Grassland near Hermosa, South Dakota
Blizzard. Snow hisses through the buffalo grass. I can barely see the highway a half mile away. The highway patrol advises motorists to stay home. Four eighteen-wheelers rumble south, snow boiling around them. Four SUVs creep north: subdivision residents heading for work.
Sunrise pinks storm clouds. The thermometer reads zero. The wind chill factor, says the radio, is thirty degrees below zero; exposed flesh can freeze in seconds. The house moans as winds gust and twist. Vortices of snow spin, dancing on the rims of old snowdrifts like wraiths.
Twelve whitetail deer lie among the windbreak’s junipers, does sheltering yearling fawns. Mice and voles nap in tunnels of bent grass near seed-filled earthen pantries. Porcupines doze in cracks in the limestone cliffs, digesting dried buffaloberries. A great horned owl hugs the trunk of a pine. A pregnant coyote bitch and a badger sleep in adjoining dens on the south side of the ridge. One set of black horns shows on the southern skyline, telling me eleven pronghorn are gathered there. One head is always up, one set of eyes always watching.
The cattle lie along the dry streambed below the house. Backs to the north wind, they chew their cud and bat their icy eyelashes. Later they’ll follow a pickup load of hay over the hill to shelter in the plank corral, lying close together.
On this South Dakota winter day, the animals, aware of every shift in the wind, are living comfortable, normal lives. When the moon rises and the wind falls at dark, they will stand, stretch, and move out of shelter to search for food.
For humans, the old year is being ripped to shreds. North of here, two trucks have jackknifed and a hundred vehicles skidded and swerved into a mangled mess. Emergency personnel will spend hours untangling the jumble.
Tawny grasses bend as the snow piles up around them. Under the sod, roots wait for the moisture that will trickle downward with snowmelt. Only the humans fret and fume against the nature of this weather, against the nature of this place.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Hermosa, S.D. 57744-0169