fall — the most beautiful I can remember — I have been feeling more like Demeter than usual this November, not ready to say good-bye to my beloved daughter just yet.

 Watching the sunset, I let out a long sigh, but the gray cold evaporated as soon as I walked inside and shut the door behind me. The kids had turned the stove up so I was greeted by a wall of heat, a jumble of colorful snow clothes strewn in the entryway, and a pile of devious barn cats purring with gratitude for the heat.

“I’m so excited for snow!” my very real daughter shouted when she saw me, then immediately returned to the equally loud game of pretend already in progress. Sitting here now, staring out across the snow that did indeed arrive, I am reminded of the quote from writer Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer.” 

Yes, this might be a hard winter, but these exuberant children, these naughty cats, this unfurling life, there is enough summer here to outlast the longest cold.


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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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