The first summer I gardened on the northern plains was warm, but not too warm, wet, but not too wet, and though I thought at the time was quite windy, I now know was not windy at all. Moreover, we didn’t get a killing frost until well into October. The result was vegetable abundance. The past two years have been different, however, this year especially. The drought has withered everything but the hardiest of plants back to the dust from whence they grew.
We hadn’t completely lost hope, but the first days of August delivered a sudden hail storm that left much of what was left torn and flat. Meanwhile, the zinnias and marigolds I sowed between rows to add a little color look bedraggled and shabby.
But, That’s gardening in western South Dakota for you. Nothing is a sure bet, except maybe zucchini.
Today I am avoiding the garden and playing with the kids in the yard instead. Over our heads a chokecherry tree arcs her slim arms skyward, her fruit ripened dusky purple. All morning the branches of the tree have been dancing, alive with a small flock of brown thrashers, who pull the cherries from the stems, shaking the leaves which are just now fading from green to pale yellow. The birds do not seem to notice us, sitting beneath them, though we are only a few inches away. Perhaps they are intoxicated by the sweet magic of all that juicy fruit.
I stop to watch the flock, who neither sows, nor reaps, nor gathers into barns. Suddenly, one of the birds lifts herself into the air, the whole of the blue heavens ready to hold her as she flies; the whole of the wide prairie, a blanket at her feet.