In August, during the hour of the eclipse, I was standing in a small valley in Johnson County, Wyoming. Short dry grass extended across the landscape for miles with not a tree or bit of shade in sight, and as the mid-morning sunlight faded into the dusky purple of the eclipse, I was peering through the sagging window frames of a wooden house that my great grandparents built on their homestead here just less than a hundred years ago.
With the help of my older cousins' memories of what our grandparents told them, we think this one room wooden house was built to replace the house they lost in a kitchen fire, a few hundred yards away. What's left on the homestead now is a solid outhouse, listing 45-degrees sideways, remnants of animal pens, troughs, a root cellar, and this broken, weather-worn house, whose decline has been helped along by cows that still pasture here and who scratch their sides against any surface that will withstand their weight.
My guide and host was the most generous woman, Cyd Long, whose family ranches on this and surrounding land. She drove me all over Johnson County, explained its history and geography, and some principles of ranching and raising animals. Our conversation and my own observation of this beautiful, empty landscape confirmed the hardness of the homesteading life my great-grandparents attempted. This particular Little House on the Prairie has a cast of flinty, practical sadness.