Snow and Springtime

IMG_8490Winter blew back in overnight a day and a half ago, and on the third day of spring we had four or so inches of snow, a wonderful, heavy, wet snow that cloaked every branch of every tree, every fence post, every roof and rock and hill, every little green and growing thing still clinging close to the ground. Hard to believe that four days ago we had temperatures in the 60s and 70s and were hiking to Hole-in-the-Wall without coats or mittens or snow boots!

Across the snow-covered pastures, on the sheltering hillsides, the Ponderosa pine trees were silver-blue in their wintry cloaks. Deer, startled up, fled silently through the silent trees. Wind had painted ripples into the blanketing white. But the recent spring-like temperatures had already warmed the ground, and our red-dirt driveway was muddy and mostly melted by noon, in spite of the chill day.

IMG_8558The little Kashka cat was moody and desperate, as soon as the snow began to melt. She didn’t seem to mind the dry snow, but she regarded the wet snow with unmasked disdain. She isn’t a particularly vocal cat – In fact, she seems somewhat limited in her vocal expression, sometimes opening her mouth but only producing a breathy squeak. But yesterday, she was whining and moaning and complaining and grumbling as she traipsed through the snow, and shook off her little paws in a futile effort to keep them dry. Her good-for-nothing, lazy brother was, of course, nowhere to be found. I’m sure he was holed up somewhere, dry and comfortable and warm.

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I love how the snow completely transforms a landscape, insulates it, hushes it, and the whole world seems to glow with a gleaming, blinding brightness, even beneath a heavy-clouded sky. Simple things take on a new dimension. The same hillsides and meadows and roads shimmer with an ephemeral enchantment, an enchantment that can break within a matter of hours. 

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Sarah and I took to the snow at 10:00 last night, to ramble in what was likely the last snowfall this season to be lit by a full moon. Never waste a moonlit snow! The sky was crystal clear, and there was the faintest nimbus around the orb of the moon. The brightest stars flickered in the inky blue sky. Orion and Cassiopeia, and a strange bright star we’ve identified before but whose name I can’t remember. Scrambling up deadfall-strewn hillsides to chase the moonlight, slipping and sliding into ravines, dropping flat to make a snow angel, eating snow off the needles of sapling pine trees, stopping every now and again to listen for coyotes, losing track of the time – I could have stayed out all night in that enchanted moonlit snow. 

IMG_8536In this shifting of seasons, in the sunshine and the snow, in the change and transformation from month to month, the summer birds begin to arrive with nesting on their minds, and the first insects start to hum and sing. The first of the green things shoot up from the warming earth, and rumors of pasque flowers are whispered. Snow may hide the signs for a day or two, but the seasons will fly on. Springtime is here! 

Laura Elizabeth

Straying from the Beaten Trail

IMG_9503One can cover a lot of beautiful ground by following a well-worn trail, a path countless feet have beaten down, smoothed and deepened. But there is sometimes something in my heart not quite satisfied with simply following a trail – being bound by miles or hours,  not knowing what is over this hill, or what the view looks like from the ridge above. There is something to not following a trail, giving oneself permission to stray to the side, to discovered unseen vistas, or subtle deer trails. There is something delightful about taking the long way around, of creating detours and following one’s sense of curiosity, and allowing oneself to revel in the beauty of the outdoors.

IMG_9632Sometimes that giving in to curiosity and delight comes with simply changing one’s vantage point. Walking along a ravine floor is a completely different view than walking along the rim. The enchantment of rising granite steps, moss covered, and slanting shadows and cool, green lichen contrasts with the beauty of the open sky, the rolling hills, quivering rabbitbrush, and the treelines. A ravine followed from top to bottom, with 5-foot ledges to scramble, looks wholly different when followed from bottom to top. The 5-foot ledges become a different sort of obstacle, when scrambling up instead of down.

IMG_9592A trail taken in the morning, when the air is cool and warming, when frost and dew shimmer in the grass, when the trees are singing with early birds, when the air in the sheltered valleys is damp and cool and rich, yet warm and fragrant on the sunlit hillsides above – it is entirely other than walking the trail in the afternoon or evening, when the birds have quieted, when the dew of morning has been replaced by the frost of evening, when quiet and hush have settled.

IMG_9538In the morning hours, the chickadees and bluebirds were talking to themselves and flitting from branch to shrub to rock. The bluebirds were like little pieces of sky, so bright and blue. And the chickadees, feisty little masked things, were darting and diving in a ravine, drinking ice melt from a little green pool. I clambered up on the ledge and tried quietly to take out my camera. They watched me curiously or indignantly, I wasn’t entirely sure which, and let me take their pictures before disappearing, their little hoarse, laughing calls disappearing with them.

IMG_9582Taking the time to chase down sunbeams on birchbark. Chatting with a sassy squirrel.  Watching migrating flocks of geese. Wondering at ancient trees, wizened and hunchbacked. Slipping and sliding down slopes covered in pine needles and loose rocks, crawling up ledges, ducking under deadfall, plunging into the shadow of the trees, where light filters through the deep green needles and glows and flickers on the bark, the earth, and snow white pieces of quartz – They say to take the path of least resistance. But sometimes the path of more resistance is a lot more rewarding. Giving in to the delight of curiosity, straying from the beaten trail, lingering to watch and listen and breathe deeply of the air. Halted by awe. Driven by a question: What’s next?

Laura Elizabeth

The smell of work

I’m sweaty, covered in chaff and grass and bug bits and residual sunscreen. In spite of the sunscreen, I’m probably burned. I’m thistle-pricked and my eyes feel gritty. There’s dirt under my nails and motor oil on my jeans. I’m tired and I smell like work. And I feel refreshed and rested at a deep soul level.

The soul needs cleansing from the rush and maze of life, and after many consecutive days working in a little tourist town, I was simply aching for the outdoors! A few weeks ago, I took a second job in Hill City, so now I work morning and early afternoon at the Mercantile and at 3:00 I head over to the Farmer’s Daughter and work there until 7:00 or 8:00. Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful for the work that God has provided so quickly in our new life here. But I am a dedicated introvert. Being around people that long drains me. And I mean drains me.

DSCN0072.1So yesterday, I was only scheduled at the Mercantile and made my plans accordingly. All day long, I looked forward to getting home, catching the horses and going out on a ride. So that is exactly what I did. In case you might think I’m just an out-and-out cowgirl now, I need to clarify–Horses are a fear I’m working on conquering. I love the animals. I love the feel of a good ride. The smell of horse, the sway and movement of the saddle, and the rush of energy while riding a working cow pony, when the animal gets eager and excited to be doing work. But horses are big. They are independently-thinking creatures who really have no good reason to let a human being climb on their back, must less to remain there. Maybe I just have a good appreciation for that fact right there–If this 1000 pound animal suddenly ceased wanting me on its back, it could remove me. And quickly, too.

DSCN0098.1However, yesterday I managed to make steps in conquering my trepidations and took Frosty out on a ride. Jimmy came, too–Can’t let his girlfriend leave without him! And I do believe the horses enjoyed it. And Frosty loves to run. I’m too cautious of a rider to just let her go full throttle…Not to mention, she has a stubborn streak and has tried to buck me off, once-upon-a-time. If she had really wanted to buck me, she could have, but she bucked hard enough to make me a little careful with her. But either way, there are just too many trees, holes, fences, rocks, even when in an open meadow, to let her go full tilt, but she got some of her energy out. And it was a beautiful afternoon for it. We weren’t out that long, maybe forty five minutes, but when I started hearing thunder I thought it wise to head back. There were other places I wanted to go, but Frosty is a tall horse and is a little hard to mount if she isn’t standing quite still. Which she usually is not. Too many fences to open and close. I decided to leave further exploring for another day. Anyway, it was a good way to end my afternoon.

DSCN0107.1A short photographic excursion followed the ride…It has been so wet lately, the cow pies are all sprouting mushrooms. And they are surprisingly pretty mushrooms, especially considering the mundane nature of their host…And it just keeps getting wetter–We had an inch of rain last night, some hail, and a marvelous thunder storm. Starting to wonder where all the water will go.

DSCN0105.1There is a shack out in the corrals that is mostly tumbled down now, but the remnants of a dirt-moving business are left piled inside. Old dynamite casings. I was actually able to get a good picture of them–In the last month or so, one of the walls fell in, so it is actually possible to climb in without bringing the whole shack tumbling down on top of you!

Finally, today I headed to Jack’s to mow. He’s got a big place, and the mowing took me a solid five hours, and I weeded for another hour or so. It was warm, but there was intermittent cloud cover and a gentle breeze. Not to mention, the breeze while riding a zero turn mower keeps a body pretty cool! Sometimes I still get a chuckle over my radical shift in direction. I never would have thought three years ago that I’d be graduated college and mowing for a local rancher. Just wouldn’t have occurred to me.

DSCN0128.1When I came home this afternoon from Jack’s, I passed a vehicle pulled off to the side of the road with the flashers on. I turned around and came back to see if they were having car problems. No car trouble. Just a photo shoot. They were apparently tourists getting pictures of the beautiful scenery. There was a little rush of delight when I realized it–This is the view they were enjoying, a view of the Adrian ranch. It brought back all the excitement of moving out here, the excitement that has almost become normal. It reminded me just how glad (it seems too drab a word to use) I am to be out here. It reminded me that God knows our hearts and, while he doesn’t answer every dream or prayer in the way we think he should, he does, I believe, give us desires for reasons, and I was struck once again by how amazing it is that a little girl’s dream of South Dakota should become a reality fifteen years later. God is good.

DSCN0058.1After five and a half years of college, five and a half years of working my brain, hard work feels good. The smell of work is sweet. And I’m realizing in many ways that my soul truly feels cleansed when I am surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation, exhausted by blessed hard work, sore and dirt-covered, and breathing the fresh air of wide open spaces.

Laura Elizabeth

Beauty in the Badlands

DSCN0223.1The Badlands are rich with subtle life at this time of the year. The summer heat hasn’t scorched the region brown yet, and the moisture has coaxed flowers into bloom. Soon enough, the summer will arrive and the green with burn away, but for now there is a tenacious life that clings to the region.

DSCN0191.1This past Thursday, Sarah and I took an excursion to the Badlands with two church friends, Roy and Jessica, and made an afternoon of the Badlands loop, stopping at just about every scenic turnoff, and hiking when possible. Although my family has driven through the Badlands several times, never had we gone through at such a leisurely pace! A quick drive through really doesn’t do them justice.

DSCN0268.1Razor-sharp peaks and spires give way to rolling hills with impassible cliffs. Strata of bright orange and gold layer through one region, while tablelands dominate another. Viewpoints overlook cliffs, plummeting down hundreds of feet into the valley or canyon below.

DSCN0175.1And in such a hostile wasteland, a no-man’s land, there’s life–Creeping insects, scurrying chipmunks, burrowing prairie dogs. Prairie phlox and scarlet globemallow bloom in the rocky, dusty soil. There wasn’t any flowing water anymore, but the gumbo mud was still sticky in places, and little puddles of tepid water hadn’t yet sunk into the earth.

DSCN0220.1The rain in the Hills had opened into blue skies over the Badlands, but as the day wore on, we watched thunderstorms roll in. The sky grew bluer and bluer with storm, and the occasional rumble of thunder echoed quietly through the stony peaks and valleys. For hours, the storms seemed to crop up on the horizon and roll towards us, never reaching us.

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We scrambled around in the gumbo, climbing to the tops of the tablelands. As we scrambled up over the edge of one, a pair of doves startled from their ground nest. Two eggs were tucked inside. I should have gotten a picture of the location of the nest–The tableland rose a good thirty feet up, and then there was a little washed out spot and a slightly higher table, roughly the size of a dinner table. The nest was nestled in the grass on this second table. The perfect vantage point to watch for predators.

The storm broke as we were eating dinner. Probably a good thing, or we might have stayed out exploring a lot longer than we did!

Laura Elizabeth

A Little Rain

DSCN0022.1Every time I drive to work, whether to work in the foothills herding cattle or to work in the heart of the Hills cutting fabric, I’m thankful for being here. But today, the drive was really a joy. The wet and mist and the low hanging clouds cast a spell over the Hills. Familiar landscape was shrouded and obscured, and the breath of clouds was heavy in the trees.

DSCN0030.1Unfortunately, South Dakota sort of lives in a perpetual drought. Maybe there have been a few years of plentiful moisture (last year, for instance), but drought is nothing new to this region. You’ll know that if you’re familiar with Laura Ingalls and her family’s struggles in the eastern part of the state. Up until this weekend, we’d gotten very little moisture this year. My uncle said that Rapid City is currently about two inches short on precipitation. However, this weekend has brought at least enough moisture to green things up. Ranchers had been getting worried about hay production and summer pastures for their cattle–Hopefully this is putting us on the right track.

DSCN0023.1But regardless of how much precipitation we have gotten over the past few days, the scenery has been more brilliant, and the low-hanging clouds are mesmerizing, thanks to what little rain we’ve gotten. DSCN0027The damp brings out the richness of the greens and browns and greys, and the frogs were singing loudly in this little pond when I drove by today. I’ve always loved fog–this is simply haunting.

Laura Elizabeth