A recent storm tore into our neck of the woods, leaving us with drifts of hail, shredded trees, and some damage here and there – and a few clear reminders.
IMG_3165 No. 1 – Gardening and the Black Hills are not companions. If anything, they are indifferent to antagonistic acquaintances. If a late frost doesn’t kill the garden, the drought will. If the drought doesn’t, the grasshoppers will. If the grasshoppers don’t finish it off, the hail will. If the hail doesn’t, an early frost will. This time, it was the hail.IMG_3190No. 2 – A storm that “doesn’t look like much” can still pack a punch. As it rolled in, Mom and I almost took bets on whether or not those clouds contained hail. I would have lost by a long shot. The storm rolled in, spitting little rice-like pellets of ice. A cloud of fog blew in, and the storm intensified, gradually dropping bigger and bigger hailstones, which bounced and leapt in the grass like popcorn. They got larger, sounding like bricks dropping onto the deck, shattering every direction. When the hail finally stopped, it looked as if it had snowed.IMG_3173No. 3 – Those things that we see as “bad” are often accompanied by a blessing. Sure, we got a smashed garden, but we also got almost an inch and a half of rain, between the storm with the hail and a storm the previous day. We are moisture starved here, and that inch and a half will do wonders. We went to check the rain gauge, and the top had shattered off. A well-placed hailstone.IMG_3205No. 4 – No matter how bad things get, there is always someone else who got hit harder. Mom had worked hard on her garden this year, and it was just starting to produce! Some regret is only natural. But one of the nurses at the clinic where I work has a daughter who lives in Houston, and we’ve been getting updates from her on the state of the storm. Meanwhile, we have a lot of haze in the air from wildfires further west. Montana is burning, Texas is underwater, and all we have to complain about is a smashed garden. What storm were we talking about again…? Nothing like perspective.

Blue Skies and Dirt Trails

Harney Peak Trail #4What a delight, when winter temperatures soar into the 60s and 70s under blue skies and warm sun! Waking up to 10 degree temperatures and gentle snowfall this morning, it is hard to believe that we enjoyed a summery hike last Saturday. Like many other residents of the Black Hills, Roy, Jessie and I spent the afternoon soaking up the springtime weather beneath Harney Peak. There was still ice on Sylvan Lake and snow in the shadowed places, but there wasn’t a hint of chill in the air.

Harney Peak Trail #4All around Harney Peak, there is a web of trails wending through the Black Elk Wilderness and Custer State Park, beautiful scenic spurs with gorgeous, soaring vistas and haunting hollows. We have all hiked Harney Peak a number of times, but some of the spurs were new to us, or at least new to me. Trail #9 is the most common way to reach the Peak, but Trail #4 is a little more rugged, less up-kept, and affords lovely views of the towering Cathedral Spires, as well as a lively scramble to the top of Little Devil’s Tower.

Harney Peak Trail #4For some of the little climb to Little Devil’s Tower, it was cumbersome having my camera bag slung over my shoulder, but worth it for the views at the top! The Harney Peak fire lookout looked doll-sized, and the dozens of people in and around the fire tower weren’t even visible. We could see Custer, like a map, spread out in the southwest, and we could see Rapid City to the northeast, sprawling and minuscule, with the Badlands barely visible in the distant haze. The hills dropped away, an alluring blue, fading and dimming as the distance grew.

Harney Peak Trail #4On the Cathedral Spires trail, we could see mountain goats sunning on the tops of rocks, far enough away that it just about maxed out my zoom lens. Such awkward looking creatures, yet so graceful and sure-footed! The first time I hiked Trail #4, we saw some up-close goats. It would have been fun to see a few up-close on the trail, but there were enough hikers with their companionable canines, the goats probably were more comfortable high up and out of the way.

Harney Peak Trail #4Such beautiful country to wander, and what clear, fresh air to breath deep of, to drink in, to soak up. Mica glittered dazzlingly in the trail dust, granite spires soared into the sky, pines grew precariously from any cleft of rock, and the aspens shimmered pale and silver in the warm sunshine, in a sea of golden grass.

Winter isn’t over in the Hills just yet. But almost. Spring is just around the corner.

Laura Elizabeth

The mother of invention

DSCN0375 The air smells of wounded pines and churning earth. Hail in sprawling drifts looks like snow, then piles of rough-cut diamonds, then destruction. The grass is flattened in the ditches, in our yard, and any depression, however small, is full of red mud water. The hail evaporates, feeding the growing presence of fog hanging heavy in the air.

DSCN0384After making it through all previous hail storms relatively unscathed, two weeks after the storm that took down a few trees and filled our ditches, our little valley was pounded again with rain and hail. An inch and a half of rain, and hail. The garden is gone, more trees and branches are down, and water is pouring into the dam. Even though it was too dark to see, I could hear water rushing in the corrals, in places where there is never water. Our ridge became a waterfall, and more rockslides happened.

DSCN0386The aftermath is quite enough to dampen spirits. Mom worked hard on the garden, and to a certain extent we were counting on it for this fall. However, I know God is good and gracious, and he is not a God of whim or malice. I think back to the pioneers, the first homesteaders, who weren’t just counting on their garden: their lives were depending on it. The survival of their crops meant enough money to buy food to last through the winter into the next growing season. It meant a surplus of five dollars to add to the dollar they already had in the bank. They depended on it. We only hoped our garden would turn out this year. It looks like it won’t. But I’m already working on some mental notes for a hail screen. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Laura Elizabeth