MANSFIELD, S.D. — They came from Maine, Massachusetts, Washington state and West Virginia.
South Dakota was something of an escape for six women, led by Allyson Scammell — although some might know her as Allyson Stroschein.
For the last five days in an area about 20 miles south of Aberdeen, they’ve been hosted by Sharon and Larry Stroschein — Scammell’s parents — learning about life on a cattle ranch. It was eco-tourism meets personal growth on the South Dakota prairie.
“I thought, what an amazing experience to come out to the space, and the quiet, and the slow — slow down, connect back to the land and animals and understand where your hamburger comes from,” Scammell said.
For many of them, Scammell serves as their life coach. She runs a business helping others realize their core gifts — abilities unique to every person that they can bring to their careers or day-to-day life.
“There isn’t a lot of light pollution out here, and I was excited to see the night sky,” said Jane Bernstein, who traveled to South Dakota from Great Barrington, Mass., with her partner Meredith O’Connor, their two dogs and a cat in an RV. “The sky has been spectacular, but it’s been more of the sunsets — because we’re here around summer solstice — I’ve not been awake for too much of the starry sky.”
Save for a family trip to the Black Hills, most of the women had never spent any significant time in South Dakota, especially not on a farm or cattle ranch.
“My biggest take away is just witnessing the people and the land and how friendly everybody is here,” said Jen Rolston, from Leetown, W.Va. “I’ve been thinking about what it must be like to have never experienced this.”
As a kid, Scammell said she couldn’t wait to get away — a week after graduating from South Dakota State University, she was flying far, far away — joining the Peace Corps.
It took more than a decade of living overseas and just some general growing up for her to really appreciate the beauty of the prairie and northeastern South Dakota, said Scammell, who has since settled in Yarmouth, Maine. And then a few years ago, she got the idea to share it with others.
This weekend’s event — the first in what Scammell said she hopes to make an annual retreat — was a few years in the making, meaning the Mansfield Stroscheins had some time to come around to the idea.
Every morning, the group started the day with yoga on the lawn of the old Stroschein residence, which is down the road from the house Larry and Sharon moved into within the last year.
On the last day of their stay, Larry Stroschein took the retreaters to his cattle herd and his special rock atop a hill in his pasture.
With the cattle, he explained his grazing practices and how they mimic what the wild bison would have done 200-plus years ago.
His rock is a place of worship.
“Sharon goes to church, I come out and sit on my rock,” Larry Stroschein said. “I always tell her I feel closer to God sitting out here than I do in church.”
After some discussion about history — both Stroschein family and general U.S., including the Homestead Act and the near extinction of bison — Scammell led prairie meditation.
The sounds of the birds singing, wind blowing and bovines bellowing created a sense of calm that can only be achieved on the plains.
“There’s soul space here to kind of explore,” said Ellen Chestnut, a woman who spent most of her life in Los Angeles, but now resides in Seattle.
Many of the retreaters mentioned the wide open spaces and the slower pace of life.
“Just allowing myself to take day-to-day life at a slower pace and to bring back this feeling of space,” said Kate Huntress of Yarmouth, Maine. “I am excited to go home and do things in my little corner of the world in a somewhat different way.”