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Near Keystone, S.D. in early October 2013 after Storm Atlas where Katie Pinke was stranded with ranching women at a conference. (Katie Pinke/ Agweek/ Forum News Service)

When we could be bitter, choose to be better

Do you remember the early October blizzard that hit western South Dakota six years ago? Storm Atlas it was named. Three-plus feet of sudden snow devastated cattle and calves still out on summer pastures.

It was a disastrous blow to ranchers both in loss of livestock, genetics, and cattle they had been raising for generations and a huge financial loss.

I was in the Black Hills speaking at an agriculture event with South Dakota ranching women attendees. My plan was to drive to my next speaking event in western North Dakota. But instead, I was stranded at a lodge, without electricity with 30 or so female ranchers (and a few husbands) and women in agriculture plus a national tour group waiting to see Mount Rushmore.

Every early fall I think of the storm, a couple of days of no electricity, no heat other than the fireplace in the main lobby of the lodge and lodge staff preparing food for guests on the one gas stove in the lodge, using ingredients and meat from what was suppose to be prepared into a feast for a weekend outdoor wedding. Instead, it fed those of us stranded.

There were no generators or snow blowers and all roads and our vehicles were covered in 38 inches of snow. We had two shovels and worked together when the snow stopped. We flagged down a road crew to help.

The messy memories aren't what I recall annually though.

It's the people who made the difference in Storm Atlas. The ranchers who sat around, unable to leave, but trying to get ahold of their families at home to check on their livestock.

The losses would be deep for these families I knew. You could expect them to be bitter at the circumstances they had no control over and instead, they chose to be better.

As we sat in front of the fire at the lodge, the group of ranch and farm women planned outreach and fundraising to help those in agriculture who would need a hand up in the months to recover from Storm Atlas.

They didn't grab headlines but raised awareness and aid that positively impacted others in need. Ranching women chose to better together.

At the same time, I remember a tour group attendee demanding she get a ride to the airport and she was leaving South Dakota. The staff tried to explain there were no flights and absolutely no way to get her out of the closed highways of the Black Hills. The woman couldn't change her circumstances and bitterly expressed her frustration.

Here we are, in another set of devastating circumstances for many in agriculture in our region. It's not from one storm event but most likely the wettest early fall on record.

Water fills our farm fields and the anticipation for harvest fades for some as worry or anxiety sets in. It's been a limited growing season with numerous setbacks.

We cannot control the weather. We can care for one another. We can choose to support one another through communication, awareness, and create a path that gives others an outlet to show support. You do not have to be in a specific industry or be an expert in anything to support and encourage those struggling in a season of difficulty.

Communicate about the setbacks your region is faced with, not just grumbling over coffee with your family or the neighbors, but with your elected officials, online and offline.

Reach out to the media (that's us) with a unique experience or story your farm or community has never experienced before this season.

Check-in on your farming friends and neighbors. Help plan or volunteer at a community event. You're not alone in difficult times. Choose to be better from a time that could make us bitter. There will be more storms, blizzards, droughts and then too much rain in our lives. We cannot control the rain, the sunshine or frost date.

We can be better through outreach to one another and communication to make sure agriculture's story is shared with those nearby and far from our fields.