Sunday Column: Spontaneous Fishing

When you live on a ranch, your free time is pretty much mapped out for you. Meaning, you don’t really have it. There’s always something to be done, especially in the summer–fences to be fixed, cows to be checked, weeds to be sprayed, yard work to procrastinate, gardens to weed…you get the idea…

And it’s ok really, because if you choose to live on a ranch, most of the time most of us prefer to be out working the place than anything else.

Especially in the summer. Summer is why we stand strong through the winters here.

But when you live on this ranch there is a bit of a distraction, one thats swimming in the river about ten miles to the south, or the big lake that surrounds us.

And when your work in the yard or digging fence posts unearths dozens and dozens of worms just waiting to be collected for bait on a Sunday evening after you’ve tired of tinkering on the tractor or you’re on your seventeenth load to the dump grounds, a farmer or a rancher might take it as a sign to head to the river before dark and see if the catfish are biting.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes you just need to throw those homegrown worms in a coffee can, grab whatever tackle is leftover from last summer and maybe the new stuff you got for Christmas, trade your boots for your old tennies, grab some seeds and bug spray and head to the river.

Because it’s summer dammit. And sometimes you just need to go fishing.

Coming Home: Quick, hold on to summer traditions
by Jessie Veeder
6-15-14
Forum Communications
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You can find my columns weekly in the Fargo Forum (Sundays), Dickinson Press and the Grand Forks Herald. All columns are reposted on this blog.

The way it should be

This week the cows came home, and so did 70+ degree weather.

When there are cows around in 70+ degree weather it’s next to impossible for people like us to stay inside, or do anything other than find the horses and ride around.

Of course there are things to be done, fences to be fixed, etc. etc. and that’s why we ride. Because on the back of a horse at least you can look like you’re working.

And when the cows are home and it’s 70+ degrees things that might have annoyed you, like opening one gate to let the horses in only to watch them run wide open out the open gate on the other side of the corral, make you cuss for only like five to ten minutes while you rush to wrangle the animals off the green grass on the other side of the fence and back to the barn.

Even the bird that shit on your head and the wood tick(s) stuck behind your ear are taken as a small price to pay for the arrival of summer

Because the wild berries are blossoming and it smells like heaven. 

This is my ride.

The man beside me is telling me things that make me laugh and he’s handsome and he’s getting all the gates and I get to go home with him tonight.  

The calves are adorable.

And the cows are home and it’s 70+ degrees and weekend’s here and life is the way it should be back at the ranch.

Boot Stories (PRIZE ALERT!)

I’m not sure if I remember my first pair of boots. I might have had a pair or two of hand-me-downs before I got to the red ropers with the scuffs on the toes. Of course, they didn’t come with the scuffs on the toes, but that’s the only way I remember them.

I was probably seven or eight when I opened the box and tried them on. Boots in our childhood were a purchase thought out carefully by my parents. They had to fit well. They had to last. They had to polish up for 4-H horse shows and they had to come off and let us loose if we got our foot hung up in the stirrup.

We didn’t go riding in lace-ups.

Sometimes I would wear those red boots to school, but mostly I would save them for riding. I was a particular child and I believed there was a particular dress code for things.

Apparently bright and buttoned up to the top was one of my rules for public appearances…

Anyway, as my feet grew, I would tuck my old boots away at the back of the closet for my little sister and dad and I would head to the store to pick out my next pair. I’m not sure why, but the memory of the boot-picking-out-process with my dad is one that stuck with me.

Maybe it was because shopping in farm and fleet stores was the only kind of shopping the two of us ever really did together, but there was something about the smell of the leather standing next to my father staring at a wall full of boots in every shape, size and color that was both comforting and confidence building.

I think it was justification that I was his helper, his right hand man, and he needed to make sure I had the right gear.

There isn’t much gear more important to a cowboy than his boots.

And the choice in boots was never made on looks alone. No. It was brand and quality of the leather. It was height of the heel and comfort of the fit. It was a toe not too pointy and a sole not too thick. It was flexibility and durability and practicality.

Luckily, back then, I was a Plain Jane sort of girl. Anything flashy or frilly was for Rodeo Queens, and, despite the pair of hand-me-down yellow western pants I got from the neighbor, I was no Rodeo Queen.

Clearly…

In fact, once my feet quit growing, I wore a maroon pair of Ropers until the duct tape that I used to repair them wore off and a friend who borrowed them lost them at a rodeo.

If it weren’t for her I’d probably still be wearing them. I think she probably did me a favor there.

Anyway, I don’t have to tell you how times have change me. No. You are all well aware of my affinity for boots. We’ve talked about it before.

And while my life still calls for a plain brown riding boot with a good heel, I believe it also calls for a vintage red pointed toe with a cream lace detail top, perfect for under my wedding dress.

I also must have the the tall gray snip toe with a lace butterfly detail to show off with black pants and a flowy top. And then there’s the pale brown pair with the embroidered tops that I wear with sundresses.

Oh, and the black pair with the lizard skin inlay and the killer toe that I squeeze into a few times a week because they were a gift from my husband a few Christmases ago and I was too excited to worry about things like the correct size.

And then the chocolate brown pair with the turquoise and red detail I convinced my mom to buy that have somehow found a home in my closet…

Yes. It might be the hat that makes the man, but I think it’s the boots that make the woman.

Which brings me to the reason I brought this all up in the first place. Are you ready for it?

See, I’ve got plenty of stories I could tell that involve a great pair of boots, but I want to hear yours. And so do my good friends over at Rocky Boots.

So guess what?!

I am giving away a free pair of Rocky Boots (your choice) to one of you, my loyal, beautiful followers. 

 FREE BOOTS!!!!

If that doesn’t make your heart race like seeing a cowboy bending over a branding fire, I don’t know what will…

FREE BOOTS FROM ROCKY!!

Sorry, I don’t get to use that phrase very often. Had to do it again.

Anyway, all you have to do to get in the running for the prize is leave me a comment with a story involving your favorite pair of boots. Now ladies and gentlemen, I know you’re not all out there donning cowboy boots, so that’s not the rule.

They can be rubber boots, shit-kickers, snow boots, hunting boots, hiking boots, knee-high dancing boots or the ones that got away for all I care, just tell me why you love them or why the memory is so sweet and I will put your name in the hat for a free pair of your choice from Rocky.

Now Rocky sells outdoor, duty, work and western boots, so there’s truly something for everyone here.

Me? I’ve got my eyes on these babies.

Anyway..here’s how to enter.

  • Tell me about your favorite boots in the comments on This Blog Post Right Here
  • Or leave your story as a comment at facebook.com/veederranch
  • And since we’re having so much fun here, I’d love to see some photos! Tweet or Instagram your favorite boots shots using #rockybootstories. These entries will be counted toward the free boot drawing too!You can find me on both Instagram and Twitter as @VeederranchThen head over and show Rocky Boots some love!
  • Facebook.com/rockygear
  • Twitter: @rockygear
  • Instagram @rockyboot

    Rocky Logo_PrimaryThe drawing will be held and announced next Wednesday where I will feature some of my favorite photos and stories right here on the old bloggity blog!

    This is fun stuff folks! Can’t wait to hear (or see) where your boots have taken you!

A conversation with Husband…

Scene: Spring cleaning outside the construction site that is our home. We live in the middle of a coulee filled with oak and ash trees and their bare, fallen branches gave me an idea…

And now, for a quick conversation with Husband:

Me: There sure are a lot of fallen trees around here.

Him: Yup.

Me: Hey, wouldn’t these trees make a great rail fence?

Him: Yup.

Me: I mean, think of the money we’d save!  All the supplies we need are right in our backyard.

Him: Better go get your ax.

Me: Why do I halfta use an ax? Why can’t I use a chainsaw?

Him: Because a chainsaw doesn’t build strength and character does it?

Me: I’ve got enough character…

Him: And also, if I gave you a chainsaw, you’d find a way to chop your own head off…

Me: ……

End Scene. 

Horse frustration

And that, ladies and gentlemen is, how you crush dreams.

 

When to fly home

I went out on the last day of winter to see if I believed it.

I had been driving for much of the day, having woken up in a hotel room in the middle of North Dakota to find that during my sleep snow had fallen.

It was the last day of winter and, well, you know how winter likes to hold on to the spotlight around here.

I waited a bit then before scraping the windshield of my car and heading back west on a quiet and slick highway, lingering over morning talk shows and hotel room coffee.

The weatherman said it would warm up nicely, the sun would shine and the roads would clear on this, the last day of winter.

150 miles west those roads were shut down and traffic backed up. Too slippery to be safe.

Not spring yet.

Oh no. Not yet.

But we gave it some time then, under the sun, and the fog lifted off of the thawing out lakes. The snow plow came.

White to to slush. The earth warmed up.

And me and my guitar buried under a mountain of groceries made it back home to the buttes on the last day of winter.

And when I arrived I changed out of my good boots and into the ones made for mud and I went out in it, knowing full well that just because it says “Spring” today on the calendar hanging by the cabinets on the wall, doesn’t mean the snow won’t fall tomorrow.

I heard the snow is going to fall again tomorrow.

But today I’m sitting in a patch of sunshine making its way through the windows, bouncing off the treetops, on to the deck and into this house and I’m telling you about yesterday, the last day of winter, when the brown dog and I headed east to my favorite spot to see how the land weathered the bitter cold of the season.

I followed the cow trail behind the house and through the gate, where the petrified bovine hoof prints from last fall magically turned into fresh tracks in the mud of the elk who make their home back here.

Sniff sniff sniff went the nose of my lab as he wove back and forth, back and forth in the hills and trees in front of me, always looking for something.

Squish squish squish went the rubber soles of my boots on the soft ground.

And then there was the wind, everything is second to the sound of it in my ears.

But as we followed our feet up and over the hills and down the trails to the stock dam there was another sound I couldn’t place.

It sounded like crickets or whatever those bugs are that make noise in the water at night. But it was too early for bugs. Too cold for crickets just yet.

I stepped up on the bank of the dam and watched my lab take a chilly spring swim in the water where an iceberg still floated white and frozen in the middle.

I put my hands on my hips and tried to place that unfamiliar music over my dog’s panting and shaking and splashing about.

It could be frogs, if frogs chirped like that, but there are not frogs just yet…or snakes or minnows or other slimy things that disappear when the cold comes…

No…none of those things…

but there are birds…

and well…look at all of them up there in that tree,

perched and fluttering, covering almost every branch.

Are they singing? I think it’s them.

Listen to that!

Relentless in their chirping conversation against the blue sky of the last day of winter and unafraid of the big, clumsy, slobbering canine sniffing them out.

Not phased by his two legged companion squish squish squishing up to the tree, shielding her eyes so she could get a better look at them.

A flock of proud little birds with puffed out chests, wearing tufts on their heads like tiny showgirls in Vegas.

Putting on a show for us on the last day of winter…

And if you would have asked me earlier that morning if winter was over, the fresh snow stuck to the bottom of my boots, my white knuckle grip on the wheel and my breath making puffs into the morning air as I pulled off the highway and stepped out of my car to admire the view, I would have said oh no, it is not over yet.

But under that tree full of songbirds I would have believed in anything…spring and summer and music and joy and tiny little feathered miracles who know, without a doubt, when to fly home.

Love and snow fall…

We woke up this Valentines Day to find a nice fresh coat of fluffy snow, a little sun and some sparkle in the air.

I was happy to see it, because for about three months it’s literally been too cold to snow.

Yes.

Too. Cold. To. Snow.

That’s a thing here.

Which means I’ve been cooped up a bit, and so has my camera. Things like cameras and fingers don’t work too well when it’s too cold to snow.

But those clouds and that sun seemed to be working this morning (I mean it was like 10 degrees above zero) so I went out in it.

A gift to myself for a day covered in love.

Love and sparkly snow on the tips of berry covered branches…

On the noses of dogs…

Ok, all over the faces of dogs…

On the tips of the grass…

On the backs of horses…

In barnyards…

and all of the things made more beautiful with a little light…

and a little frosting.

Happy Valentines Day Friends. Spread a little love today.

Winter’s a s**thead and then I had a flashback…

Somewhere in Montana…

Well we made it back from our road trip, dropped our bags at the bottom of the stairs in our cozy and messy house and proceeded to be welcomed by a slap across the face we have come to know as reality.

Work piled up in our inboxes.

Bills in the mail.

Closet unfurled from last week’s haphazard packing debacle.

Garbage strewn across yard from an unwelcome raccoon (or pug or lab) shaped scavenger.

And winter. Winter being a shithead. 

Pug in snow

“Septic tank’s frozen again.”

These are the messages I get when I’m in town trying to be civilized.

Great.

“Heading to the big town to pick up a snake and a pressure washer and (something else that I didn’t catch because I was thinking about where I might shower that night) because if you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself around here…”

You know I know this better than anyone.

Great, now I’m having a flashback…

Phew, that was exhausting…

Anyway…last month when the arctic air whipped the trees around this place it shot the temperature down to -60 and apparently that’s too cold for a successful potty drain, so we called someone to come out and save us, and, well, I guess Husband learned something. Because last night I arrived home in the dark and he was out there in sub-zero temperatures unplugging whatever was plugged.

And he was successful. Thank God he was successful. I had to pee.

Husband is my hero.

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My wall-building, chandelier-hanging, power-tool-toting, tile-placing, ladder-climing,  potty pumping hero.

464195_441612279222356_1084903165_o

God I miss summer.

Feeding Hay

It doesn’t say so on the calendar, but the temperatures and blowing snow make it perfectly clear.

Winter is here.

And because we still have some cows around, this means feeding hay and breaking ice for the animals.

When I was growing up we had cattle every winter. And every evening after my dad came home from his work in town, often after the sun had gone down, I would bundle up in my coveralls and beanie, and sit beside him in the feed pickup as he rolled out bales for the cows.

It was always one of my favorite chores for a lot of reasons. The pickup had heat, so that was one of them. I got to sit bundled up and watch the cows come in from the hills in a nice straight, black line.

When we would feed cake or grain, I got to drive the pickup while Pops shoveled it out the back. He would put it in low and release the clutch and tell me to keep it out of the trees. My nose would barely reach over the steering wheel, but I felt helpful and I liked it.

And I liked the way the hay smelled when it unrolled from the back of the pickup, like it had kept some summer underneath its layers.

There’s something about an everyday chore like this that is sort of comforting. Maybe it’s the knowing that you’re a necessary part of the order of things. Knowing that you’re responsible.

It’s the taking care I think.

These cows are heading to different pastures next week, leaving these prairie pastures to the horses.

So I was glad to get one last feed in with the ladies.

Bon appetit fine gals. I’ll miss taking care of you!

In 100 years.

Today I’m roaming around the house, cleaning and packing and paying bills, getting ready to head out on a family trip to Disney World.

A destination dubbed “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

Outside my window, on the other side of the hill, bulldozers and blades are scraping off snow, native and non-native grasses and cutting into the nearly frozen earth, pushing and flattening and re-imagining the corner of pasture across from the grain bins to make way for what the oil industry is now calling a “Super Pad.”

I knew this was coming.

We’ve talked about it and negotiated it a little, giving it the nod of approval because having three or four pumping units together on the same pad pulling oil from several directions under our ranch and our neighbors’ will mean less roads and less surface damage to the rest of our place and the homesteads that surround us.

The less impact the better has been our motto.

If it’s possible, we fight for it.

I know now for the next several months I will be listening to the sound of progress. I will hear my dogs bark at the sound of machinery they think might be coming down our road, but is really just passing by or pushing dirt. I will watch the landscape transform a bit and then the horizon will follow…oil derrick up, reaching to the sky, then another, and another.

Oil derrick down, then a pumping unit, then another, then another.

And there they will be for thirty or some years, pumping, pulling, coaxing oil from the ground, each passing year becoming a more familiar fixture on this old place.

This weekend my uncle was at the ranch for deer hunting season. As he was getting ready to head back to Texas, Pops brought out a couple folders that contained stories about the history of this ranch in anticipation of our upcoming 100 year celebration.

In 1915 my great grampa Eddie staked his claim on this place. He got married and headed off to war. When he arrived back in Bear Den Township he proved up his claim, planting some trees, flax and wheat, building a barn and putting up fences.

Over the course of his lifetime he would watch his crops grow, his wife die and his children  make their own mark on the land he laid claim to. He would meet a couple grandchildren and serve them his famous buns, tell them jokes and scruff their hair before leaving them all behind in death to do what they will with the place.

With the red barn and his old house.

I sat on that couch and looked at the old photographs.

100 years might as well have been forever.

We are not made the same these days are we? Do we have the same grit and guts that it took to survive in tar paper shacks through blizzards and prairie fires and forty below?

I listen to the sound of the bulldozers up the hill and know that in the next thirty years I’ll be a witness to more changes to this landscape than my parents and my parents’ parents ever saw in their lifetime.

I have mixed feelings about being that sort of witness.

Great Grandpa Eddie went half-way around the world to fight, to be free to break up this earth to feed his own family.

I doubt he ever took a trip to Florida.

And so I can’t help but feel a bit undone and displaced today, that instead of watching over that dirt I’m preparing for a trip to a fantasy land, leaving this little plot of earth to change forever as I fly away for a bit…

The making of a dog.

Remember this little girl?

OMMMGEEEE she was so fluffaaaayyy I could diiieee!!!

Yes, that was Juno, The Littlest Cow Dog last winter when we brought her home to the ranch in Pops’ pickup. I held her the whole thirty-some miles while she drooled all over my arm and shook with fear or anticipation or nervousness or whatever it is that goes through a little puppy’s head when she’s taken away from her momma.

We had high hopes for that puppy that day. Our old cow dog, Pudge, limpy, gimpy, faithful, storm fearing, fur tangled, sweet as sugar, gramma Pudge is getting a little too arthritic to make it on long rides or up into the pickup box by herself. She has retired to sleeping on her soft pillow under the heat lamp and occasionally accompanying us to the barn or down the road to get the mail. It’s tough to admit that any day now Pudge will take her last 4-wheeler ride, but it’s clear looking into those sweet ancient eyes that it’s the truth. And without Pudge the Veeder Ranch would be left cow-dog-less.

Because, contrary to the pug’s delusions he doesn’t quite fit the bill.

And so we found Juno. Part border collie. Part blue heeler. Part angel and part acrobatic, magical boot sniffer-outer and chewer-upper. (Seriously. It doesn’t matter how you put those boots on the shelf, she’s gonna get them and she’s gonna eat them).

When Juno found herself on her new ranch she was a bundle of energy, fur and timid playfulness. Everyone fell in love.

My mom wanted her to sleep in the house.

I wanted her to sleep at my house.

And Chug the Pug wanted to move to mom and dad’s house.

pug and puppy copy

Even Pudge, who had been getting up slower and slower every day found a new swig of youthfulness that she occasionally employs to chase her new garage-mate around the yard.

Funny what a wave of youth and fluff and plain cuteness can bring to an old place.

But Juno was meant to be more than a cute companion. That’s the thing here. Cow dogs have many important responsibilities, and when you’ve got a pup on your hands who’s only interest seems to be digging holes, spilling the food dish and chewing the fingers out of your best leather gloves, a large part of you wonders what you’ve got on your hands here (besides fingerless gloves).

Yes, cow dogs have a punch list and Juno, cute as she was, wasn’t an exception. She needed to grow up to be:

Gentle with children but rough on varmints who might wander into the yard.

Sweet and obedient but brave enough to convince a 2,000 pound bull to get his ass out of the brush.

Vocal and adventurous,  but only with the cattle.

Athletic and smart and sensitive to commands.

Quick

Fierce and loyal and friendly with a work ethic and an eager to please attitude.

Instinctual. As in: know what to do even without being told…and while we’re at it..

Bur and tick repellent

Not too much to ask right? Not too much pressure from an eager to please baby who hasn’t even seen her second winter…

But here’s the thing, a good dog is an invaluable asset around here. I joke about the expectations, but if they emerge, if they are even remotely met out here on the days when it’s just  a cowboy against 100 head of cattle heading in the wrong direction, that cowboy won’t trade that dog for a mansion in the mountains.

And so we’ve been watching that pup closely, wondering how she might emerge from puppyhood. Will she be too timid? She’s a sweet little thing. Will she ever want to jump in the back of the pickup on her own? Will she come back when called? Will she be intimidated by the ornery cows? Will she come along on a ride? Will she become more than a pet?

Will she be what we hoped she would be?

Well, take a look here friends. It’s Juno.

And there she is way out there alongside of Pops and his horse, bopping and jumping and trotting through the long grass on our way to move some cows.

Take a look at how she’s grown up, that little sweetie.

Then take your coat off, take a seat and let Pops pour you a fresh cup of coffee because if you’ve stopped over you’re gonna hear it.

And it’s gonna be a while.

Because he’s proud.

Like Trail-90 proud.

Like grandkid proud.

“Can I tell you about my dog?” he’ll ask.

And before you can answer he’ll tell you how last night she would have taken that bull all the way home on her own if he would have let her.

He’ll tell you she’ll little but she got instinct.

He’ll tell you she’s sweet but she’s tough enough.

He’ll tell you how she’s so smart she comes back with one ask of one command and this morning he thinks he might have actually heard her say a word, like “hello” or “hi there” or something that sounded like a greeting, and, well, he’s not quite sure but she just might be bur repellent too…

And then he’ll tell you he’s pleased and that she just might be…could possibly be…if he doesn’t screw it all up…

 

The Best Cow Dog He’s Ever Had in His Whole Entire Life!!!!

Ever.

Don’t worry. I won’t tell Pudge.

Or the Pug.

Oh Juno, you’re doin’ good girl!