The need for move on

dandelion at sunset

This was a difficult week in the midst of a string of challenging months. Since having COVID in December, I haven’t fully returned to my old self, and I’m beginning to think I never will. Partly from the illness, but also from the leftover fear of being so sick and isolated during those terrible winter storms, I’ve felt vulnerable in a way that is both familiar and foreign.

The neural pathway between being a little bit nervous and overwhelmingly anxious is a well-worn one in my brain, but lately, the speed and thoroughness with which I can arrive from the former to the latter is a new level of impressive. Perhaps it’s because, firmly ensconced in middle age, I’m finally accepting that worrying about something doesn’t offer protection from that thing occurring, which is a very scary realization indeed.

The days turned from weeks to months, and winter lingered. Calving began in earnest without the weather really letting up at all, and my feelings of unease increased. “We just need it to be spring,” my neighbor said sympathetically when I told him of my anxiety.

And then this week we lost two family members and an old friend. One of the family members was an uncle I hadn’t seen in years, but who always made us kids laugh, and usually the grown-ups too. He lived a good life, and I hope he got to bask in the humor he carried with him wherever he went—in other words, I hope he enjoyed telling his jokes as much as we enjoyed hearing them.

The old friend was someone I met in college. He was the president of my graduating class, in fact. He was impossible not to know—he was just one of those people who somehow managed to be living several hundred lifetimes at once. After graduation, our paths crossed personally and professionally many times. He was instrumental in producing a short video about me and my transition from urbanite to ranch hand that was so beautiful and poignant people still ask me about it almost a decade later.

The other family member was my husband’s grandma, affectionately known as Guppie. She was 95, and honestly, we all thought she was going to outlive us. She was one of the most resilient people I’ve ever met, had a gracious sense of humor, was the best-dressed person in any given room, and knew how to take pleasure in beauty. She was also a great cook and the fastest dishwasher you’ve ever seen.

Three brilliant, unique individuals, in totally different phases of life, who entirely occupied themselves with the business of being alive until this week, and now we somehow have to imagine a world without them. It’s an impossible task, and yet, we have no choice but to accept this new responsibility.

Tonight, I walked from the barn to the house as the sun was setting. My jersey cow, Pumpkin, had just given birth to a long-legged steer calf. Her labor was fast and uneventful, but when he popped out, she was more interested in eating hay than getting him up and cleaned off. He didn’t seem to mind. Tottering and stumbling he made his way to her udder, sticking out his long pink tongue in anticipation. Only minutes old and already his life as a warm, coddled water creature was a distant memory, his new life as a creature of air and mud and milk beckoning him forward.

Over our heads, the new moon was a gleaming crescent, slimmer than a baby’s fingernail. Beside it, the first evening star glittered against the lavender dusk, its fine points of light reaching in every direction. The snowmelt-filled ruts of the corral were beginning to freeze over again, catching the last of the dusk’s wild colors. The wind spoke of spring and not-yet-spring, of old dirt and new mud, of how hard it is to be a baby born into the cold, but also how thrilling it is to be born at all. Born always, again and again, into the unexpected and unknowable, until, suddenly, it is known.


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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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