The warmth of summer on the prairie accelerates the growth of vegetables -- and weeds. (Photo by Eliza Blue)

A missive from the summer solstice when my babies were still babies…

In the garden, giant bumble bees circle the purple sage flowers. They are looking for a sweet sip. My son starts to flap his hands and shoo them away, but I stop him. “No, no!” I say, “Don’t scare them or they will sting you!” He looks at me with a knit brow. What does sting mean? He’s never heard the word before.

I try again: “See how they put their little faces in the flower?” I tell him, “They are getting a drink. That is how they eat their breakfast.” He leans back to observe. We watch the bees zooming in and out of the blossoms for several minutes-which is several hours in toddler time-and then he is off, zooming toward another adventure himself.

I go back to plucking weeds: pigweed, clover, and creeping jenny. I used to hate weeding, but now I rather enjoy it. It is the perfect activity to do when you have small children who still need a lot of attention. One ear can be devoted to monitoring their meanderings, your mind is free to wander a bit, and meanwhile, your hands are busy at a useful task.

I always thought it odd that the summer solstice was called “midsummer” but was also the first day of summer. I don’t think that anymore.

This week is the summer solstice. Despite our attempts to convince him otherwise, the Bean believes he and the sun have the same bedtime, so I am actually looking forward to the days getting shorter this year. Baby Roo, on the other hand, doesn’t mind falling asleep while it’s still light, as long as she is laying on or next to me. The arrival of her first teeth seems to be the culprit. If I want her to nap for more than a few minutes, I have to hold her. Or wear her on my back, which is what I am doing right now. When I start to feel weary, I think of backpackers who carry their whole lives in their packs and cross mountains. Relatively speaking, lugging a baby around the garden isn’t too hard.

I always thought it odd that the summer solstice was called “midsummer” but was also the first day of summer. I don’t think that anymore. The long heat of July and August lies before us, the fresh buds and new babes of spring behind; the crescendo of new life grows quieter. Our bottle babies are down to one feeding a day, and like the rest of the flock, spend most of their time grazing (instead of following us around hoping for more milk.) The lilacs and the roses have gifted their petals to the wind and are settling back to seed, growing inward to prepare for fall. In other words, it is halfway from the beginning to the end.

It is not the halfway point for everyone though. One of my favorite ewes is dying. She was old when she came to us three years ago, so she is very, very old now. She has been wandering alone, far from her sisters, and though I’ve tried packing grain and water to her, she no longer has much interest in either. I don’t want her to die, but there is no mistaking that it is her time. She was always gracious and gentle, a good mother, and a calming influence on the younger ewes. I catch a glimpse of her far out to pasture, standing with her head down, shuffling slowly through the patchy weeds and I can’t keep the tears from welling up in my eyes.

Tonight, as I do most evenings, I will take the kids out in the stroller to walk down the gravel road. We will watch the sunset and the rainbow of dusk deepen as the shadows slip from their hiding places beneath the trees and old machinery. I will tell them stories, but I will be thinking of that ewe waiting in the grass. Waiting for night to catch her in its soft basket, and for the earth to reclaim her bones, seeds for a someday spring.

Eliza Blue lives on a ranch in northwest South Dakota. She’s a musician, mom, author, and shepherd. She writes a column for newspapers in her region and produces audio commentary for South Dakota Public Radio. You can learn more about Eliza on her website.

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