What is home? Darcy Lipp-Acord asks. Is it in the prairies of South Dakota where she grew up? Or amidst the mountains of Montana where she attended college? Where does one truly ever belong? What is place? Lipp-Acord explores these and other timeless themes in Circling Back Home: A Plainswoman’s Journey. In a total of thirteen essays, written over ten years, Lipp-Acord wraps the reader up in the intimacy of her marital home, her childhood home, her husband’s ranch, and the lives of her children. Lipp-Acord grew up in Timber Lake, South Dakota, on a farm where three generations of her family have lived. She now lives on a ranch near the border of Montana and Wyoming with her husband, Shawn, and their six children.
The essays are woven around the themes of family, ancestral legacy, ranching, and agriculture. In each essay, Lipp-Acord draws from stories of her maternal and paternal grandparents and, in doing so, connects the past with her immediate present. Life on the ranch is hard and harder still for a ranch hand, which is Shawn’s occupation for most of the narrative. But should she abandon the hard life just because it’s hard? Shouldn’t she, as her forbears did, fight for the lifestyle that she knows is the only true passion for her husband and that she believes will be good for her girls? And so they move from ranch to ranch, even taking a brief hiatus between ranching stints—Lipp-Acord as a teacher and ther husband as a construction worker for a phone company. But this hiatus only proves to reinforce their love for the open country, horses, and ranching, and so they move back. In a span of eight years, Lipp-Acord writes, her family had to move seven times.
Read with a feminist lens, though, Lipp-Acord’s treatment of her life, and the suggestion of the romance and charm of being a housewife, mother, and wife to a cowboy, might be a hard sell in 2013—especially to an urban, professional, female audience. This is not to say that a reader far removed from the author’s lifestyle cannot come to enjoy her writings, but rather that the proud espousal of the lifestyle may distance the reader from the story arc, as it did to me. And perhaps that is not a weakness of the author or the stories but my own cross to bear.
Taken together, the stories are a great introduction to country life. The essays bring to light the vicissitudes of country living, of working and raising a family in harsh yet rewarding conditions. And as such, the stories are a great testament to the quintessential American values of hard work, risk-taking, adventure, and faith.