Wheatfield Near Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Photograph by Robert Clements

Friday, February 21, 2014


I once saw a New Yorker cartoon in an issue published either close to or in the midst of spring. A happy bird sat on the windowsill of an open window with its beak cracked open in a wide grin. "I'm back," read the caption. "Any messages?" That's all I have to say about that. I've been gone. I'm back. "Any messages?"

We are - the world - all waiting for spring. We are waiting for that bird, and yes, we have messages. The primary message is, of course, "Where the hell have you been?" In Maine, the weather is crushing the roofs and the spirits of even the toughest Yankees. The snow will not quit, but neither will my fellow Mainers. They will triumph, I'm sure, but they'll have sore backs and arms.

White horse, survivor of the winter storm, Atlas. 
Here in western South Dakota, it's been relatively mild, with the exception of one devastating cruel storm last October 4th that punched out the lights and the hearts of the most stoic of ranchers by killing thousands of cattle and other livestock. And horses. it was the death of the horses that surprised everyone. That, evidently, is a rarity. The government was shut down, which didn't help anyone, but the West takes care of its own, and it did, as best it could, with fundraisers and donated cattle and horses, and help from neighbors and neighboring fly-over states. They've told me that the East often has no idea of what tragedies or big events have occurred out here, and I saw that first hand after the storm. About 40,000 head of livestock died of hypothermia or suffocation, affecting the lives of generations of ranchers, and it took about a week for the fact of it to reach the New York Times. By that time, as it would be in Maine, a dazed but fierce recovery effort was underway.

A pair of Eurasian Collared Doves perched on the remainder of a large maple tree branch. 
The other casualties were trees, or parts of trees, or branches. Here in Spearfish, and I imagine in surrounding towns, tree cleanup is still going on. Where once there was shelter, now there are stumps. Almost every deciduous tree suffered some sort of ice-fueled amputation. It took Bob and I three days to clear the yard of branches and debris. Workers are now performing surgery throughout the town to help strengthen each tree. Rua and I are familiar to the worker who drives a tiny bulldozer along the walking paths of the parks. I wonder if he sees tree parts and sawdust when he closes his eyes at night.

Tula Mae
Rua, my Cairn Terrier, is about eleven and a half now. We've been struggling with a localized tumor in her left leg for about two and a half years now, performing lumpectomies when it got cumbersome. I'm happy to report that she is in remission and that she's waiting for a walk. We also have a new kitten, Tula Mae. She was about six weeks old and a foster for about five minutes in our house, until her little starved body found a cubby hole in our kitchen near the heater, and found nooks in our hearts. I didn't want a kitten, wasn't looking for a kitten, much less a female kitten, but here is she, and she's fabulous. She just came into the office wanting my help in untangling the yarn she'd wrapped around her legs and neck. Rua and she are friends, which Jessie would like, I think.

I've written another novel during my time away from the blog. A sequel to Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea. It will be published in German, first, as was Red Ruby Heart. The title, in English, will be Cold Blue Sea, Endless Sky. Writing this book was an entirely different experience. The first novel is written at one's leisure, because it's just for practice. The second novel is written on deadline. This sequel drew blood, sweat, and tears, I'll tell you that! The tone is completely different, almost frantic and filled with a lack of time. Writing a book about characters suffering from a lack of time can be tense, but in the end, I loved what came out of it. I love my characters, Florine, Bud, Dottie, Glen, and all the residents of The Point.

Eagles fill my eyes these days. I spot them along the creek, searching out fishing spots. Turkeys also loom large, in big, big flocks. The deer are suspiciously scarce, this winter. I still have not seen an elk out here, although Bob and I have been to places where they are allegedly common. It's like Puffins on the East Coast. I've never seen one, but they tell me they exist. At this point, if I spotted an elk or a puffin, it might take away from all that I have imagined them to be.

"Any messages?" One. Come, Spring.