Eliza Blue: Place and Purpose

The Rural Regenerator Fellowship brings together individual artists, makers, and culture bearers, grassroots organizers, community development workers, public sector workers and other rural change-makers who are committed to advancing the role of art, culture and creativity in rural development and community building. Recently, we asked a collective of local writers to sit down with current Rural Regenerator cohort members to share more about their work.

Eliza Blue’s love of the place in which she lives is everything. 

She has been cultivating her relationship to one rural place after spending her formative adult years as a touring musician without that ease of home as a stationary concept. Today her corner of South Dakota prairie serves as a site for creative inspiration. Storytelling is the overarching umbrella that is the container for all of Eliza’s creative ventures. 

These stories emerge through her newsletter/podcast project “Little Pasture on the Prairie,” where she shares about her family’s tending of a ranch near Bison, South Dakota. She’s also a prolific storyteller through the songs she writes and sings. And as host of “Wish You Were Here” a traveling music and storytelling show that contributes “a visual ethnographic almanac” of the rural northern plains. In the May 4, 2023 episode, available to stream on PBS, she mentions one of her favorite lines in the first song she performs is, “Good at staying until the rut makes a road.” Eliza has been making ruts on the rural land she is in relationship with and the roads are forming for stories, ideas, people, and creatures alike to travel.

Eliza’s relationship to this physical place —one of the most least-populated counties in the contiguous United States— continues to inspire her in different ways as she changes. In our current age of rapid climate change and as a first-hand observer of the impacts of changing environmental conditions, Eliza feels called to lean in to love. Joy, delight, care, and compassion nourishes her as she grapples with the grief and fear connected to the ranching cattle business she helps run with her husband and children in our current era. Moving to this rural environment thirteen years ago has transformed her from a vegan to someone who is reckoning with the culture she was born into and necessarily developing different cultural relationships to land and animals. Raising animals for food has allowed her to honor the cycles of death so that other things can live.

For Eliza, her community expands beyond her human neighbors who are few and far between. She lives near a tiny town of 300 people and the next tiny town is 45 miles away. When she needs something from the grocery store, it’s an hour drive. Amongst this vast rural geography it’s no wonder when asked to share about her community she responds with, “ my closest community are the animals I live with – the human children I’m raising, four dogs, way too many cats, chicken, sheep, the cattle, the horses. They are our friends, the naughty teens, the grandmas.” As each year passes and the more time she spends cultivating these relationships with plants, animals and humans, she loves tuning into all the information she can receive. By nature of her work she is coming into contact with so many other beings. As a formerly urban resident, she didn’t know these relationships were possible.

Her music thrives on these relationships to the land and creatures around her. Eliza admits to having frequent existential crises driven by her diverse interests. But, she also reminds herself, “We come here with a unique song to sing,” and creativity can thrive when, “you devote yourself to listening to your own melodies.” This ethos is guiding the release of Eliza’s new folk opera – The Grass Widow. A project ten years in the making, this work originally emerged as a collection of poems. Eliza took a couple of the poems and turned them into a few songs that were released on her album, South Dakota, First of May in 2018. This April, she revisited them and realized the poems were leading her to its newest iteration of the five song EP she plans to release this summer. Eliza describes the creative process as a dance. For her, part of the muse is, “inside of us, and part of it exists somewhere else outside of us.” She recognizes the beauty in patience and witnessing. Like the cycles of seasons, Eliza dances with her creative impulses, allowing herself to go along with what she calls her “weird obsessions.” She trusts in “following those impulses as they come.” And when she slips into the thinking of “what am I even doing with my life?!” She reminds herself, “I don’t have to know, I just have to be ready to arrive there.”

Part of Eliza’s current preparations for creative arrivals is through tending community connections. She offers, “Who am I in this constellation of creation?” Working on a ranch and writing and singing about it has been a process of rediscovering and reconnecting with the two parts of agri+culture. Some of this creative garden is harvested in the show she hosts – Wish you Were Here – airing on South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota PBS affiliates. While born out of the pandemic, Eliza sees the show as one way to keep making space for more rural voices and stories to be heard and highlighted especially in our current political times.

Her newest collaborative community effort exemplifies her diverse storytelling approaches. In its nascent state, the Kithship Collective was born out of two artist performances on the Wish You Were Here show. In hopes of further collaboration Eliza Blue, Chuck Suchy, and Kevin Locke launched Kithship as part residency, part intentional gathering, part knowledge sharing, part…continuing to become. They chose kithship purposefully, because it reflects the relationships folks cultivate with a shared place. Eliza describes her current role as a gentle cradling of it, but it is by no means hers alone to continue to tend. After the unexpected passing of Kevin Locke in October of 2022 she feels even more called to figure out how this project continues to “write love stories to ecosystems” to honor his legacy.

Ultimately, Eliza is confident in the way she is walking the rutted creative paths she’s made from her ranch in Northwest South Dakota. “All I can do is write the story I have to tell,” she shares. The stories she’s telling today are about strategies for healing broken relationships with the land, and to one another, (humans, plants and animals). She doesn’t always know the exact way, but she knows that this is her path. She is destined to figure this out for herself as wholeheartedly as possible. “If you’re doing what you need to do, and you’re living into your story, maybe that’s all you have to do. I am a person who lives in a rural place, and I’m telling the story I have to tell.”

About the Author

Kandace Creel Falcón, Ph.D. (she/her/they/theirs) is an interdisciplinary feminist scholar, writer, and visual artist. Their life’s passion grounds the power of narrative for social transformation. Learn more about Kandace’s writing and work at www.kjcfalcon.com.