By Lura Roti

Finishing a good book is bittersweet. On a recent Saturday my eyes were wet with tears when I read the last lines of Willa Cather’s O Pioneers.

Although I was sad to put the book down, I was crying, not because the book was finished but because the book is that powerful. I found the book, first published in 1913, at an estate sale on a Saturday morning. I was fortunate enough to purchase the 1990 Reader’s Digest edition for only $2.

The following Sunday afternoon, when I found myself with a couple lazy hours, I curled up with Tulip, our family dog and read it cover to cover.

Like its title suggests, O Pioneers is about homesteaders on the prairie of Nebraska. It shares their stories through the lives of a few main characters and the community they live in.

I picked up the book because of its author. When my family first moved to South Dakota, my mom’s cousin, Jim, a fourth-grade teacher, gifted My Antonia to me.

Also written by Cather, My Antonia is another story told about prairie settlers. It was an appropriate gift. Although the year was 1995, not 1885, I was entering my sophomore year of high school. I didn’t know a soul. And I had just moved to the prairie of western South Dakota.

In addition to being another great story, the benefit to picking up this Reader’s Digest copy of O Pioneers was that the book included a brief biography of Willa Cather.

What an amazing woman she was.

Her parents were Virginia sheep farmers who relocated the family to the prairie of Nebraska when she was 9. She went on to carve a successful career for herself. In 1908, she was named managing editor of a leading literary journal. After writing O Pioneers she published several other books, one of which won her a Pulitzer Prize.

Getting to know its author made reading her book even more enjoyable. And because I don’t have much time to read, if I find a page turner, I want more. So, I’ve ordered a few of her books to take on a family vacation. In the meantime, I decided to re-read My Antonia.

At this stage in my life, finding the time to read feels like a luxury. But it is something I enjoy and reading a good book brings me joy.

Reflecting on this long, cold, snow-filled and sunless winter, I’d say anything that brings joy is quite valuable.

I’ve lived in South Dakota nearly 30 years now, and I only remember a few other winters this overcast. The lack of sunlight was getting me down. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine who works as a dentist. She said so many of her patients were saying the same thing.

She recommended a “happy light.” I bought a small one for my desk and I turn it on for about an hour each morning. Within a week I noticed a difference.

The mood lift isn’t a placebo. I recently listened to an interview with a medical professional about seasonal affective disorder, and she said light therapy works for many people. In fact, she has used it for herself for the last 15 years.

Thank goodness for technology! I honestly don’t know how the pioneer women survived South Dakota winters.