(gentle guitar music) ♪ Back roads and byways ♪ ♪ Campfires we lie awake ♪ ♪ Sweet grass and summer sage ♪ ♪ Come on baby ♪ ♪ Come and take my hand ♪ ♪ Take my hand ♪ ♪ Take my hand ♪ ♪ We're Dakota bound ♪ - [Host] Join us as we travel to share stories and songs from the Prairie.
- Hello, I'm Eliza Blue and I am here at the Wild Idea Buffalo Ranch in Western South Dakota.
And wow, I wish you were here.
I'm so excited to share this place with you.
In fact, I'm so excited that we are going to film this across two episodes.
So this will actually be two parts.
And I brought songwriter Chuck Suchy with me from North Dakota.
We're gonna be talking to Dan O'Brien, who is one of the owners at Wild Idea.
It's gonna be amazing.
So let's head over to the studio.
Not that long ago, the prairies and plains of the Dakotas were the realm of the bison.
Literally millions of American bison roamed the Great Plains.
There are few places left in the United States where one can experience what it was like to look over the rolling prairie and see buffalo as far as the horizon line.
One such place is Wild Idea Buffalo Ranch found in Eastern Pennington County adjacent to the Cheyenne River.
Founded by Jill O'Brien and author Dan O'Brien, Wild Idea's mission is to regenerate the prairie grasslands while improving our home planet and our food supply by bringing back the bison.
For this special two-part episode, we wanted to bring in two additional artists to join us at Wild Idea to celebrate the buffalo and the wild prairie they thrive on.
We'll hear music and stories from folk singer Chuck Suchy as well as visit with Jill about the benefits of bison meat.
And we'll hear Dan read an excerpt from his book, "In the Center of the Nation."
Lakota hoop dancer and storyteller, Kevin Locke, was also going to be part of these episodes, but passed away unexpectedly just prior to taping.
Our performances here are dedicated to his gentle spirit and memory and to the hope that we can carry forward his work to connect people to the spirit of the land and animals and to one another.
So this song that we're gonna play next is actually the last song on my most recent album.
It's called Good At Staying.
And I was joking that it includes one of my favorite lines and it's always awkward to compliment yourself, but.
- Oh, please do, please come on.
- But, and the first line of the song is one of my favorite lines but that's actually not what I wanna talk about.
What I wanna talk about is accordion and we, this particular instrument, we were having a big conversation.
You had come to my house and we were practicing and chatting and we were discussing how the wind is a soundtrack for the plains and it's such an integral part of this sort of ecosystem and the way we understand it and the way we experience it and particularly the sound of the wind blowing through the grass and how, you know, if you think about the wind being like sort of the breath of the earth and that the songs that the wind is singing us kind of like the songs our mother sings us and that we were comparing it to, there's a lot of different instruments that have components that include wind and particularly the accordion the reeds inside of it and the bellows when you're opening and closing it are what create the sound.
So you were just comparing that to the wind and I dunno if you wanna say a little bit more I kind of took your whole story.
- No, no, that was great and I'm glad you remember that.
And by the way, it's just such a delight to make music with you and so thank you for inviting me to be part of this.
When I do workshops with especially young people in schools, I try to explain them what the accordion is, that it's really a wind instrument and the bellows pump air and then there's reeds inside here.
And to get them to sort of comprehend a reed and the wind blowing through it, I use that same analogy of when you hear the wind blowing through the grass, the grass vibrates and sound is created.
And I don't know, I had a grandpa who, I remember him doing this, plucking a wide leaf off of a grass and then stretching it between the space in his thumbs and then blowing, and it kind of would sound like a goose, but you know, it was a musical note.
And so I like to think of somebody doing that a long time ago before there even were accordions or maybe even before there were musical instruments and just wondering maybe they were lying in the grass, looking up at the clouds and the sky and seeing the grass wave above them and hearing it at the same time and smelling it.
And there was all this sensory overload going on and maybe they wanted to figure that out for themselves.
And then they blew against the reed of, or the leaf of grass and it vibrated.
And so from there it progressed to like maybe a sort of a harmonica.
And from there into the accordion and with what I love about the accordion is the player does have control over that breath or that wind with the pumping of the bellows.
You can do it aggressively or softly.
You can extend it out a long time.
And so the dynamics are readily available and so it's really an extension of human emotion and the mechanism to bring that emotion forth.
- Yeah, and it, I mean it really is a very emotive instrument I think for that exact reason.
So, which is why I'm glad that you are bringing it to my song today with my favorite line.
- And it goes great with favorite lines.
So I mean.
- Oh, all right, well let's give it a go.
(guitar music) ♪ You're good at staying ♪ ♪ Good at staying ♪ ♪ Good at staying till the rut makes a road ♪ ♪ You're good at staying ♪ ♪ Good at staying ♪ ♪ Good at staying till the rut makes a road ♪ ♪ The rut makes a road ♪ ♪ Long past dusk ♪ ♪ Everything is black ♪ ♪ Except the dust between ♪ ♪ The dead grass and headlights ♪ ♪ And off to the side ♪ ♪ A gravel grave site stands ♪ ♪ Marked by a plastic wreath ♪ ♪ Tumbled by the wind ♪ ♪ You slow a map ♪ ♪ Spread on your lap ♪ ♪ The dome light glowing low ♪ ♪ You slow a map ♪ ♪ Spread on your lap ♪ ♪ The dome light glowing low ♪ ♪ Look up, a fox is fleeing ♪ ♪ Watch her roam ♪ ♪ Watch her roam ♪ ♪ Look up, a fox is fleeing ♪ ♪ You're finally home ♪ ♪ You're finally, finally home ♪ ♪ You're finally, finally home ♪ ♪ You're finally, finally home ♪ ♪ (guitar and accordion playing) ♪ ♪ You're good at staying ♪ ♪ Good at staying ♪ ♪ Good at staying till the rut makes a road ♪ ♪ The rut makes a road ♪ ♪ The rut makes a road ♪ - So I am here with Jill O'Brien, co-owner of Wild Idea Buffalo Company and she is going to be talking with us about food which honestly is one of my favorite topics.
I mean, part of moving for me, moving to the prairie and suddenly having all this space to garden, it really changed my relationship with food when I could produce things myself and we also raise our own meat on our ranch.
So it's, I just feel like that's a kind of fundamental part of this whole experience of living on a ranch and working on a ranch but you are taking it even another step with Wild Idea in creating these products that other people can use.
So I don't know, I just wanna hear more about that for you, what that's like for you.
- Wonderful well thank you so much for having us.
Really appreciate that.
Yeah, so food has always been a part of my life.
Grew up on a dairy farm and garden, milk cows, you know, the whole deal.
Our daughter and son-in-law live on the ranch too.
They have a milk cow, they have a big garden.
And for us here on the ranch raising, you know, a hundred percent grass fed, grass finish buffalo meat, humanely field harvested, which is so important.
No fear in the animal and on large of a landscape.
Well, you can see all around us, as wild as they possibly can be.
That's really good stuff.
And the other benefits that go along with that are carbon sequestration and regenerative agriculture.
All of those things are really important to know but they're kind of, they're hard conversations to have.
And you know, you can get a roll of the eyes after about 15 minutes of talking about carbon sequestration right?
But food pulls people into that conversation.
It gathers us all around the table.
So raising our animals, you know, out on these large landscapes, a hundred percent grass fed, grass finished, humanly field harvested, water, grass and sunshine are the ingredients as nature intended.
It's really critical and not only nurturing our bodies, but feeding our soul.
That's pretty important.
I love what Dan says.
He often will make reference to the buffalo meat being like, nature's holy communion.
You know, it's a way to have that sacrament every day when we can connect with our food and know where it comes from and how it's raised.
- Yeah, 'cause we are, it puts us as part of the circle of life, which I mean we are anyway but it really connects us to the places we live and the flora and the fauna of that place.
And it is a gift, the gift that the buffalo is giving us, as well as a gift that the land is giving us.
So I just really appreciate that sensibility and I'm so excited to see what you have for us today.
- Yes, so this is the byproduct of everything we do here on the ranch and that's the meat.
So anyway, this is a real fall dinner.
It's one of my favorites.
My mother used to make it all the time and I call it steak and green beans, but I've used a chuck roast and I've braised it in some garden tomatoes and then some garden green beans too.
So just a delicious sort of a stew if you would.
And we're gonna have it on some wild rice harvested in Minnesota on native land so that's great.
Should I dish you up some?
- Yes, I would love it.
- Let's do, okay.
- And in terms of like, if someone were to wanna make something like this at home, what, is there any tips or just kind of throw it all in there?
- Oh gosh, this is, it's so user friendly.
I mean, the chuck roast is one of my favorites because it's really kind of foolproof.
You braise it and you just, I mean it's gonna be just melt in your mouth amazing.
Look at how beautiful that is.
- [Eliza] Oh yes.
- And some garden beans here for you.
And so then we'll try it and you're gonna love it, I promise.
Our rice, so have a little bit of water, grass and sunshine there.
I love to say that like after you put on a few pounds it's like a little too much sunshine.
- Well it also just does make it sound better like it's just water and grass.
- It's just water, grass and sunshine, that's all.
That's all I got.
All right, who else would like some delicious buffalo meat?
I have some here.
- There's powerful forces going on that most of us don't notice too often and one of those forces is the migration of birds.
And if you're lucky, you've got some time to take a reclining lawn chair or just lie down on the grass itself if you're even luckier and able to do that and just look up on these beautiful fall days and eventually you'll see creatures way high, way high above us, following their call and following their journey.
(guitar playing) This is called "High Migration."
♪ Late September ♪ ♪ Feel the change ♪ ♪ Earth is shifting ♪ ♪ Winter range ♪ ♪ Guide the journey ♪ ♪ Star and sun ♪ ♪ No returning ♪ ♪ Once begun ♪ ♪ Flying the high wing ♪ ♪ Flying the high wind ♪ ♪ Calling heart to home ♪ ♪ Feel the passion ♪ ♪ Boil within ♪ ♪ Truth emerging ♪ ♪ Free of sin ♪ ♪ Faith unknowing ♪ ♪ The season rains ♪ ♪ Need for going ♪ ♪ Unexplained ♪ ♪ Flying high wing ♪ ♪ Flying the high wind ♪ ♪ Calling heart to home ♪ (guitar playing) ♪ Flying the high wing ♪ ♪ Flying the high wind ♪ ♪ Calling heart to home ♪ ♪ Cold as thunder ♪ ♪ Free of fear ♪ ♪ True as lightning ♪ ♪ Voices clear ♪ ♪ Calling heart to home ♪ ♪ Calling heart to home ♪ ♪ Calling heart to home ♪ - Coming from either direction, the land changes before you have a chance to get ready for it.
Traveling eastward, you see the grasslands for the first time from several thousand feet up in the Rocky Mountains.
You come around to turn intent on the ruggedness of the mountains and suddenly the pine trees, rocks and fast running water are gone.
Below you, though still 50 miles off, is the flattest, smoothest, most treeless stretch of land imaginable.
And if you're traveling west, you've just gotten used to the fertile black soils of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa just come to expect the neatly painted prosperous farm buildings surrounded by cultivated groves of trees when you come to the Missouri River and it all goes to hell.
Suddenly the order is gone, the prosperity is scattered.
And when you get the feeling that the whole world can see you, but no one is watching, you've come to the grasslands of North America.
They roll up and out of the Missouri River breaks and they flatten with few deviations for 600 miles.
Since the beginning, the grasslands have reminded Europeans of an ocean, an ocean of grass.
But of course they're as far from the big water as they would get, maybe knowing that, but still having the feeling that they're floating unable to reach anything familiar and solid, tends to drive people crazy.
And maybe it's that craziness that makes some of the people move the way they do when they come to the grasslands.
From one river drainage to the next, from town to town, right through the grasslands, get away quick.
Things have always moved out here but usually in a circle like the geese, the ducks, the Indians and the buffalo.
My God, the buffalo, millions weighing a ton a piece, turning grass into meat, moving on, not moving through like the ocean people, but moving in huge annual circles and coming back to the place where they've really always been.
Moving along the Missouri when they feel like it.
Turning to the west and grazing along the Cheyenne River, staying on the benches to the south, eating the wheat grass, the blue stem, the switch grass and the fescue.
For 10 million years they moved like that until Europeans came and said it all had to belong to someone.
The buffalo were killed for trespassing, who knows, only the birds, those that survive, still move in grand swirling migrations that take them thousands of miles south in the winter and thousands of miles north in the summer.
They move back and forth with the seasons perpendicular to the path of the people on the interstate highway.
There used to be hundreds of trails each with their own idiosyncrasies but now there are really only three highways.
One runs across the southern part as straight as humans can build from Omaha on the Missouri to where you went to mountains raise up and fall down into the great Salt Lake Valley.
The builders clearly wanted to spend as little time as possible here.
They were some of those ocean men and they felt dizzy on the grasslands.
They sited down their transits at Omaha and they didn't look up until the last bulldozer had topped the pass over the great Salt Lake.
The other two highways are further north and they run a couple hundred miles apart and pretty much parallel until they come inside of the Rocky Mountains.
Then they converge as if the highways or the men who built them started out with purpose and courage, but halfway through lost their nerve and built toward each other.
Once the highways come together in Billings they never separate until they are through the grasslands past the mountains, and into the fertile Northwest.
People travel those three highways by the hundreds of thousands, but they seldom stop in a grasslands for anything other than food for themselves and gasoline for their automobiles.
It's mostly in the summer carloads of families crossing the grasslands only as a consequence of wanting to be someplace else.
Vacation pioneers heading for the mountains or the opposite coast, telling themselves that the crossing won't be that bad.
A few handle it well but most feel the crush of too much space.
Parents feel more protective for no apparent reason.
They glance uneasily around their little car camps along the highway.
There's only the grass.
An occasional bare butte, scattered sage and the wind.
Maybe it's the wind that makes them herd their brood back into their cars, look once more around them, then leap back behind the steering wheel and drive on.
(wind blowing) ♪ Back roads and byways ♪ ♪ Campfires we'll lie awake ♪ ♪ Sweet grass and summer sage ♪ ♪ Come on baby, come and take my hand ♪ ♪ Take my hand ♪ ♪ Take my hand ♪ ♪ We're Dakota bound ♪ - [Eliza] To find and watch previous episodes of "Wish You Were Here" with Eliza Blue, head to watch.sdpb.org.