Framed by the small window above my writing desk I can see the tips of the grasses waving green and gold. My writer’s shack, which stands behind the house in a windbreak full of aging trees, is ungrazed, so the grass grows just as high as it pleases. In a year with regular precipitation, that means knee high. During a drought year, such as the last two, it barely grows at all. This year, the seeded heads of the grasses brush against my shoulders as I walk the narrow path that leads to the front door of the shack.
In the garden things are much the same. Last week we had two storms in one day. Together they dropped one-and-a-half inches of rain in less than 24 hours, more moisture than we’d received all last spring and summer combined. The cucumbers, the tomatoes, the zucchini, and the peppers, have more than doubled in size since the beginning of July. I can only shake my head in wonder as I walk between the pallets and beds. The bright blue patch of bachelor buttons and the garish gold of the marigolds sparkle, brash and bold against all that green. It feels like a miracle.
I stop to gather some tender lettuce heads for supper. They glow a lighter green than the rest of the garden, bashfully tucked between the burly cabbages. I’ve been eating salad for almost every meal, and I am not sick of it yet, thank goodness, because there’s a summer’s worth of salads left to harvest. “These are our salad days—literally!” I tell my husband when I reach the porch, the colander overflowing with the harvest.
This week was hot. Next week will be hotter. We don’t have central air, so we keep the windows shut and the shades drawn during daylight hours, then open everything up in the evening. We nap during the hottest part of the afternoon, and in the lingering heat of the day, I send the kids out to splash in the water tank we call our cowboy pool. Their grandma gave them plastic inflatable tubes earlier in the summer. My daughter floats on hers in the cowboy pool, legs up, head back. “So relaxin,’” she lisps.
In the long light and cooling air of dusk I go running (or what could more accurately be described as fast-ish walking.) I follow the section line with our two young dogs galloping ahead, disappearing and reappearing in the tall grass, while our older dog takes a more leisurely pace beside me. Nighthawks swoop over the grass and tease the young dogs, who leap up to meet them, only to have the birds slip easily out of reach.
We turn around when we hit the crest of the hill. Behind us the horizon rises in rocky ridges, shadowed purple by the coming darkness. Overhead, the moon’s curved face beams down, half full.
The run back is mostly downhill, so it makes me feel like I am actually running fast, making my own breeze, trailing dogs and dust. I pass the “hush-hush trees,” the small grove of cottonwood we named when the kids were babies. The trees speak in rustling songs, their thousand leaves dancing. They know all the best stories.
In my youth I was told to treat life as a marathon, not a sprint, but I had no idea how to do that. The only pace I knew then was that of a rabbit being chased by a wolf. And now, here I am, in the middle of the country, in the middle of my life, in the middle of the most gorgeous green summer, loping down the middle of the road at exactly the right pace for my breath to keep the rhythm of my feet, each step part of a dance I hope I get to keep dancing for a long, long time to come.
Eliza Blue lives on a ranch in northwest South Dakota. She’s a musician, mom, author, and shepherd. Besides writing “Accidental Rancher” for the Daily Yonder, she writes a column for newspapers in her region and produces audio commentary for South Dakota Public Radio. You can learn more about Eliza on her website.