Thursday Throwback: Gumbo Sliding.

In honor of throwback Thursday and all of the new Veeder Ranch followers, I wanted to share with you one of the first stories I wrote on this blog. For readers new to my shenanigans, it might help you understand what it felt like for me to spend my first summer back on my family’s ranch under the buttes as an adult. For those who have been with me for my long haul of misadventures (Three whole summers now! Thanks for hanging in there and I love you!) this will be a testament to how much I’ve matured since then

…yeah…

Something like that.

Anyway, that first summer I spent in my grandmother’s little brown house was romantic and whimsical and nostalgic. Everything that surrounded me was so familiar–the smell of the clover, the pink dust from the scoria road, the sound of the horses grazing in the pasture outside my bedroom window, the way I can always find a cow pie to step in–yet I felt like I was experiencing it for the first time.

And, because I didn’t have a job lined out, because the plan was to take a breath, I had some time to poke around in the barn and look for new baby kittens, to pick wildflowers, to make mud pies, ride my horse bareback, keep the grass mowed, kick the cows out of the yard, splash in big puddles, and, well, slide down the gumbo hills in the pouring rain.

In my pajamas.

…and tell you all about it.

Every thrilling, agonizing minute.

When I am asked to speak at events I often read this post as a way to introduce the audience to the woman they’re dealing with for the next 15 to 45 minutes. I read it not only to introduce myself and to entertain, but to remind them (and me) that   regardless of the outcome, regardless of how much we’ve learned about keeping our composure, keeping out of trouble and keeping out of the hospital since we turned into adults, sometimes all we need is to allow ourselves the freedom to act on impulse.

And fling our bodies down a muddy hill because, well, we think it could be fun.

So I invite you to take a minute to read about a silly grown woman who lost her head for a moment, but never regretted it.

And more than likely will never do it again…unless there’s lots of tequila involved.When spontaneity strikes, at least put on pants…
From the archives
August 10, 2010

Peace love and ointment,

Jessie

Why I’m here.

We were out late last night working cattle.

And by late, I mean after dark.

And by after dark I mean, a sliver of a moon, a thousand stars, 50 head of black cattle, five people and one flashlight.

No, it’s not all raspberry picking, sunflowers and margaritas on the deck out here.

Sometimes we have to get Western.

And when all available cowboys and cowhands have jobs and responsibilities in the sweet and useful hours of the day, sometimes we find ourselves chasing the sun while we’re chasing the cows.

It’s difficult. Since moving back to the ranch two summers ago I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve learned how to can a tomato, tile a shower, where to find a missing pug, how make a meal from what I have in my pantry because I’ve got no choice, I’m not driving to town, how to kill a burdock plant, what time of day makes the most magical photos and how long I can go without taking a shower before the neighbors start to complain…

But above all of that, mostly I’ve learned there aren’t enough hours in the day.

And I don’t know how Pops has done it all these years.

Ranching is a full time job. It’s not just about watching them graze in the pasture and riding through them like the Man from Snowy River every once in a while to get your cowboy fix. You have to feed them, move them, watch the water, watch for illness, doctor, move them again, find them when they’re out, fix the fence, move them, fix the fence, patch up corrals, bring them home, let the bulls out, get the bulls in, roundup, doctor, wean the babies, fix the fence, get a plan for hay, move the hay, feed the hay, break the ice on the stock dam and check them every day.

My dad has always had two full time jobs, one of them being ranching. His goal was to keep this place in the family and, during that time, that was the only choice. He would come home from work in the winter and I would bundle up in my Carharts and we would roll a bale out for the cattle in the freezing cold, nearly dark landscape. Sometimes I would drive the pickup while he scooped out cake or grain for a line of cattle trailing behind in the falling snow.

In the spring we would drive out and watch for calves being born. I would sit in the pickup as he braved the wrath of momma while he tagged and checked the baby.

There was more than one time that momma won the battle.

Summers were spent riding horses and moving pastures.

Fall was roundup and time spent in the pickup on the way to the sale barn.

And then he’d do it over again.

Every memory of being a side-kick ranch kid was one I hold close to me as part of my makeup, no matter the fact that I likely wasn’t one bit of help, except maybe that driving part.

And I like to think I’m good company.

I’ve been bucked off, had my fingers smashed, broken bones and cried out of frustration when facing a seemingly impossible task.

Ranching is not a job for the weak, and often I wondered (and I still wonder) if I’m made up of the things my father is made up of.

Why all of those years of long hours in town and late nights? Why not a house in town with a lawn, beer with the guys on Friday nights, golf on Saturday?

I never asked him because it’s a stupid question.

I’ve never asked him because I know the answer.

I’ll tell you here, but I have to do it  quickly, because in an hour, we have to be home from town and saddled up. We have to bring more cows home and it’s gets dark earlier every night.

So here’s what he’d say:

This is it for me. Give me the beaches of the Caribbean, the steep mountains of Montana, give me perfect city streets laid out and predictable, give me the cactus and mysterious heat of the dessert, give me the shores of the mighty Missouri, the fjords of my grandparents’ homeland and I will say they are good.

I will tell you they’re beautiful.

I have seen them and I believe that’s true.

But I would not trade one day out in these pastures for a lifetime on those beaches, even if it means broken tractors and working until midnight with no light but the stars.

And I don’t know what else to say about it except this is my home and I will do what it takes to make sure that it stays the truth.

And that’s why I’m here.

Sunday Column: Happy canning

Yesterday Husband and I cried together. We stood in the kitchen and tears streamed down our faces, my mascara left black streams down my cheeks. We sniffled, blinked, blubbered, sighed.

We were a mess.

We were slicing onions.

Because Pops had delivered thirty-seven pounds of garden tomatoes to our house and they needed to be dealt with.

tomatos

And it was raining, so I had no excuse.

I dealt.

So I Googled “blanching” and took out every mixing bowl, pot, knife, seasoning, herb and vegetable I owned and there was no turning back. We were making salsa.

salsa

Last weekend it was the plums. All five gallons of them.

There was no crying, but there was seventy-five steps, a foot stomp or two and a mishap with the order of things that resulted in a a good batch of runny syrup.

I blame myself.

On Friday my friend M tried to offer me seventy pounds of zucchini. She gave me twenty-four recipe ideas to try to convince me to take it off her hands.

Zucchini was coming out of her ears she said.

I had to take it, she said.

I will never understand zucchini I said.

Tis the season.

Coming Home: Canning season just means more questions
By Jessie Veeder
9/8/13
Fargo Forum/Dickinson Press
www.inforum.com

This is what I’m saying.

But the salsa turned out great. And the jelly is sweet.

I’m not so sure about the runny syrup, but I’m gonna eat it, because that was a lot of damn work and to hell if  I’m wasting it.

syrup

Happy canning and stuff.

Oh, and good luck with that zucchini.

To the fields…

And now an ode to late summer fields. 

To wheat fields, golden and rolling.





To sunflower fields, bright and following the sun.





To hay fields, dotting the landscape in preparation for winter.





To oil fields, kicking up dust and fueling our world.





As simple as a plum.

Western North Dakota grows wild plums. In the patches of brush where the poison ivy sneaks and the cows go to get away from the flies, they start as blossoms on the thorny branches and, under the hot sun, turn from green in early July to red to a dark purple bite-sized berry just waiting to be picked in the beginning of autumn.

Wild plums mean summer is almost over. They mean roundup is on its way. They mean sucking on pits and spitting them at your little sister. They mean scratches from branches on a detour for a snack on the way to get the bull out of the trees.

They mean Pops’ stories of grampa sitting at the table in the winter dipping into a jar of canned wild plums , drenching them in cream and stacking the pits neatly on the table.

They mean memories of grandma’s jelly on peanut butter toast.

They mean reassurance that sweet things can grow in brutal places.

They mean a passing surprize on our way through a pasture and coming back later with the farm pickup to fill up a bucket, me squished in the middle seat between my husband and my dad, the Twins playing on the radio as we bump along on prairie trails that haven’t been under a tire in months looking for that magical patch of fruit, wondering out loud if we could of dreamed it.

Laughing at the thought.

Wild plums mean listening to the two men banter as they pick and reach and gather like little boys, making plans for the best way to fill our bucket.

“Shake the tree, we can get the ones on top.”

“Keep ‘em out of the cow poop…poop plums are no good.”

“Are you eating them Jess. Hey, no eating!”

“I’ve never seen a patch like this. Jessie, you can make so much jelly!”

Yes. I could. With the 6 gallons of plums we picked last night standing in the bed of the pickup, ducked down in the clearing where the cows lay, scaling along the edges of the trees, I could make jars of jelly, pies, pastries and syrups to last until next plum picking season.

But even if I didn’t. Even if we did nothing more than feed those wild plums to the birds, it wouldn’t matter. The magic of wild and pure things is in their discovery and the sweet reminder that happiness can be as simple as a wild plum patch.

Late summer rain


It’s hot here. Like 90 some degrees. Hot and a little bit windy and a little bit dusty and a lot like late August.

The ditch sunflowers are out in full bloom and everything is taking cover, looking for shade or a place to cool down.

The heat woke up the  wasps. And the black flies. And the scum growing on the pond. The weeds are prickly and tall. The dust settles in on the lines on my face and makes me look a little weathered as I wander sort of aimlessly around the farmyard, thinking I should be doing something on this late summer afternoon.

But there’s nothing worth doing when the sun’s this hot.

The neighbors are putting up hay in the fields above the house.

They’re combining the pea crop up the road.

Someone out in this country is fixing fences.

When it’s hot like this the work still needs to get done. And so the cowboys and farmers are out in it, their faces red under their caps, their arms dark brown and dirty under the sleeves of their t-shirts.

Out there under the hot sun they work, thinking it’s likely a storm will blow through tonight, this heat conjuring up a big set of thunderheads on the horizon.

Thinking how nice a  rain would feel right now, the cool drops hitting their backs, the lightning striking and thunder cracking, promising a downpour to interrupt the work.

There’s nothing like a late summer storm that sends you into the house.

There’s nothing like watching it pour and knowing there’s nowhere you can be now.

Nothing you can do but watch.

I had the windows open last week as the clouds darkened the evening and turned dust to mud. I had my guitar in my hands and it was so sultry, being cooped up in the house, my husband on the easy chair reading a book and me singing something.

To me a summer storm out here is weighed down with emotion: relief and renewal, unrest and electricity, and a sort of loneliness I can’t explain. The sound of the rain on thirsty things makes me want to sit a bit closer to him, to tell him things I’ve forgotten to tell him, remember the other storms we watched together.

Because there is nowhere we can be. No work to be done in the pouring rain.

So I sang.

Sun beats down
turning my pale skin brown
I have been cold for months
I turn my face up

I hear the thunder crack
heavy drops lick my back
and I think how nice it is
that I can cool down like this

Oh, it’s raining
and lightning
it’s pouring

Oh, it’s raining
can’t get the crop in
come in and sit down
come on into the house

I’ll take that heavy coat
soaked to the skin, the bones
I’ll cook you something warm
as we wait out the storm

There’s nothing like summer heat
cooled down by a thundering breeze
there’s nothing like you and me
running

Oh, it’s raining
and lightning
it’s pouring

Oh, it’s raining
can’t get the crop in
come in and sit down
come on into the house

Looks like it’s letting up
steam rolls from your coffee cup
held by your callused hands
I like these change of plans

I pull your collar up
say this weather is like our love
pouring the heat on us
then it’s raining

Oh, it’s raining
and lightning
it’s pouring

Oh, it’s raining
can’t get the crop in
come in and sit down
come on into the house


For more of my music visit:
www.jessieveedermusic.com

What you get when I’m stuck in the house…

Happy Friday to you. I hope you get off work early and have plans to sip cold drink on a summery deck somewhere.

I’m spending mine under a blanket on my cozy couch dosed up on pain pills after partaking in a little surgery (nothing major…and no, not a nose job) yesterday.

Yes, full disclosure, I’m on drugs.

Word is I’ll be feeling better tomorrow. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway as I’ve been enduring daytime television programming and small attempts at sounding coherent on work calls I decided to return since I am home and not supposed to go anywhere.

And now for your lesson of the day: you shouldn’t return work calls when you’re on hyrdocodone.

You probably shouldn’t respond to emails either. Or write a blog.

Horse

But I could be worse. I could be Little Sister. She got her wisdom teeth removed on Wednesday.

She looks like a chipmunk and can’t eat Doritos.

So there’s that.

At least I can eat Doritos. If we had Doritos.

I could really go for some Doritos…

Yup, we’re a pathetic lot out here at the ranch.  But while we’ve been resting Husband and Little Sister’s man have been working on putting up the deck in time for my birthday party because, besides world peace, my one birthday wish is that I will be able to celebrate  30 by toasting to old age with tequila on the beautiful deck attached to our house.

And my husband, bless his handyman soul, is doing what he can.

I’ll keep you posted.

But for now, in honor of Friday, mandatory couch time and my drug induced loss for words, I would like to give you a little update on what’s been going on around the old homestead these days.

To sum it up, it’s August and it’s been raining, which is not common for this month. Our ranch missed the recent devastating hail storm that rolled in across the country side, wiping out large wheat fields and leaving farmers to shake their heads at the loss.  We are shaking ours at the thought.

The cows have been finding a new hole in the fence to crawl through every day because the grass is apparently greener.

The horses are sleek and are spending the warm days swishing their tails, nodding their heads and running from the flies,

the chokecherries are ripe, the plums will soon follow,

the clover is tall, the late summer wildflowers are in bloom,

the oil is still pumping,

The badlands are at their best,

LIttle Man keeps growing up,

the dogs have decided it’s their duty to protect us from the squirrels in the trees, so that’s why they never stop barking if you’re wondering…

The dragonflies are back for their fill of mosquitos. So are the bats. And we don’t mind at all.

The thunderheads roll in at night,

and the sunsets are spectacular.

There’s even been some rainbow sightings.

And we’re pretty happy around here, even when we’re not on the painkillers…

So you should come for a visit. You can stay in the cabin. That came this month too.

And God willing, in a week I’ll have a deck and I’ll pour you a cold one and we can cheers to good friends and good weather and good health.

But for a little while, I’ll be here, under this blanket, eating Doritos and watching that deck go up from the cool side of the window…

Peace, Love and pain medication,

Jessie

The recipe for time.

The best part of summer is the back of a horse on top of a hill when the sun is slowly sinking down below the horizon leaving a gold sort of sparkle in its wake. And the cows are in their place, grazing in the pasture with the big dam and the tall grass that tickles their belly.

And that guy you love is finished arguing with you about how to get them there, so you can relax now and just love each other and take the long way home to notice how the coneflowers are out in full bloom and the frogs are croaking like they’re trying to tell us something urgent. Something like, “Hey, stop worrying about trivial things. Stop working so hard to make more money to buy more stuff. Stop moving so fast.  This is it right here guys. This is the stuff.”

Who knew frogs had such insight.

Around this ranch moving cattle is a sort of therapeutic chore. With everyone working a day job, taking care of the cattle is a priority that gets us home in the evening and out of the confines of the office, the checklists, the phone calls and the stress of the highway miles full of big oil trucks we pass by with white knuckles to get back home.

If our office could be the back of a horse all day, I think it’d be better for our blood pressure.

Maybe someday it will. Maybe not.

This is my third summer back at the ranch and every day I’m gaining more insight into what it takes to keep a place like this up and running. I’m beginning to understand that there are things in my life I need to weed out to make space for the time I want and need to spend out here on the back of a horse.

It’s funny coming from a woman who, three summers ago, started writing again because she had more time on her hands.

Because she didn’t know how to sit still.

Because she needed to work through what coming home for good means.

You’d think I’d have it figured out by now, but I’m not sure I’m there yet. For months our minds have been set on the bricks and mortar that hold us and all of the stuff we’ve picked up along the way.

That’s the step we are standing on.

But every day I look out the window, step outside to feed the dogs or pull at a weed or get in the pickup to move down the highway and I’m so overwhelmingly grateful that the summer came as promised.

And then I get a little lonesome.


And I haven’t figured it out quite yet, but I have a theory.

I have responsibilities. I have burdens I’ve placed on myself to move forward, to achieve goals. I have deadlines I’ve committed to and jobs to complete, people who have questions and dates marked on my calendar to leave.

And when I’m leaving I want to stay. When I stay I think I’m missing a chance.

What chance? I don’t know. Aren’t I where I want to be?

But I’m not eleven anymore. No one is buying my milk so I can play outside all day.

All I want to do is play outside all day.

All I want to do is sing.

All I want to do is write.

All I want to do is take photographs.

All I want to do is ride.

All I want to do is drink cocktails and sit on the deck that we need to build and catch up with my friends and family and take in the sunset.

All I want to do is everything.

Is this a battle we all fight, the battle of balance? I feel I’ve been fighting it my entire adult life, with a list of so many things I want to be, so many places I want to see, and only one body, one life to achieve it.

No frogs, I don’t want stuff. I want more time.

More time to sit for a bit on the back of a horse and watch the sun go down on a place I love with a man I love and watch the cows graze.

But no one is selling time, turns out it is homemade.

I just need to find the right recipe.

A princess in the garden.

Pops has always kept a garden. He grows things like peas and carrots, radishes and green beans, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and plenty of weeds. Once or twice he grew corn just tall and delicious enough for the horses to find their way from green pastures into the yard for the free buffet.

We no longer plant corn.

Yawning Horse

I love Pops’ garden. I love it as much as the deer love his peas and the moles love his radishes. I love to watch it sprouting from my parents’ deck. I like to watch their cat hunt for mice and big bugs out there. I love breaking off rhubarb stocks, digging around for the first sign of a ripe carrot and the taste of the first fresh garden tomato on a BLT.

A few weeks ago Pops’ garden had a new tiny visitor, a little girl named Addy who flew in all the way from Texas to explore the ranch where her grandpa grew up.

Addy climbed hills and picked flowers,

looked out for Little Man,

 
chased the cat, bossed the dogs,

got a woodtick or two, and probably a few mosquito bites too.

I followed the little darling around because I didn’t want to miss a word that came out of her adorable little mouth.

“Jessie, can I borrow your ring for when my prince comes?” she asked as she made her way out of my bedroom with one of my big bling rings wobbling on her tiny pointer finger.

“Well of course you can Addy. You can have anything you want. Want my wedding ring too? Take it. Want all of my necklaces and my horse and my car and the pug? You might need those too, you know, so you’re prepared when your prince comes.”

I would have given that girl anything she wanted, but Addy didn’t want everything, she just wanted to play. So we did. I showed her around the place, showed her where the tiger lilies grew and where the dogs go for a swim. Addy wanted to swim too, so I found someone to tell her it might not be a good idea.

There was not a chance I was uttering the word “no” to this girl.


So instead I took her to the garden to teach her about growing things and how you’re supposed to step over the pea plants and not necessarily on them.

I watched as she put her hands on her knees and squatted down to get close to the leaves of the strawberry plant, where she declared and made known to the world every bug that crawled on its leaves.

I gave her a taste of rhubarb and watched her cute little face pucker up while she threw the stalk down, declaring it sour before asking for another one.

I followed her following the cat who was hot on the trail of a mouse.

I tried to convince her that pulling weeds might be fun.

She convinced me it was time to go inside.

But before dinner was on the table we were back out there again because Addy said, “Jessie come out here, I think that it’s growing! The garden is growing!”

And so she was right. It was growing. Growing by the minute like this little girl’s wonder and knowledge of the world. So I told her that it might grow faster if we watered it a bit. She grabbed the end of the hose and I headed for the spigot.

“Ready. Set. Go!” Addy yelled in my direction as I pulled the lever up and the water made its way through the hose and to the little girl’s hands squeezing the nozzle.

Addy was watering the garden.

It’s what good princesses do. They tend to the growing things and make the world a little bit greener, the sky a little bit bluer, the birds a little bit chirpier and grown women cry at the utter cuteness of it all…

It turns out, little garden princesses make rainbows too.

At least that what princess Addy did. She made a rainbow with the sun and the water.

“Look Jessie, I’m watering the rainbow!”

“No Addy, you made it! Look at that, you made a rainbow!”

And then I cried a little bit under the protection of my sunglasses so my family observing from the deck could not see that she was melting my heart into a puddle in my chest.

Turns out that making rainbows make princesses thirsty and so Addy needed a drink…




And I cried some more.

Yes, Pops has always kept a garden, but if he never plants another one, it won’t matter. All of the failed attempts at squash, overgrown asparagus and horse-chewed corn on the cob was worth it.

Because it turns out gardens are not made for horses or rabbits or moles or regular people who like home grown tomatoes. No. Gardens are made  for princesses, and finally, one came to visit ours!

It’s summer now…


It’s summer now and the days are long, the sun moving slowly across the sky and hanging at the edge of the earth for stretched out moments, giving us a chance to put our hands on our hips and say “what a perfect night.”

It’s summer now and before dark officially falls we ride to the hill tops and then down through the cool draws where the shade and the grass and the creek bed always keep a cool spot for us.

Because it’s summer now and things are warming up. The leaves are out and so are the wildflowers, stretching and blooming and taking in the fleeting weather.

It’s summer now and the cows are home…

and so is Husband, home before the sun sets. Home to get on a horse and find Pops and ride fence lines.

It’s summer now and the dogs’ tongues hang out while they make their way to the spot of shade on the gravel where the truck is parked. They are panting. They are smiling. They just got in from a swim.

Because it’s summer now and the water where the slick-backed horses drink, twitching and swiping their tails at flies, is warm and rippling behind the oars of the water bugs, the paddle of duck’s feet, the leap of a frog and the dunk of a beaver’s escape.

It’s summer now and we keep the windows open so even when we’re inside we’re not really inside.

We can’t be inside.


Because it’s summer now and there’s work to be done. We say this as we stand leaning up against a fence post, thinking maybe if we finish the chores we could squeeze in time for fishing.

Because it’s summer and we heard they’re biting.

Yes, it’s summer and we should mow the grass before the clouds bring the thunderstorm that will wake us in the early morning hours of the next day. And it’s summer so we will lay there with the windows open listening to it roll and crack, feeling how the electricity makes our hearts thump and the air damp on our skin. Maybe we will sleep again, maybe we’ll rise to stand by the window and watch the lightening strike and wonder where this beautiful and mysterious season comes from.

And why, like the storm, it’s always just passing through.