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.

Sunday Column: A season comes home again…

The sun sets on an old day

I hit the road to see a friend

Some days I need to leave this place

so I can come home again

Coming Home: Winter blues washed away by spring melt
by Jessie Veeder
3/16/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Spring is…

Sometimes the day is so lovely, you just have to go out in it.

Sometimes the moon shows up before the sun goes down and lines up just right in the blue sky hovering peacefully over golden grass.

Grass that was hiding under all that snow, snow that’s melting because it’s 50 degrees ABOVE zero now, so you decide to pull on your muck boots and splash around in it a little, feeling so good you don’t even mind the little hole in the right one that lets the water in to soak your socks.

It doesn’t matter. It’s summer now.

Your feet don’t get cold in the summer.

And you took your camera, because you need to document what a beautiful mess it all is when the thaw comes.

You need to photograph those tiny bubbles.

You need to capture those trees standing nice and tall and straight.

You must preserve the memory of that rushing water cutting its way through the stubborn ice in the shade of the valley.

You have to show everyone, shout it so they can hear you above the babbling streams…

“Spring is springing!”

“Spring is springing!”

“Spring is…”

pooping

Dammit dog!

If it’s peace and tranquility I’m looking for out there…well…

Happy thaw out everyone!

Sunday Column: School bus stop ahead

School Bus Stop Ahead

When you grow up alongside a gravel road, there are so many miles between where you are and where you’re going.

Many of those miles in my childhood were spent sitting next to my best friend on a dusty seat in yellow school bus #12.

This week’s column is about a man who spent the majority of his life behind the wheel of that bus, picking up country kids on time and at 7 am from farmyards and small houses along those gravel roads and bringing them safely to school, in the heat of late summer, through plenty of blizzards and then splashing along the melt and mud of spring when school was out.

The kids on George’s bus didn’t mis-behave much. And if we did, he didn’t yell.

He just tapped on the breaks so that those of us who were standing up got a little warning jolt.

That’s all we needed. A little warning jolt.

I guess that’s what George’s recent death was to me. George, a legendary character on this changing landscape, a man who drove bus for my dad and both of my sisters, my cousins and neighbors, the kind of man they don’t make anymore, left us here to navigate these roads and get to school on time without him.

George. What a guy, that George.

Coming Home: Bus driver taught lessons that stick with us as adults
by Jessie Veeder
3-9-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

 

Sleep Talking…

My husband talks in his sleep.

In the early hours of this morning he turned to me and said, “That’s enough of that now.”

To which I replied, “Enough of what?”

“Enough of those carrots. You keep putting them in the mixer and they’re flying out everywhere. You’re making a huge mess!”

“Ok,” I said. “I’ll stop with the carrots.”

And we both rolled over and went back to sleep.

These are not generally the types of conversations we have while he’s sleeping. No. Generally our middle of the night sleep chats are much angrier.

Now, my husband, He’s not a loud man in his waking hours. In fact, he is the opposite. Calm. Reserved. Collected. Stoic.

The only thing I’ve ever heard him yell at are the dogs when they’re taking off at top speeds over the hill after a deer, leaving all sense of hearing behind and that one time when a guy driving a random piece of machinery mistook our yard for an oil site and almost ran over our new culvert.

I know it’s not nice to laugh when someone you love is all worked up, but, I mean, a brand new vein spontaneously appeared in his neck. Don’t mess with this man’s culverts.

Anyway, besides those few select scenarios, my man is basically eerily unemotional. Chill. Laid back. Reserved.

But in his sleep he is another man entirely.

Yes, in his dreams he yells, strings of words I’ve never heard him use together in his waking life, not even at culvert man. In the depths of the night he’s mad at someone. He rolls over and makes a heavy dramatic sigh. He hollers at unnamed characters. He makes general, angry suggestions to do things like ‘get over it’ or ‘hurry the hell up’ or ‘come on already.’

He curses, Tourette style, words flying from his mouth that stand alone in the quiet, dark night of our room, flinging my eyes open and reaching my arm to his back to tell him, ‘shhh, shhh, it’s ok.”

He’s upset. He’s frustrated. He’s loud.

He’s completely and utterly out of it.

Asleep.

Now I’ve shared a room with this man for a while, and I can tell you he has always slept the  sleep of the dead. Like, if an elephant opened the front door of our house and made his way up the steps and into our room to sit on the end of our bed and clean his toenails, my husband wouldn’t even stir.

Once, when we lived in town, someone threw a construction cone at his car parked on the street, setting his car alarm off in a frenzy and scaring the shit out of me enough to whack him on the back and send him up out of the bed, out the door and out on the street before he woke up under the street lights to realize he was in nothing but his underwear.

Yes, the man can snooze. And sometimes he rolls over to tell me things about how delicious the pineapple tasted in his dreams, or maybe once there was something about pants that didn’t fit, or getting the right cheese at the store, or making it to the top of a mountain in time to catch the goats, you know, weirdly normal sleep-talking subjects.

But his sleeps never used to be angry. No. This new phenomenon crept into our lives a few years ago, in the middle of the night, sending me shooting out of bed and dangling from the light fixture in terror.

Who was this man in my room and why was he shouting the F-bomb for no reason?

And of course at first I thought it was a funny, one time nightmare thing, but that, as you know, has proven not to be the case.

No. My man has become an angry sleeper.

Now, I’ve tried to understand it. I have asked him if he remembers being angry at anyone in his dreams. I’ve asked him, if there are names involved, if they are real people, people he may have unresolved issues with, perhaps?

I’ve wondered if he’s ever yelling at me.

But he can’t remember, not the angry dreams anyway.

The good dreams? The ones where he can fly or is riding a fast horse or winning the lottery? He can remember those.

The annoyed dreams, like the thing about the carrots this morning? Yup. Clear as day.

The bad dreams?  Not a slice of a memory.

Weird.

Now, I’m beyond analyzing this, except to come to the conclusion that this stoic man of mine, this even tempered rock sleeping next to a woman who has been known to have countless emotional and similarly loud outbursts of joy, anger, pain or excitement in her waking hours, has to find a way to let go somehow.

Because, wild dogs, culvert guy and being forced to watch the Academy Awards excluded, this man is pretty steady.

So sleep it out my man. Tell the world to…well..you know what…while you rest in the safety and oblivion of your deep slumber. Those words from your mouth don’t scare me.

Actually, I’m happy to hear them and perfectly fine with the booming of your voice waking me in the night.

Because sometimes, when I’m all worked up, arms flailing, words slurring together, tears squeezing out of my eyes and you say to me “Don’t worry. It’s fine. It’ll all work out,” I worry that you holding this puddle of a woman together in this puddle of a world might be a quiet burden you don’t need to bear so softly.

So yell into the quiet night when no one can hear you but me so I can wake up and smile, roll over and touch your back knowing that in this life, all things find balance…in their own way…

Oh, and don’t worry, I’ll get those carrots under control.

Sunday Column: One, two, cha cha cha…

What do you do when the longest, coldest, most bone chilling, miserable winter you can remember on the North Dakota prairie finally turns into March–a month you previously considered to contain some sort of promise of a thaw –only instead of that whole lamb thing, it slaps you in the frozen face with the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy behavior of twenty below zero?

You put on that leotard,

and you dance.

Coming Home: These North Dakota hips don’t lie
by Jessie Veeder
3-2-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

One. Two. Cha. Cha. Cha.


Back when I (thought I) was an artist

Last time my Aunt K came to visit she brought this with her.

My aunt K is the kind of aunt who saves and archives things like old photographs, art projects and inspiring drawings from her children and artistically delusional niece, puts them in file folders and dates the back.

That’s how I know this was from 1992-1993. Because Aunt K wrote it in pencil on the back right corner to remind me how brilliant I was when I was 8 years old.

Brilliant.

Like this shirt.

Now, I feel like I should comment here, let you know that the ukelele hanging out by that hat is actually supposed to be a guitar, but the size of that hat and lack of horse feet probably indicates I had a little to learn about proportions and gravity.

But this drawing reminds me of a time in my life when I really believed that I could be anything, and a gifted artist was one of these things.

An olympic figure skater, a talk show host, a rodeo queen/Miss America, a veterinarian horse whisperer, novelist and famous singer like Reba McEntire were some of the other things.

Turns out I may have hit my artistic peak at 8 years old.

Turns out I was never really “gifted” in this area, no matter my hopes and dreams…
New Drawing

Same goes with the figure skating thing.

But I hung that picture on my fridge anyway, because it reminds me of my Aunt K and that little girl who believed she would cherish this magnificent piece of art forever and ever.

And it turns out I was right about some things.

Peace, Love and Precious Childhood Delusions,

Jessie

 

 

 

Sunday Column: What I say about Boomtown…

We stood in line to board the red-eye flight out of Las Vegas, my mom and I fresh off of a whirl-wind trip to shop for pretty clothes and shoes and jewelry to stock her store in Boomtown. We had our bags thrown over our shoulders and our boarding passes out, anticipating the deconstruction of our outfits that would soon ensue as we threw it all in plastic bins to walk through the metal detector, only to have to put it all back on again.

When you’re in lines like this surrounded by people of all shapes and sizes and walks of life, taking off shoes and watches and unloading laptops and toothpaste tubes,  I can’t help but make up stories about the characters in my head.

Mom, Dad and baby heading out to see grandparents.

An older couple leaving their Las Vegas winter home.

Three middle aged and desperately tired women heading back to the midwest after a wild girls’ weekend in Sin City.

Most of the time my assumptions are unfounded, just a guess based on superficial cues, like the “I heart Las Vegas” souvenir shirt or the child wearing one of those monkey backpacks with a leash, running wild behind his overbearing mother.

But then sometimes the story plays out before me in a conversation I can’t help but overhear.

Two young women, maybe early twenties, cute and trim and friends, dressed in sweatpants with their hair pulled up in loose, but well-tended ponytails, light jackets flopped over their arms, lift overstuffed carry-on suitcases up on the conveyer belt and turn to answer the question coming from the couple behind them…

“You heading home?” 

A tall man, like 6 foot 3, in his mid-thirties, immaculately dressed in slick jeans and sneakers, his dark hair pulled back in perfect and long dreadlocks, has his arm around a petite young blond in a tight red knit dress as she unzips her studded high heel boots and places them in one of those bins…

“No,” replies one of the girls. “I’m heading to see my boyfriend in North Dakota. Williston.  He works in the oilfield up there.”

“Oh, right!” says the dreadlocked man turning to the blond. “We’ve been there.” 

“Is it nice?” 

I turned to my mom to make sure she was listening. Williston is our neighboring town and I needed an extra set of eavesdropping ears to hear the string of assumptions, observations and impressions that would follow about our booming community from the mouths of a few mis-matched Las Vegas residents.

It was an earful.

“It’s cold as hell. Like, it burns your face and skin a few seconds after you step out the door.” 

“We ate at that Mexican place, what’s it called…oh, I can’t remember, but you’ll find it. It’s one of the only places to eat in the state.” 

“Oh, and then there’s that Barbecue place…” 

“Yeah, you’ll see it. Two restaurants. One says “Mexican.” One says “BBQ.:

“Hahahaha…”

“Oh, well, we don’t go out much when we get there. Usually only go to the two strip clubs. There’s two, right beside each other…”

“You better wrap your arms around that boyfriend of yours when you get there and tell him you really love him, you know, to have traveled all the way up there, to a godforsaken place like this…for him…” 

Two sweatpants-clad women laugh. 

My mom sighs.

Red Dress walks through medal detector

I say at least they’re right about the cold. 

End scene. 

Cold

But here’s the thing, our community is in the spotlight right now, for good reasons and bad reasons and because there is a story around every corner, one that can be easily sensationalized or one that is sensational enough on it’s own.

And we’re in the thick of it. We may have escaped to Vegas for a few days, but a world full of rumors, truck traffic, booming populations, help-wanted signs, $15 per-hour McDonalds jobs and young men working away from home waiting for their girlfriends to pay them a visit from a warmer climate was waiting for us when we got home.

If those two young women would have asked me if it was nice up in North Dakota, they would have received an entirely different answer.

I would have at least given them a few more tips on restaurants, and maybe advised on buying a beanie, I mean, wouldn’t the boyfriend have thought to mention the windchill?

Anyway, I imagine those two young women have been here and back again and now hold on to their own impressions of my chilly home state, impressions they will bring back to share with their friends in Nevada.

I’ll tell you though, having grown up in this place when it was quiet, when it was scoria roads and “everyone knows everyone” and the only thing anyone ever knew of this place was that it was cold, and that people here have a funny accent, and that yeah, we’re nice,

North Dakota nice,

I’ll admit now reading about us in the papers, about how we’ve changed, about how some of this oil booming business isn’t so nice, isn’t so pretty, isn’t necessarily understood, it makes me cringe. It’s like overhearing a a stranger say mean things about my little sister.

“You don’t really know her! You don’t know why she is the way she is! You don’t know the challenges, how big her heart is, how hard she’s trying! You don’t understand!”

But just as I observe and make assumptions about those travelers based only on the information I’m given, so go the perceptions of my home, coming from a visitors’ own frozen lips or from the lips of those willing to share their own judgements and experiences.

So I suppose that’s why, when I get the chance, in my North Dakota accent, I talk about it. To whoever’s asking, I’m happy to explain my world the way I knew it and the way I know it now.

Not that I know everything. I’m quick to note that living in a camper in sub-zero temperatures hundreds of miles away from home is a little different than living in a new house in a familiar place. It isn’t all pretty and it isn’t all nice, but some of it is. Some of it is damn exciting. Some of it, like a sunset over the badlands and a hike through the tall grass, and the fact that my husband and I can make enough of a living to stay and work in a place we love, a place we stand up for, is as beautiful and thrilling as it ever was…

That’s what I know of this place anyway…. That’s what I would have told them…

Coming Home: Northern accent perfect for telling story of my town
by Jessie Veeder
2-23-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

How faith might find you…

Yesterday morning one of my best friends, my neighbor down the road with curly hair kind of like mine, a similar obsession with photographing wildflowers and a much better success rate with house plants, gardens and crafting projects, gave birth to her first child.

A beautiful baby girl.

When that baby drew her first breath from within the safe walls of a hospital made of bricks standing strong against the chilly North Dakota air, I had just landed in MInneapolis after taking the red-eye out of Las Vegas where I slept face down, hair splayed out on the tray table for nearly three hours.

When I finally landed in North Dakota, my momma and I rushed to the floral shop to buy tulips and chocolate, a small token of appreciation for the newest addition to our neighborhood, then we pointed our car toward that hospital made of bricks so that we could take a look at those tiny hands and count those toes and say hello, we’re so glad you’re here.

I’m so glad she’s here.

Now, babies are born every day. All of the people I passed on my way through the airport, all of those souls standing in line and sitting shoulder to shoulder, taking off across the sky together, have mothers who grew them and carried them and brought them into the world to grow up and drink coffee, tell stories and host dinner parties, drive cars too fast and take midnight walks, make a mean cheesecake and fall in love, fall out of love, then back again and bite their nails, own too many cats and someday, have babies of their own.

And while all of these living and breathing people, all 7.046 billion of us, have stories we can tell each other about work and family and that great restaurant we visited last night, stories we might hear over a long overdue phone call or while standing in line at the post office with a stranger, every single one of us carries with us a different story about how we came into this world.

And although we carry it with us, not every one of us is able to tell it. Because not every one of us were told–not all of us really know.

That’s the thing about humans, we may choose not to share every detail in words.

A child may never know how much he was wanted.

Or how he was a plan.

Or a surprise, a pleasant surprise.

A terrifying one.

A surprise that couldn’t be handled.

But I’ll tell you something about my friend and her husband, the couple who welcomed that beautiful baby into this cold little corner of North Dakota yesterday–yesterday they witnessed a miracle.

And they knew it.

Now their story is like everyone’s story in that it is their own. And I, as their friend down the road, am not qualified to tell it, to give justice to what it’s like to pray and worry and drive hundreds of miles to spend countless hours in doctors appointments explaining and re-explaining, planning and re-planning and spending time on procedures and money on drugs while hanging on to a hope, a hope that has hung on for years…

Five years to be exact.

That someday she will be a mother.

And he will be a father.

And they will hold their daughter, a daughter with a little splash of red hair, tiny pink cheeks, long fingers like hers and eyes like his in their arms in the brick hospital in the middle of winter on the edge of North Dakota.

Because even some of life’s most natural promises are not promised to everyone.

And then sometimes that promise does not come easy.

But when it does, well…

There are no words.

Last spring I was driving my pickup down a gravel road, coming out of the badlands and onto the highway. My friend with the curly hair like mine was my passenger and we were talking about our struggle to become mothers, another thing, besides the unruly hair, that we have in common.

My hope was dwindling, wavering and faltering after years of disappointment. Six pregnancies celebrated and then lost with nothing but an unsolved mystery, heartbreak and frustration left in their wake.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be a mother,” I told her. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take. It might be a sign it’s not meant for us.”

She sat there beside me then, a woman with the same hope of a family, but one who had not yet seen those two pink lines.

“I just know there’s a plan. I have faith. I can see it for us,” she said. “I can see it for you.”

Faith.

In my life I’ve had it and lost it…

Moving along that gravel road with my friend talking and holding on tight to her hope, I believed for her it would work out.

But I couldn’t hold that same belief for myself.

And then I got the phone call in the early morning hours of January 5th, the one with my dad’s voice on the other end of the line begging for help. The one that sent our whole life reeling with prayers and hope and desperate pleas that the man called dad, grampa, husband, Pops, brother, uncle, friend would live to hear us tell him we loved him a thousand more times.

The one that promised this man was not going to live.

But some of life’s promises are not promised to everyone.

I stood in that North Dakota wind outside of that hospital as they prepared my faltering father for a plane ride he might not survive. I watched that wind bend the trees down and cool the air and I struggled to catch the breath that I lost with the news…

I tried to imagine a world without my father…

Today my dad stopped by the house. He wore his blue jeans and boots, a checked wool vest and a cap he got free from a company he’s likely been working with now that he’s back working. I made him a  cup of coffee and we sat at the counter and visited a bit about the weather and plans we have for spring when the cows come back…the things I promised him we’d do when he was lying in that hospital bed for a week working on pulling through.

Yesterday I got off a plane that flew me high above the clouds, shoulder to shoulder with a hundred other people with heartbeats and stories who were flying too…

And then we came back to the earth safe and sound so that I could hold my friend’s baby in my arms where she wiggled and opened her tiny little mouth to cry a bit before I bounced her and shushed her and told her she’s ok.

She’s got all the love in the world around her and in this world where she now lives, sometimes, miracles happen…

I know, because I have faith…

Sunday Column: A new life for an old country school.

This is me, about forth grade I suppose, back when Garth Brooks was king (and so were his wild Brush Popper style western shirts) and I spent my recesses planting a garden with my friends outside the window of the lunchroom of the country school down the road.

This summer they’ll start work to turn Johnson Corners Elementary School into a travel center. A gas station.

A place to buy Cheetos and Red Bull and fuel for the hundreds of trucks and pickups that pass by my old stomping grounds every day.

A sign of the times….times we never thought we’d see when they shut down that little school 15 or so years ago, sending those country kids to town…

This year, in Watford City, they built an addition to that elementary school in town, making room for the 100 + kindergartners that need to learn their letters.

In 2014 we’re making plans to build a new high school.

We couldn’t have known then what we know now about what lay below our scuffed cowboy boots as we kicked the soccer ball around and dangled from the monkey bars.

We couldn’t have known all these years later, after growing up along quiet highways and dusty scoria roads, that the world would pass by that abandoned playground, bringing with it a new life…

Coming Home: Boomtown makes room for travel center in old schoolyard
by Jessie Veeder
2-16-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com