When Eliza Blue mailed me her manuscript about life on a West River ranch, I admit that I had some skepticism. The document sat unread in my inbox for a few days. Do readers want another perspective on ranching life, I wondered?
Finally, I opened Eliza’s manuscript and I changed my thinking after reading just a few paragraphs. Her writing, like her songs, pulled me in. Even tales of mundane tasks, such as milking a cow or searching for missing livestock, fascinated me. Somehow, her words transform ordinary life in South Dakota into something enchanting. For days after I read the manuscript, I found myself narrating my life inside my head as if Eliza Blue was writing my story.
To make a long story short, South Dakota Magazine has proudly published Eliza’s book, Accidental Rancher. We worked on it through the winter, and now our printers are finishing their part. We know South Dakotans will appreciate her storytelling.
Eliza’s fresh perspective comes perhaps from her background of being both a storyteller and singer/songwriter. She is now also a Bison rancher’s wife and mom. Eliza grew up in suburban Minneapolis, but much to our benefit she landed in Perkins County a few years ago and dived into ranch life. Somehow, she also finds time to contemplate and write about life on the high plains.
Too often, rural America’s stories and culture are interpreted by writers who visit for a day or a week, often to write only about the latest catastrophe — most likely a blizzard, a drought or a trade war. Trouble and woe are usually their themes, though there is so much more. A handful of rural West River writers have worked to dispel such myths. Linda Hasselstrom, Kathleen Norris and Elizabeth Cook-Lynn are good examples. Eliza Blue is a new voice, and she brings a musician’s grace. Her stories, like her songs, have a catchy way of grabbing attention.
One of my favorites is titled “Pigeons.” Eliza and her son discover baby pigeons in an abandoned grain bin. The mother had laid the eggs inside a plastic bucket, and her babies became trapped after growing too big to spread their wings. Eliza freed the birds, but noticed something amiss. The birds’ muscles hadn’t developed enough for them to stand, let alone to walk or fly. She and her son visited every day, and employed some therapy techniques to encourage them to move. You can imagine the joy — both of the humans and the birds — when the little wings grew strong enough to fly.
“I often fear I am a foolish woman,” writes Eliza. “Sometimes I know that I am. Like when I am climbing into a stinky, old grain bin to chase sensory-deprived baby pigeons around. But every once in awhile my foolishness pays off. How else would I have gotten to see the look that appears on a small boy’s face when he sees a fledgling bird fly for the first time? The look of surprised delight as he falls a little more in love with the world and all its wonders.
“For my part,” she finishes, “I value the reminder that small kindnesses are rarely small and learning to fly comes in many forms.”
Katie Hunhoff is the editor and publisher of South Dakota Magazine. To learn more about the magazine, Eliza Blue, or the new book Accidental Rancher, visit www.SouthDakota Magazine.com.
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