Holidays: How they hold us and haunt us

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Last weekend marked the end of deer rifle season here in North Dakota. My uncle from Texas arrived in the middle of the week with his son-in-law and nephew, Pops took some time off, Husband willed Saturday to come quicker and the entire Veeder Ranch turned into a hunting camp, just like it does every year at this time.

Boots dripping with melted snow were strewn in my parent’s entryway, a combination of camouflage, hunter-orange, fleece, wool and leather piled up on the chairs. Men were up and out with the sun sitting on hilltops and sneaking through draws.

When our Texas Uncle comes to the ranch it’s like an extended holiday around here. We all sort of hang up our evening plans and get together around mom’s table while Pops fries up fish or beef or, if there was some success that day, venison.

Ever since I was a little girl, and as long as I’ve lived in this place, this is the way it’s been.

Most years I go out with them on the hunt at least once. Because there’s something about being out with the boys who grew up here, my dad and his brother, together walking the draws they know so well, sitting quietly on the hilltops taking in the familiar view of their childhood, doing what they’ve always done, that’s always been comforting to me.

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Since we almost lost dad early this year, each tradition spent since his recovery has been regarded as a gift and a little more precious than it was before.

I seem to be seeing the world more that way lately.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches I imagine it’s timely to be so grateful for second chances, for family, for walking behind my husband on a warm early winter evening, keeping quiet while he carries his bow, turns around and smiles, waving me along.

It’s never been difficult for me to be grateful for these things.

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But never in my life have I seen the world and the people in it as fragile as I see them these days.

Never have I been more aware of time and what it means for us.

And as much as I’m grateful for all of the things that fill this life of ours, during the holidays especially, I become the most aware of what we don’t have.

And who or what others are mourning.

Because what we don’t have, who we are missing, sits like a silent ache in the quiet corners of our houses.

IMG_9778Yesterday I sat down to make a Christmas Card and for the first time in my life I felt sort of silly about the whole thing.

“Who the hell wants a picture of just the two of us?” I said out loud to my husband looking over my shoulder. “Christmas Cards are for people with kids, and grandkids, so their families can see how cute they are. How much they’ve grown. We just keep getting older. This feels pathetic.”

It wasn’t sadness coming out of my mouth, but frustration. Frustration that the life I was in was perfectly good and that I should be perfectly grateful, but I couldn’t will myself to be those things at the moment, not even in the name of the holiday spirit.

All I could muster up was annoyance and a sort of anger that other people have family photos taken for the occasion, snuggling into one another on a blanket or in front of a fireplace, birth announcements for Christmas cards, big extended family shots with grandkids on Santa’s lap, and all I could scrounge up from our archives was a photo of us sitting on a cooler at a music festival drinking beer.

It was a moment of pure envy. Pure poor me. It was ugly. (Others have lost more. Others have less to lose. Others suffer more than we can comprehend.)

And it sort of scared me.

Because I love that photo of us sitting on a cooler at a music festival drinking beer.

I love that we have a life full of those sorts of photo opportunities. I am proud that despite all of our losses we are still trying, but most of all, we’re still living a fun life, striving for fulfillment. Holding on to one another. Laughing.

We have other dreams, dreams that don’t fill the empty void of a family we feel as incomplete, but dreams nonetheless.

We’re ok really. Most days we’re just fine.

But how do you portray this when picking out a Christmas card? The templates available to us are smattered with children frolicking in the snow, “Joy to the World” in big bold letters across their footprints.

Staring at the photo of my husband and me, in our early 30s, sun kissed and smiling despite seven years of trying and failing at creating one of those Christmas Card Template families, all I could see were our friends and family, the ones who know of our struggles, opening the card and shaking their heads.

“Poor Jessie and Chad,” they would think to themselves.

“Joy to the World” didn’t feel appropriate then.

And neither did anything with the words “Merry” or “Bright.”

But it was all bullshit. Justified bullshit, but bullshit still, and I knew it.

So did my husband.

He said, “You’re sending these to people who love us. My grandma. Your grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Our friends. They love to get mail. They will love to have a photo of us and I like this one.”

“I like this one too,” I said and carried on.

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If I learned anything this year it’s that we don’t know what the hell is going to happen. I’ve been walking through 2014 with that sucked so close to my chest that some days I can’t breathe.

But as the year progressed, as summer came shining down on our shoulders, when my little sister got engaged, as I watched my nephew turn 4, working on growing up into a cool little person, I watched my dad get better, stronger, more himself, the worry release from my mom’s face, I realized that not knowing how this is all going to turn isn’t all scary.

But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s sad. And always it makes the holidays a little bit shaky for us. Because being so damn grateful and so damn frustrated and so damn happy and so damn worried at the same time is confusing and emotional, especially when it comes to cutting down and decorating Christmas trees and making sugar cookies alone together in this house.

Yes, traditions can hold us together as much as they can haunt us.

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I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here. That some of us celebrate as much as we mourn during this time of year. I say some of us. But maybe it’s all of us. And that’s ok.

I imagine my dad and his brother walking across these pastures where they were raised, and I doubt they take many steps before they think about their father and how he taught them to shoot their first rifle, how he was with them when they got their first big buck, two grown men, two grandfathers, just missing their dad.

I look at my husband looking back at me, waving me along the trail out there on our own hunt, I feel him standing behind me in the kitchen, I watch him cutting down another tree to stand in our house for the season and I know we can do it. We can be sad and we can be happy. Scared and hopeful as hell.

And we can sit together on that cooler under the hot summer sun, a little tipsy from one too many, smiling eyes under sunglasses in the face of a good and unpredictable life and we can be so frustrated and so thankful and so much of all of the heartache and happiness that sits in our bones under that skin that makes up the arms we have around each other and we can put it on our Christmas card, and despite all that we think we don’t have that we should, we can write “Joy to the World” if we want to.

But I don’t think I want to.

This year, I think I’ll just pick “Peace.”

Winter

Colder.

IMG_9959It’s cold.

10 degrees and it looks like that’s where it’s gonna stay. All day. The rest of the week.

I wanna snuggle up in a big ‘ol pile with this kitten and all my blankets.

IMG_9944It’s funny how fast the seasons shift around here. I’ve lived here long enough to expect it, but just a few days ago it was sunny and mild and the hilltops were gold and we were walking around saying, “What a beautiful fall we’ve been having!” “Aren’t we lucky!”

IMG_1218And then, overnight…

IMG_0155Below zero temperatures. Icy roads, people trying to remember where they put their favorite scarf. Hat. Mittens.

IMG_0160I hauled the giant tub of winter gear upstairs to sort through. Ordered a new pair of snow boots.  

Took the dogs for a walk.

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Turned around after five minutes and went back inside.

Shit. It’s cold.

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I’m not ready for this.

The dam is froze up. Ranchers are breaking ice and feeding hay.

IMG_9961I am making plans for soup for dinner every night for the next six months.

I even went to craft club and attempted to make mittens out of an old sweater.

I hadn’t used a sewing machine since I nearly failed Home Ec. in the 8th grade. This time it didn’t go much better.

I required assistance. A lot of assistance. And the mittens, well, one is done. Sorta. I might need to call Martha Stewart…and pour a drink…

Winter

But these are the things people out here do in the winter. They have hobbies. Or create new ones that will help them pass the time in the dark and cold that settles in here around 5 pm and lingers until the morning. And some might pour a little bourbon in a glass, you know, to thaw out a bit…

If the cold and the white on the plains were as inspiring to as many people as the waves in the ocean hitting the shore, or the tall pines of the mountains reaching toward the sky, we would have thousands of poets and painters here telling the story of a frozen world.

Old shack in winter

But the cold settling in on the plains is a beauty recognized by the characters out here who  can’t help but marvel at extremes. They appreciate what cold does to the body and the soul, makes it slow down, recharge, toughen up and soften up at the same time.

We take pride in the taking care of things, the animals, the driveway, one another.

We laugh at things like frozen eyeballs, snot-sicles and relocated southerners who think 20 degrees is as cold as it gets.

It is cold. But it will get colder.

My Lord, will it get colder.

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It Came In With The Night
Go find your mittens
so your fingers don’t freeze
slip on your big boots
pull your socks to your knees

Dig out your best scarf
wrap it round yourself tight
the snow has arrived here

it came in with the night.

I’ll put the roast in the oven
and heat the milk on the stove
they’ll be right here waiting
when you come in from the cold

Knocking ice from the branches
and stringing Christmas tree lights
yes the snow has arrived dear

it came in with the night.

So squeeze on your knit cap
over wild wooly hair
watch your breath float and drift
in the crisp morning air

Break the ice for the cattle
put the saddles away
yes the snow has arrived here

and I think it might stay.

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How it goes with trees

IMG_7603 There’s miles and miles of trees out here behind our houses. Just trees, yes, but trees in these parts are hard to come by.

This season is about all run out as we find ourselves at the end of October. The leaves are brown, the wind has taken most of them, swirled them around, tossed them up and let them fall.

But yesterday there were a few stragglers, a few trees that held out to stand out above the crowd. So I went out looking for them.

IMG_7604IMG_7608 IMG_7610 IMG_7612 IMG_7615 IMG_7619 IMG_7621 IMG_7624 IMG_7628 IMG_7634 IMG_7639 IMG_7642 IMG_7645 IMG_7647 IMG_7649 IMG_7654 IMG_7656It’s funny how the colors seem brighter when we know they’re fleeting. In these same spaces today, with the wind and the gray skies, most of these leaves I admired yesterday have now hit the ground.

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IMG_7665I knew it would happen. That’s the thing about this place. The trees, they are the reason it looks different here every day. 
IMG_7675 IMG_7677The trees and that sky.
IMG_7680So except for that sky, it will be brown now, until it turns white.

And it will be white until it turns brown again.

Then it will be brown until it turns green.

Green until gold…and so on and so on because that’s how it goes with trees…

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Season Change. Sunrise.

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“I wonder how many sunrise and sunset photos I’ve taken since we moved back to the ranch?” I asked my husband as I threw on my robe this morning and rushed downstairs for my camera.

The first thing I do when I open my eyes in the morning is to turn around and look out the window at the horizon, hoping for a show, hoping for a nice day or rain or snow or whatever it is I want from the sky, as if the sky ever cared about our personal wishes.

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“Thousands,” Husband replied as he poured a cup of coffee.

“I wonder if any of them look the same,” I asked out loud, knowing the answer. Knowing that sunrises and sunsets are like snowflakes.

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It’s the time of year when everything is starting to lose its color. Most of the leaves on the trees have dried up and turned brown, the other half, the oaks, for some reason this year are hanging on to a dull green, dropping their acorns and refusing to turn.

I can relate…

For the next seven months, a glowing sunrise and a pink sunset will be a welcome pop of color on a barren white landscape and I will find myself pulling on my big boots and rushing out to the tops of hills to stand under it, willing the color, the warmth, to absorb into my skin and warm me up.

Yes, it’s that time of year where we panic a bit, rushing to get the things done that we promised ourselves we would tackle in July, but then there was that concert and then the lake and then the party on the deck with the margaritas…

Now we have fences to build, garages to clean, boats and campers that didn’t really get used as much as intended to pack up and winterize. Soon the calves will be weaned and the horses will put on their long, scruffy coats.

Which reminds me, I have to find my hats and gloves. Dig out my sweaters.

Because the snow could come any day now. The sky could cloud up, the wind could blow just right, and then it will be too late for things like grilling burgers drilling holes into the ground for fence posts. Because the ground will be frozen solid, shut down and dormant with the frogs and the flies and snakes and the squirmy things that only come out with the sun.

Some days I feel that way. Like I should hole up under the earth like a frog, find a spot in a tree somewhere like those frantic squirrels hoarding all those acorns and squawking in the trees outside my window in the morning when I wake up to look at the sky and will the sun to shine….

Wild, restless things…

It has been the kind of autumn weather sent from somewhere good. 65 degrees and sunny. No wind. The leaves are changing quietly and, if it weren’t for the magical mosquitos that somehow made it through a few overnight freezes, the animals would be as content as they can be.

I can hardly stand staying inside. I can’t. I sit at my desk and work and then get up and take out the garbage. I wander to see if maybe there are things that need picking up out there. I pet the cats just a little longer. Throw the stick for the dog. I just got in from checking the mailbox. And how the leaves are changing. And procrastinating life behind my desk.

Yesterday I called Husband and tried to make a plan to hit the hills when he got home. He thought that would be a good idea. He thought maybe he should be home at a decent hour. It was like 4:00 when I called him.

Three and a half long hours later he arrived…just enough time for me to walk down to the barnyard. Zig zag back to the house again, taking pictures of everything along the way. Taste a few of the biggest plums. Pet the cat. Pet the dog. Mosy back in the house to think about supper and decide I will decide later. Then out on the deck to lay face down in the sun and read a book while I wait and maybe, uh, I don’t know….fall asleep face down until the sensation of a missing limb wakes me up…

My armmmm…..myyy arrmmm fell asslleeepp…

Anyway, finally I heard the clunk, clunk of his boots on the steps and I grabbed my cap and camera and stood like a nerd without a life by the counter and proceeded to make approximately 23 suggestions on what we could do right at that moment, before the sun went down…

Take a walk, shoot at a target, check the game cams, take a 4-wheeler ride, catch the horses really quick if that’s even possible, take a drive, take a run, do pretty much anything but work, climb Pots and Pans and wait for the sunset and let me take photos of him …pick more plums…or chokecherries…or what’s left of the flowers…

In the end taking a ride on the 4-wheeler to the east pasture to check on the game cams won out and I was out the door on the back of that machine before the man could even find his hat.

I will tell you, I would always rather be on a horse, but there is nothing like sitting close to a man with your arms around his waist, under the quickly setting sun, moving through the coulees, talking and watching and just being out and about.

“Isn’t this quite the day?” I would say.

“Sure is,” he would reply as we rolled along, slowly, before stopping so I could take a photo and he could put his binoculars up to his face to see what he could see there on the skyline.

Turns out that the wild things were just as restless as I was that evening and we were in their witching hour, surrounded.

Husband killed the engine of the machine and I followed him on foot, up to the top of the hill where he would quietly hand me the binoculars so I could see up close what I was watching from afar…

A big muley buck making his way out of the trees to the north, and a white tail waiting on the other side. And then, in the corner of our pasture, a herd of elk milled around, the cows bunched up while the lead bull worked himself up trying to fend off his young competitors.

“You hear them bugling?” he asked and handed me the binoculars.

“Yeah,” I whispered, taking a look and handing them back.

And then he would turn back and watch the bucks, making a comment on their size and behavior before handing me the binoculars again.

And that’s what we did then, until the sun dropped below the horizon and we could no longer make out the animals as anything but shadows. We watched the other creatures end the day while we ended ours and it was nice.

Then we turned around and marched back toward our wheels, and I listened as he made plans for his hunt this fall and we didn’t even notice those damn mosquitos.

Yes, we’ve had the kind of autumn days that are made of all things good. And just as the leaves change, so our lives change quietly, from season to season. But I’d like to suppose, no matter how that time ticks, you will always find the two of us out there, when the weather’s good, together, with the other wild, restless things…

 

 

So off you go, Pug…

Some of you have asked what has become of the pug, noticing his absence from the spotlight on these pages.

The truth is, I have been wondering the same thing for a few months now.

Because a few months ago, the pug went missing.

And I’m afraid that this time it’s for good.

Now, you’ve heard the stories of Chug the Pug’s tendencies to hike to Mom and Pops’ to visit his girlfriend, or to the nearest oil rig to see what the guys have cooking in terms of food and a warm cushy spot in the campers for him to lay and receive an unlimited amount of belly rubs from nice guys who think he’s been orphaned.

The pug, with his one eye and all, was really good at convincing those who didn’t know better that he was pathetic. But he wasn’t. He was self-sufficient. A big dog in a compact body, tortured by the limitations of his physique.

He was a pooch on a mission to sucker you into letting him on the couch, right after you witnessed him dragging a dead squirrel into the yard.

He was a wish granted to me from my husband after a particularly tough year where things appeared to be coming together, but I was falling apart.

And so he found a flyer on the bulletin board of the gas station in a small town as he was passing through. A picture of a dozen tiny black pugs in the arms of woman.

For Sale.

He was sold.

And so he brought him home to a woman under a quilt on the couch, recovering from a surgery that was meant to help her become a mother, the first of many experiments that have dissected and disappointed.

The pug was a way to take the edge off.

And he did.

Get home from a shit day at work? Watch the pug steal the stick from the lab.

Sick on the couch with the flu? The pug’ll keep your feet warm.

Grumpy because the world is annoying? Laugh at the pug barking at the dogs on TV.

Frustrated on how some things just don’t go as planned? Howl it out.

When I was a little girl we had a cow dog who had puppies and I rescued the runt. And then the runt went missing right as winter set in. I was a kid fresh out of Bible Camp and so I prayed every night that the tiny puppy would come back.

I searched for her in every culvert, old building, tall grass and hole on the place.

I cried and worried and wondered where she could be

And then one day the snow kicked in and I had sort of given up hope, dragging my sled to the hill up the road, and that little puppy jumped out from behind a rock, right toward me. A prayer answered.

Now, that puppy was sick from the start, so a week or so on her own didn’t do her any favors and she didn’t make it much longer, no matter how hard my dad tried to warm her and medicate and bring her back to life. But regardless, I sort of held on to the memory of that little border collie running back to me for the first month of our search for the damn pug, because, well, you just never know.

Every night on his way home from work, Husband would stop at a rig asking about the little black dog. We called the neighbors to keep an eye out. We drove around, up and down the roads, checked the ditches, hollered his name.

I would come down the drive expecting that one of these days he would decide his adventure was done and it was time to take his place on the rug on the floor by my chair.

He hasn’t come home yet.

And I don’t think he will now. It’s just been too long.

The pug is no longer mine. I say that, but I don’t suppose he ever really was. A creature is his own creature, we just take care of them the best we can when we decide on the job.

I’m glad I had the job. I wish I had done better.

I miss the little guy, but I can’t help but think of him tucked under the arm of a tender hearted roughneck, a guy who found a stray and took him home to lay at the foot of his daughter’s bed.

Or maybe he’s running with a pack of coyotes, howling at the moon at night, being wild inside that block of an unfortunate body.

Or he could be riding shotgun with a trucker along these backroads hauling water or crude, a bandana around his neck, his head hanging out the window, ears flapping in the breeze.

Or maybe he’s out saving stray and wandering cats. He’s always been good with cats.

Pug and Kitten

There’s no evidence to the contrary on any of these scenarios, so I’ll just leave it at that and say goodbye now pug.

You helped me through. I’m gonna be fine now.

So off you go…

On bighorn sheep and humans…

Oh my gosh you guys, look at this. 
It’s a baby bighorn sheep. He’s trying to get down to his momma.

And then look here, here’s the herd of nannies and babies I spotted a few weeks ago on a little drive through the badlands on my home turf.

The bighorns are badlands residents that I don’t get to see too often. In fact, this sighting was only my second in all the years I’ve lived and roamed around here.

So I was pretty excited to find a whole clan of mommas hanging out on a cliff in the badlands, posing for me.

These badlands that we live on the edge of are full of surprises, changing every day, every few minutes even, with the shift of light and weather.

Change is a big topic out here in these boomtowns exploding with growth above the shale formation where we’re busy extracting millions of barrels of oil.

Somedays are harder than others to get around, to make plans to accept that there are things that simply will never be the same. And this is both for the worse and for the better and that can be a hard thing to explain to people wanting to hear that it’s all black and white.

If I’ve learned anything from living back at the ranch it is that this world is full of blending colors…

Somedays I don’t feel like talking about it. Somedays I do.

But that day I was taking a drive outside of town, scoping out a spot for an oil truck  photoshoot.

A shiny oil truck in the middle of the badlands.

Not my usual subject and sort of a funny juxtaposition of industry and beauty…

I was kicking up dust on a gravel road, me and about a dozen other pickups, along the Little Missouri River, when I got a glimpse of this little family…

And so I slowed down and watched them eating on the yellow clover, twitching their tails at the bugs and content and unconcerned with the world outside the fence moving and changing so quickly around them.

I stepped out of my car to get a closer look. A trucker stopped with his camera.

And then a car. And another pickup.

Working people behind out of state license plates taking a marvel, taking a second to admire these mommas.

The guests came and went but I stayed for a bit longer, like a visitor at a zoo, studying their behavior, admiring how they move so easily up and down the cliffs. How they were made for this place.

I think I was made for this place. Most days I do. I was made to defend it and scuff my boots on it. I was made to witness it in all of its changes.

In its struggles.

In its best moments.

I was made to tell its story if I can. To ask questions and make sure I take notice of things that are just so spectacular. Things that we might miss if we drive too fast.

Sometimes I think we’re all driving too fast.

Maybe in another life I’ll be something like a  bighorn sheep momma, with just a few simple tasks, eating and moving and keeping us all alive….

Then again, maybe that’s all we’re really trying to do here…as humans…

Like rain in August…

It rained this morning. In August that’s a gift around here. Things have stayed green and fresh because of these little showers. So we are happy and so are the cows.

There are things in this life that are just simply good, and a rain in August in Western North Dakota is one of them.

The other is a ride through the pastures with Pops under overcast skies, checking the cows, the grass and the chokecherry crop.

There are a million chokecherries.

And you should see the raspberry bushes.

Aww, I miss summer, even when I’m in the middle of it.

I wonder how that can be? How can I be lonesome for these long days when I’m out in them, doing the things I wish to be doing when the winter drapes it’s cold arms around us and holds on for dear life.

I have done this my entire life, not just with summer, but other things as well. Like I remember distinctly laying on the floor of my grandma’s little house at the ranch, in a sunny spot after an afternoon of playing outside in the barnyard with my cousins, and feeling so content, so where I wanted to be, that I squeezed my eyes tight together and wished to never grow up…wished for time to stop…

How could I know at a such a young age that the way things were in that moment would inevitably change? How could I know enough to be sad about the fact that as it was happening it was also, slowly ending…slipping away from me into another uncertain day?

Yesterday, after my ride with Pops I came home to my Husband sitting in the Bobcat moving dirt around our house, creating a nice slope in the yard where we can plant some grass, build a fence and continue with the whole making our lives out here project.

I took a drive to the gas station and got him some fuel. I came home and helped him move boards out of the way, hauling and stacking and making plans for the next project.

It was Sunday and it was just us out there getting things done and I have always liked it that way, I’ve always liked Sundays, always wished them to be a little longer…

We’ve spent so much of our life here in the last few years planning for the future, the next project, that I am much more in love with the moments after they’ve passed than when I am in them.

And some days I just miss when it was a little simpler…when we lived in my grandmother’s house over the hill and everything was broken and tumbling down, we didn’t have enough space for our things, we had wide eyes and a few less gray hairs and the rest of our lives to look forward to, so let’s just go down to the river and go fishing…

But anyway, our lives stretch out before us every day, staring at us with ideas and procrastination and all of the things we should be doing.

Some days it’s nice to just believe that what we’re doing is what we’re supposed to be doing. And I knew it. I knew that when Pops came over on his 4-wheeler to get his dog (she decided to spend the night with us) that I should follow him down to the corrals and saddle up.

I knew that I should taste the chokecherries, even though I knew they were going to be bitter, not quite ripe for the eating.

I knew that I should get Husband a treat at the gas station, something sugary and cold to drink.

I knew that I should be standing out there in the yard with him taking directions and lifting things I am too wussy to lift.

I knew I probably shouldn’t have pointed out that my belly button was filled with dirt from all the manual labor…and then showed him…

Except I only knew after he told me I should keep that stuff to myself…but who else am I supposed to tell…that shit is funny…

And I knew that days like these, days where we get to choose what we should be doing, days where we get to make progress at building our lives, days where we get to sit on the back of a horse and ride a little further just because there’s time, are things that I’ll miss when the snow falls, my hair turns gray and they are gone from me.

Like rain in August…

I don’t want summer to end.
I don’t want to grow up.
I don’t think Husband will ever admit that he also had dirt in his belly button…

A day in the life…

And now for a day in the life of a woman who refuses to get a real, regular job and insists on taking on new activities as part of her “business plan” so she has time to take off singing, or photographing something or chasing a cow on a whim. 

Monday night, get home late from a random job shooting photos of a truck in the badlands. Husband gets home from a fireman meeting. 11 pm.  Says cows are out on the road. Call Pops, we’ll deal with it in the morning…

Tuesday morning, wake up girl, you’ve got a column to write, an interview today to meet a quick deadline and a trip to the big town to practice with the band tonight. Squeeze Husband goodbye and tell him to call if he sees the cows. I’ll go get them, you think in your early morning delusions…

But first, coffee. Ignore the dishes. I’ve heard they start doing themselves when left long enough.

Walk to the office. Clear off a spot on the desk for coffee cup. Check a few of those emails, but then get distracted by the photos of big horns I took in the badlands yesterday when I was supposed to be out scouting for places to take photos of oil trucks.

Yes. Look at these beauties…click…click…I should post these on the blog…

Phone rings. Husband says no cows in sight on the road. Decide to wait for the boys to come home to find cows. Decide it’s time to get to that column…

Stare at a blank screen for three to thirty minutes, I can’t be sure…somehow find myself watching a funny cat video on YouTube…

Focus Girl!

Type type type some musing about those damn burdock plants that will not die in our yard and how I think Husband might actually go crazy if he doesn’t get the garage doors on fast enough to prevent more barn swallows building nests and shitting on my car…then wonder how those black flies keep getting in the house…wonder if life would just be easier if we lived beside a sidewalk beside a lawn that was planted and groomable…

 

Wonder why I spent all that time trying to mow down the wild clover with Pops’ one bladed mower in our un-landscaped lawn last week only to come home the next day to Husband’s ambitious earth-moving, landscaping project turning up the freshly-mowed earth. We should really talk more…

Seems like an earth-shattering piece of journalism here…

Say “Shit” because it’s already noon and I have to tame my hair and get out the door in 15 minutes for an interview down the road about 30 miles. Run upstairs, decide hair is untamable, put it in a ponytail, brush teeth, deodorant, grab camera, pen, paper, check dog and cat bowl for proper levels of food on my way out the door…

Turn on radio, open windows, cruise down the gravel road with dust flying…wait. Cows. Those are our cows. Great…pull over so I can get a closer look…curse my flippy floppies as I trudge through poky grass …yup, those are ours. Call Husband. Let him know I’ve found the cows. Talk about when he’ll be home to help me…

Get back in car. Call interviewee to tell her I’m running late. Get to appointment, have a nice chat, stop for gas and a bag of Cheetos because I forgot to eat lunch.

Point car back toward home. Decide Cheetos are a terrible choice for lunch. Drive by where cows used to be and fail to see any cows. Decide to wait for the boys to come home.

Arrive at home. Start writing story. Respond to text saying Little Sister is at the barn scouting out wedding sites. Say I have to wait for a phone call but I’ll meet her down there.

Get phone call to tell me my phone call is cancelled. It’s now 4:00. Cool. I think I have time to catch horses and get cows in before I have to head to the big town to practice at 7. Get on 4-wheeler. Hope it starts. Call Husband to remind me how to put the damn thing in reverse. I can never remember. I should make a note and tape it to the seat.

Head down to the barn and say hi to Little Sister. Convince her to help me catch the horses. I swear I just saw them on the side hill. She can hold the grain bucket while I drive. It will take three minutes.

30 minutes, three Little Sister screams concerning the safety of her life on the back of the 4-wheeler, 3,000 horsefly bites and countless cuss words from yours-truly later, still no horses in site.

Go up one more hill…shit…4-wheeler is acting up again…it’s powering down…didn’t the boys change the fuel filter? Nothing? Sister squeal. Dammit. Shit. Dammit. Shit…

See if we can get the thing home…come on you piece of crap…

Make it through the gate to the big corral and that’s it. 4-Wheeler stall. Little Sister departs. I cuss and get in the pickup with the grain bucket. The horses must be in the trees. Text Husband.

Damn Horses. Damn 4-wheeler.

Husband calls. He’ll be home in 10 minutes. Make a goal to have horses in in 10 minutes. Drive old pickup around the corner. Spot the paint in the trees. Awesome. Yell “Come on Boys!” out the window of the pickup where I  am dangling a grain bucket. Horses come running.

Finally.

Get them in the round pen. Wonder why the easiest ones to catch are the ones we don’t want to ride. Give them a bite of grain (because I’m not a tease) and catch the two bays. Brush. Fly Spray. Saddle up.

5:30 PM.

Shit. I have to leave here in an hour.

Decide to trailer to the cows. Hold horses while Husband gets the pickup hooked up the trailer. Think that he’s moving sort of slow for someone who’s wife is in a hurry. Tap my toe. Hold my tongue.

Finally.

Load up the horses. Follow him in the pickup so I have a quicker way home if things go south.

Drive down the gravel road, spot a cow and a calf. Pull over. Wave to Husband who pulls in.

6:00 PM

Unload the horses, swing on and head for the cow who has magically disappeared. Take a route through a big tree row while Husband swings around. Try to keep horse from eating every damn piece of grass that touches his nose. Swat at the horseflies. Swat at the mosquitos. Wish I would have worn a long sleeve shirt.

Come out on the other end of the tree row. Spot the cows. Yell to Husband. He comes running. Notice how great the two look against the dropping sun. Wish I had my camera.

Follow the cows along the trail, up a butte, watch for holes, along the fence. Watch as they head toward the trees. Kick up the pace to head them off.  Go around the trees while Husband cuts a path behind the bovines. Watch as they all come out in an orderly fashion. Regret yelling at Husband in frustration. Apologize. Tell him he’s handsome. He tells me I should really start eating lunch. Push them through the gate to the dam.

Wonder where they got out. Ride the fence line to find out.

Declare what a nice evening this is. Swat at the horseflies biting my neck. Sweep off the swarm of gnats on my horse’s neck.

7:00 PM. Gotta go. Kick it up to a lope around the big butte to the road. Spot Pops on his 4-wheeler by the road. Stop to say high and bye. Leave the boys to chat. Lope off toward the horse trailer. Load up the bay. Get in the pickup head to the house. Strip off my clothes on the way up the stairs. Change into clean stuff. Look in the mirror, ah what the hell. Run downstairs, grab my guitar and head out to the highway.

Text band tell them I’ll be late. Just a half-hour.

7:30 PM

Turn up radio, roll windows down, drive…stop for gas station pizza, rethink my diet plan, get to town. 8:30.

Tune guitar. Promise to learn new songs. Make plan for next show. Laugh. Sing. See you later guys.

11:30 PM.

Get in car. Radio on. Windows up. Head home, bugs smashing on my windshield. Headlights pointing toward the badlands. Pull into the doorless garage, trudge up steps, pull off clothes, land in bed.

1 AM

Breathe. Think I should get a real job. Think life would be easier. Think I’ll think about it tomorrow. Think that was fun…

 

 

 

Hazy Skies

There has been a haze in the air for the last couple days. Fires in Canada couldn’t hold their breath any longer and so some puffs escaped our way, lingering in the calm, hot air and reminding me of living in Montana in August.

When the wind doesn’t blow here in North Dakota it’s sort of eerie, like there’s some secret we’re not being told.

This place is full of them, untold secrets. I’ve always thought that.

How the snow ever fell on all this green and gold I never understand come mid-July. How it could look anything like this, my skin anything but brown and warm, my hair fuzzed just a bit from the heat.

How pink flowers spring from the same earth that was frozen seven feet under just months ago…

and the once wooly horses shed their coats and transform into sleek, high-spirited creatures I can’t comprehend because I have decided it’s magic.

And so I can hardly stand to be inside.

There’s plenty to do out there in terms of work, so I wander around a bit, grab a broom and sweep the garage, pick a weed or two and then sort of wander off to a couple hilltops to see how the flowers look from up there. The purple coneflowers out in full force, sprung up overnight among the grass and clover stirrup high.

I was away less than a week and look at all I missed.

How can I be lonesome for a season I’m standing in the middle of? How can I be scared that I might not catch it all? It’s ridiculous to be so anxious about the flowers. It’s ridiculous to be so worried that I might blink and miss the best part of a summer sunset.

When I was a little girl I was convinced there were parts of this ranch that were yet to be discovered and so I was determined to explore every inch. I walked the trail beside the creek bed in the spring, throwing in sticks to see where the cold rushing water would take them. In the summer I took off my boots and walked directly in that water, my bare feet navigating trails to the big beaver dams.

In the fall I would crawl to the tops of the banks and count the colors. In the winter I would bundle up and trudge, trudge, trudge…not to be kept away no matter the weather.

It wasn’t until I grew up and came home, camera pointed out of every window, dangling off my neck on every ride, every walk, that I discovered the gift of this place is the very thing that makes me crazy and sends me walking, searching for the undiscovered places. The most beautiful things.

This place never looks the same. Every day, every shift of light, every turn of season, every passing cloud, every breeze, every snowflake and raindrop changes it completely.

Gray sky, gray grass. Gold sun, gold flowers. White snow, white trees. Rain clouds, sparkling leaves.

It’s nature, but isn’t it interesting? Isn’t it magic how something so many miles up in the universe can change things for us, our mood, or intrigue, or plans for the day.

May the fires in Canada soon become a memory and the ashes turn to the greenest grass.

Because up here, the wind, the wind changes everything.