Heather Hamilton-Maude provides an update on the personal aftermath of the winter storm Atlas that hit western South Dakota and the surrounding area in early October.
One week ago I was sadly looking around in despair at the remains of generations of work and dedication to the livestock industry. Today, I am drinking coffee, writing articles, enjoying the late autumn sunshine, and doing other “normal” things. While the impacts of the Atlas blizzard are by no means over and will be felt for years to come, the initial shock I described in my article “Rancher Details "Gut-Wrenching" Pain From Cattle Lost In SD Blizzard,” is past.
Many people contacted me and other members of the community in a variety of ways to extend thoughts, prayers and kind words – thank you from all of us. You helped lift our spirits and provide us the ability to move past the immediate emotional shock and physical fatigue that seem to partner up following something this devastating.
Of the many calls and conversations, the pivotal one for me was with my 91-year-old grandmother, Annabelle, on Friday night. I gave her the details. In response, she said: “Well, sweetie, I’m sure glad to hear from you and that you made out alright. It’s a shame these things happen, but you young folks will make it.”
Those words helped me turn a corner. That little lady, much like my other set of grandparents, is tough, resilient, and backed by a lot more trials and resulting wisdom than I possess. And most of them were derived in the ranching business of northeastern Wyoming.
In addition to learning the facts of our situation, my grandma was on a mission to find out when and where I would be on the news, what newspapers my work would be in, and to be sure I saved her copies so she could read my work.
Which leads to another enormous and unexpected opportunity that presented itself in the midst of this already difficult time: telling the rancher’s story. Following my piece for BEEF, I was asked to be on Keloland News out of Sioux Falls, SD, twice. Then, another rancher in the area suggested me for a live Skype interview with Al Jazeera America News out of New York.
When I picture being on the news, I see myself looking presentable, being prepared, well rested, and so on. The reality was that my computer was propped on a decorative crate balanced on top of my puppy’s kennel. My husband Charles literally wiped mud off my face, if not my clothes, before the first interview, and I was exhausted. I was also very grateful they couldn’t smell me because I had done hog chores earlier in the morning.
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It was tough. I would be outside cleaning up after the blizzard or doing chores, sometimes getting updates from my husband while he was helping haul the deceased cattle off road ditches and feeding our cattle. Then I had to sit down and answer questions regarding our industry, how my own cattle died, what we did and how it felt, all in an articulate and accurate manner. It’s one thing to write for editors such as those of BEEF magazine, who understand the industry; it’s something else entirely to go face-to-face with well-meaning news anchors unfamiliar with the ranching world.
But, as my parents often remind me, God works in mysterious ways, and He presented the unique opportunity to share the rancher’s story in a time it was desperately needed. While difficult, it was also worth it to shed a truthful light on my way of life and the impact this weather event had on both our livestock and selves.
Going forward we will survive, just as my grandma said. We are slowly working past the storm’s effects along with our friends and neighbors, and the everyday normality of life is beginning to settle back into place. If I’m ever on the news again, I will remember that the ability to provide accurate information trumps having a good hair day. If we ever face an early October blizzard again, my husband and I will be one step closer to facing it with the wisdom of experience.
This past week has been a hard personal lesson in the scriptures, which state that the good Lord gives and the Lord takes away. But our blessings belong to Him, as He comforts us in times of tribulation. It’s been seven days of extreme trials and personal growth that He carried our family through, and He continues to guide us going forward.
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