Sunday Column: Haunted

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Another Halloween has come and gone and, although I this year didn’t find me traipsing around to parties dressed as my favorite farm animal, it did get me thinking, for some reason, about the origin of this all.

The art of the spook.

Mysterious things left behind.

And the definition of haunting.

Because out here we’re surrounded by a history that has left behind artifacts for us to contemplate, old abandoned farm houses, out buildings or shacks that many midwesterners have standing on their properties, out in fields or cow pastures, little snippets of stories of who used to live there hanging in the air as dinner table discussion or campfire ghost stories, leaving us to wonder who was here before.

So this week I dug back in my memory to reflect on an old homestead that used to sit up behind the house where I grew up…and all of the things we leave behind….

Screen shot 2015-11-02 at 12.49.51 PMComing Home: Items left behind in abandoned houses create
ghost stories for us country kids
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

It’s a gloomy day, the rain is falling, the sky is gray and the trees are stripped from black branches. It’s Halloween season and all of the sudden I’m reminded of the old house that used to sit up in a grove of trees behind the yard where I grew up.

It’s not so uncommon around here for a family to purchase land from neighbors or inherit an old family homestead, so there aren’t many farmsteads around these parts that didn’t come with an old structure lingering on the property, providing ranch kids with plenty of bedtime ghost story material.

And so it went with the old house that stood tucked back on the other side of the barbed wire fence, against a slope of a hill, surrounded by oak trees and the remnants of Mrs. B’s famous garden. Her hearty lilac bushes, her grove of apple trees, her wild asparagus and rhubarb still thrived in the clearing she made in those trees all those mysterious years ago before the family up and left, leaving that garden untended, the root cellar full and a house seemingly frozen in time.

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“What happened to them?” I would contemplate with my cousins, one of our favorite subjects as our eyes grew heavy, tucked in bunk beds and sleeping bags scattered on the floor, together growing up, together trying to figure out what the passing of time really means and how a story could be left so undone.

Gramma took some old dresses, vintage black smocks with pearl buttons and lace collars, from the small bedroom closet of the old house. We would pull them over our heads to perform pretend wedding ceremonies or attend fancy parties like we saw on our mothers’ soap operas, the fabric smelling like mothballs, dust and old forgotten things.

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But no matter what character you were that day, you couldn’t help but think about who the real woman in those dresses once was.

And who would leave them behind?

So, as it goes with kids, our curiosity outweighed our fear and we went on a mission to collect samples of this family’s life that still existed between those walls.

And while I remember kitchen utensils hanging neatly on hooks, canned beets and potatoes lined up on shelves, the table and chairs sitting in the sunlight against the window, waiting for a neighbor to stop over for coffee, I also remember bedrooms scattered with old newspapers and magazines, the dates revealing the last years of occupancy, the fashion of the season, stories of drought and cattle prices sprawled out among diary entries and old letters, a glimpse into a world that existed long before us kids sifting through the rubble in tennis shoes with neon laces.

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And then I remember the dentures. Or maybe I just remember the story my oldest cousin told about the dentures. It doesn’t matter now who was actually there to witness it, it evolved to belong to everyone. An expedition to the old house, a creak of a cupboard door, a jar full of teeth that nobody noticed before.

“The place is haunted.” That was the consensus, especially when, at the next visit, the unwelcome house guests were greeted at the door by a flurry of bats (or, more likely, a bat or two). Yes, the spirits of that mysterious couple came back to the place. How else could you explain the thriving asparagus plants? The teeth?!

And so that was our story of the old house, a mysteriously fantastic pillar of our childhood adventures and a structure that had to eventually be burned down due to its disintegrating floor joists and general unsafe environment.

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I stood in my snowsuit and beanie and watched the flames engulf the graying wood and shoot up over the tops of the black oak trees and wondered how it all eventually came down to this … a life turned into old forgotten things, turned into ashes, turned into stories.

Maybe that’s the scariest tale of them all.

But each fall the apples in the old woman’s orchard ripen, each spring her lilacs bloom and each year their names come to our lips because of what they left behind, making me wonder if we were right about the haunting thing after all.

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In between seasons


“You should have seen it out in the east pasture,” Husband told me when he got in from searching for stray bulls last week. “It was so colorful, like God dropped a bag of Skittles from the sky.”


It was an adorable statement coming from the scruffy, sorta smelly man sitting next to me.

And I was immediately jealous.

Although I can see it from outside my windows and on my slow strolls on the trails there’s nothing like experiencing fall on the back of a horse.


So Monday I did the next best thing and convinced Husband to take a little 4-wheeler drive with me to our favorite pasture so I could take photos from the tops of the hills and feel like I got my fix of it.


He never says no to ideas like this. It means that he doesn’t have to be cooped up in the basement putting up walls and wiring and things like that. It means that he can spend a little more time behind those binoculars looking for elk or deer or coyotes or mountain lions or whatever a man hopes to find on the other side of the glass.


I never hope to find a mountain lion.

That’s one difference between the two of us I guess.


Now a 4-wheeler these days isn’t my preferred mode of transportation. Every bump and wiggle sort of bounces me and this baby I’m cooking the wrong way, although she doesn’t seem to mind, because when we’re moving is the only time she’s sitting still.

And that’s terrifying and reassuring all at the same time.


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But all that bumping around sends me popping a squat behind a bullberry bush at least once before I make it back to our front door.

If I need help initiating labor, I tell you, I know every stubble field and bumpy trail we can ride across to move it along. Let’ s hope that it doesn’t come to that.


But oh, it was worth it to take the trip back there. Everything is so gold it’s almost unreal. I kept checking my camera to make sure it was on the right setting, as if my eyes were lying to me.

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But they weren’t. It’s just plain beautiful out here in this prolonged fall we’ve been given. Usually by now we might have already had a dusting of snow or a couple pretty chilly days, but not this year. This year my garden’s still growing, the sun is still shining a nice and comfortable 70+ degrees and the flies are still somehow finding their annoying way in to this house through some mysterious crack somewhere so they can die on the tallest and hardest to clean window ledge in the entire place.

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When the sun started to cast long shadows and darken the valleys we headed toward home in the rapidly dropping temperature. That’s the thing about fall, it goes from 39 degrees, to 70 and back to 39 in a short 12 hour period. I was starting to wish for my mittens when Husband stopped his 4-wheeler by the place we cut our first Christmas tree as a married couple.

And got the pickup stuck to the floorboards in the snow.

And rocked and pushed and spun so much that our poor new puppy Hondo got sick and shit all over the pickup.


“Remember this spot?” he asked.

“I sure do,” I said.

“There’s a tree right there,” he said as he pointed to a 20 foot cedar, big enough to bring to Times Square.

“There will be no Charley Brown, spindly Christmas tree this year. Not for this kid’s first Christmas,” he said.


I shook my head and we bounced along our merry way, in between seasons, in the weather and in our lives.

In the calm before the storm, the warm before the cool down,


The wait before everything changes…


Watch my “Work (Girl)” Music Video
off my new Nashville album “Northern Lights” 

Like summer.


A good rain cloud has settled in over the landscape this morning, giving everything a nice cool down and a much needed drink.

The frogs and tomatoes in my garden will be happy for it. My sprinkler and I have been playing the part of the rain cloud for the past couple weeks, so we’re all happy to see the real thing show up.

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I can’t believe we’re in approaching the middle of August, the month the kids go back to school. The month that turns the green grass and the wheat gold,  the month that reminds us that summer is almost over.


I’m getting the hint, like I do every summer that seems to stretch out ahead of me like an endless dream of sun soaking, berry picking, garden growing, lake swimming heaven, until I blink and find myself in August.

So every chance I get these days, I take the dogs and my belly and we go out poking around.

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Because I want to absorb this green into my skin. I want to remember the scratch of the grass on my bare legs and the smell of hay being cut in the fields when winter comes to wrap us in a cold blanket.

In the past years of course I would do much more of this on the back of my horse, but this year I have stayed on foot, not wanting to risk a fall. The circumstances too precious.

So I’ve spent this summer on my own to feet.

And next summer two new chubby feet will join the team.

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Last night I had a dream that I was finally holding this baby.

I keep having dreams that she’s here.

Or he’s here.

And in these dreams she grows up fast, from birth to talking and walking in the course of a day and I wonder where that tiny baby went.

I think, “don’t they stay little for longer?”

And then I wake up and find myself in my bed, my belly still full with a tiny, moving, growing human that I dreamed of but haven’t met yet, a new life stretching out in front of me like an endless dream.


A new life stretching out in front of me…like summer.


Sunday Column: Getting it done in the Wild West…


Oh my, we had such an amazing weekend here at the ranch. I can’t believe I’m even (barely) awake today as we all come down from the high of friends and family and celebrating it all.

And I intend on telling you all about it, about the beautiful day, the beautiful couple, the food, the adorable ring bearer and flower girl…


and of course, the dancing,  but first I’m  going to share the column I wrote last week in the hectic whiz and whirl of planning and cleaning and trying to get work done with no internet and no phone in the middle of the wild west.

If I sound a little stressed and frustrated I blame it on the nice cocktail of time crunch, deadlines, road construction, horseflies, heat and hormones…

But don’t worry, we’ve all calmed down a bit now…


Coming Home: Busy road, slow internet, both inconveniences in the Bakken
by Jessie Veeder

Pink Road

I pulled my car over on the top of the hill at the approach next to the gate where there’s usually a white pickup with a company logo idling and a man inside checking his phone or writing in a notebook. Usually, I see them there and shake my head in annoyance, wishing they would find another place to park, as if the county road going through the ranch belongs to us only.

Because it seemed like it used to anyway.

But now these once quiet roads have turned into a sort of autobahn, not just for transporting oil, water or random equipment strapped to flatbed trailers, but also the men and women who have places to go.

And while they’re going, they have work to get done.

Because the men behind the wheel on these roads don’t take many breaks, unless it’s to pull over for a phone call or to enter numbers on a laptop plugged into the console of their pickups, a regular mobile office right there on that approach on top of the hill next to the gate.

This is the reality of the weekday workday, not in town but out at the ranch these days. And while the wheels on the portable offices kick up dust on the road above my house, I sit in my back bedroom-turned-office and write about it, report on it, and make phone calls to tell its story.

And then, just as I hit send on one of those timely and important emails, the Internet cuts out.

I don’t panic. This happens a lot. Because no matter how fast we say it has changed out here, things like reliable high-speed Internet 30 miles from town are still a mystical dream of the future.

I’ll just communicate the old-fashioned way and pick up the phone.

But there’s no phone.

And so it’s a Thursday afternoon, I have a deadline, and two of my three links to the civilized world have been taken away.

My third link? Driving an hour in 30 miles of road construction to an office I can access in town, because we’re in the middle of progress, dang it, and progress means a little suffering along the way … and a little ingenuity and resourcefulness.

I thought of those guys in their pickups on that approach on top of the hill next to the gate and I grabbed my laptop, cellphone and notebook, pulled in to where I got a good cellphone signal, tapped into my hotspot and spent a good hour or two getting work done in my own mobile office.

Fast-forward to the weekend when my husband and I attempted to haul a little tractor from the ranch to Williston, N.D., and found ourselves along the highway with a flat tire on the old trailer and an even older spare that didn’t fit. Six phone calls later we landed a contact with a new tire business open past 2 p.m. on Saturdays, drove back to that trailer along the highway, and got it done.

And in between it all I’m arguing with the post office about a pair of my husband’s very important and needs-to-be-here-like-yesterday khaki wedding pants that got lost in the mail. Because it’s a long and winding road to the Wild West. Especially when you’re a pair of khakis coming from New York.

Turn in Road

Sometimes the Wild West just isn’t on my side.

Yes, some things would be undoubtedly easier if we just put this house on wheels and moved it to the suburbs of Minneapolis, where people don’t get flat tires, always have reliable Internet and don’t have to sit in their cars next to cow pastures to get a cellphone signal.

But, oh, the sweet clover smells good these days, even alongside a busy highway changing a flat.

Even without Internet.

Because this is not Minneapolis, even though these roads are no longer ours alone.

But if we stay on course, they will undoubtedly be smoother, the Internet will be faster, and the mobile lives kicking up dust above the house will get a little easier every day.

In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be on a hill somewhere trying to get some work done.

Calf on Road

Under Pots and Pans

We have a hill that overlooks our house. It’s sort of a landmark on the Veeder Ranch. I’ve written about it before. Pots and Pans. IMG_2008 Every cousin, brother, sister, aunt, uncle or friend of a friend connected to this place has likely taken the hike to the top of this hill to check out the view and see what sorts of treasures are at the top. IMG_2012 See, it’s called Pots and Pans because at some point, somewhere in the 100 year history of this place, someone decided to drag old pots and pans, sifters, ladles, bowls and plates up to the top to sit on the rocks and wait for the occasional adventurous kid to take a hike and play house up there. IMG_2006 My memories of Pots and Pans growing up are a big plan on a hot summer afternoon to take a hike with the cousins. The plan included fanny packs, juice boxes, fruit snacks, scratchy legs, and the inevitable run in with a cactus or a potty break in the grass before maybe, eventually, making it to the top. IMG_2018 Because it was actually a long ways when I look at it now. From the farmhouse by the barn to the top of the hill there is at least almost a mile of treacherous terrain. And when you have short legs it’s quite the feat. IMG_2000 But it was also quite the memory that we all share now. Who would have thought at the time when I was picking cactus from my cousin’s legs that I would have built a house right under that place? Who would have thought that I would get to watch the sun come up in the morning and the moon come up at night every day over Pots and Pans. IMG_2038 At least once a week on my walks I take a trip up there to exercise my legs and see how things are blooming at the Veeder Ranch. IMG_2024 IMG_2022 IMG_2020 IMG_2001 There’s still a pot or two up there and every time I make it to the top I think of my cousins and orange Hi-C juice boxes and what an adventure this place was to us. Unexplored and wild. IMG_2014 I still think that way sometimes when I find myself on an old trail or discover a deer horn dropped in the trees or an elk standing on the top of a hill somewhere. IMG_2034 IMG_2002 IMG_1998 And I think, when my kids are born I’ll have to trek up there with some old pans of my own to continue the tradition and the mystery so that they might take their cousins and their fanny packs up to the top someday to acquire a cactus and a memory or two… I mean, I’ve set it up perfectly for them…the walk is much shorter from here :) IMG_2013

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Sunday Column: WOODTICKS!

This isn’t a new horror story for you my dear readers, but, well, WOODTICKS!


I found one crawling up my bathroom wall this morning.

Last week, when I was in the doctor’s office, I reached up to find one on my head.

The blossoms are blossoming, the grass is getting green, the trees are budding and the little bastards are marching out in full force.


And because all I seem to do lately is pick them off of my pant legs and off my husband’s pants legs, and off my dogs and, apparently, off my walls, I had to write about all the horrifying and encounters I’ve had with them in this week’s column.


Coming Home: Wood ticks the price for wild paradise
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

Upon publishing, it was brought to my attention that I shouldn’t take such pests lightly as they carry diseases and some people have been affected by said diseases in terrible ways. My heart goes out to anyone who has suffered from lymes disease or any other debilitating symptoms that ticks and mosquitos can cause. I know this is a possibility and we work to prevent these encounters as much as possible out here at the ranch. Please, use bug spray, always check you and your kids, know the proper way to remove them should they become embedded, and protect your pets with the appropriate medication.

I don’t want anyone getting sick. I just want all the ticks in the world to die because as far as I can tell in my abundant research, they don’t do anything any good.

But if you can’t beat the scary and creepy things in life, I find it’s ok to laugh in its face…so that’s my tactic. Laughing at the things I can’t control and then flushing the little bastards down the toilet…

Peace, love and springtime woes,



Sunday Column: Getting lost in my hometown

I’ve sort of been doing the North Dakota, small town tour lately. I’ve been hired to speak and sing at some special events, touching on topics like ranch living and what it’s like in Boomtown.

It’s been fun, hitting the open road and taking the exists on familiar highways that I’ve driven by but never turned fully discovered.

But it’s also been nostalgic in a way. Because I’m reminded in these small towns what my small town used to be like. Actually, I’m reminded that not all small towns are bursting at the seams, under constant construction and constant growing pains.

I’m reminded that some places stay the same. Quiet. Quaint. Full of people who know one another, their children and their children’s children.

The funny thing is even after watching my small town boom from 1,200 people to over 12,000 or more, I still think of my town the same way as I thought of it growing up. And, in a way, I see it that way too.  I mean, I’m not blind to the changes, but the way it was seems to sort of be ingrained in me.

Like, I still call the hardware store Hardware Hank, even though it hasn’t been called Hardware Hank since I was in junior high.

And when I give directions or talk about the new developments, I base locations off of where things used to be…like the old Chuckwagon cafe that closed when I was in high school or the where the bakery used to be…or where Larson’s used to live…

Funny how memory works. Funny how we connect to place in different ways and at different times. Funny how, in my mind, time sort of stopped for my hometown fifteen years ago…

Funny how this causes major issues when a new resident is trying to give me directions to a new development (that used to be a field next to my friend’s house) based on street signs…

Funny how annoyed I was at the reality of getting lost in my hometown…

Coming Home: Getting Lost in my quickly changing hometown
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

Wanted: April Showers


It’s been a busy couple weeks at the ranch. The weather has been warm and too dry for comfort and we’re deep into “getting the place ready for Little Sister’s wedding” mode. Which means we have projects, not just in the barnyard, but at our house too.

We’ve got two months and only so many weekends to finish the deck, finish the basement, finish the siding, finish the finishing touches and make a lawn grow where only a single pig weed once emerged.

But first, let’s take a ride on Husband’s new/used dirt bike and Pops’ precious Trail 90. You know, just to blow off some steam…


Not that I’d ever driven that little motorcycle/scooter thing…no worries, this guy here is good with lessons….But he’s also adorable, which makes it hard for me to concentrate.


“Just like riding a bike,” he said.

Except bikes have pedals and don’t die at the far edge of the field two miles from home when I finally figure out how to turn and suddenly become a professional and want to start working on a ramp so I can practice my jumps…


I love you sweet man, and it looks like you’re going to have to get the tools…

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And the pickup…because me and the Trail 90 are getting a ride home…


Ok, we can call the sod guy now. Because, after three years, won’t it be kick-ass to have a lawn?


Yeah, that’s a lot of lawn. Like 7,300 square feet worth.

Like 10,000 tons of grass.

So we called in reinforcement and spent last weekend burning our forearms and getting in our squats in the name of landscaping.

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And I’ve spent the rest of the week obsessing over my sprinklers, where they’re pointing and how to aim them without soaking my jeans, drowning or shutting them off.

And the dogs have spent the last five days believing they’ve finally gone to doggy heaven, rolling and sun bathing and napping and dragging dead things on what they seem to think is their own personal, giant slab of carpet.

So there was that.

And we need rain. Not only for my sod, but for the rest of this part of the state that didn’t get the moisture in the winter or the April showers we expect this time of year.


On Tuesday Husband left work, along with rest of the office, fire departments from three communities, the forest service and hundreds of volunteers to fight a fire near the lake that burned almost 5,000 acres and nearly took out one of our favorite campgrounds and marinas. He came home late covered in soot, stripped his clothes and showered that desperate smell off of him.

The fire was contained and, in the meantime, we just hold our breath for rain and for that pager to stay quiet.

And I adjust the sprinklers, wishing we could turn on the sky with a nob like that, add some tasks to the list in my head before setting it all aside to go out looking for spring.

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A second with Gus the cow dog.

And now for a split second with Gus…IMG_0923 IMG_0927 IMG_0929 IMG_0930 IMG_0931 IMG_0932 IMG_0933 IMG_0934 IMG_0936

Gus, the cow dog is energy embodied. Every minute is the best day of his life.


And every minute of his life is chaos.


Because he never sleeps.


I swear it. I think I saw him sleep once when he was a tiny baby sitting on my husband’s lap, and that was after several minutes of the man lovingly forcing the pooch to snuggle with him.

And once he might have caught a good thirty seconds on the floor of my office because I provided him with such a nice blanket not even a terror tornado like him could refuse the pull of slumber.

Gus isn’t really into snuggling.


He’s more into face licking, lap standing, and jumping three feet in the air upon your arrival. It doesn’t matter if you saw him two seconds ago. Every greeting from Gus is filled with the enthusiasm of a best friend you haven’t seen for years.

Come over at any given moment and you might find him tormenting the cats, ripping up the bed in his kennel, eating the cord to the heat lamp, attacking the broom when I’m trying to sweep, barking at the sky, eating cow poop and horse poop and cat poop and chewing on Brown Dog’s fat neck, then jumping up and over his back relentlessly, barking and taunting the poor old dog until he finally snaps …and then you will hear Gus The Tough wail the wail of a thousand deaths.

Because Gus has one other feeling besides happy. And that’s his hurt feeling.


It’s pretty traumatic.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with him. I mean, I could teach him anything if I could only keep up with him. He’s smart as a whip. He comes back in a split second on a quick whistle. He sits when asked, and I’ll take it, even though he trembles and shakes the entire time as if the energy in him is bouncing around in that body poking and prodding and begging to be released.


And when he makes his ears stand up like this, well, be still my heart. It’s frickin’ cute as hell and I can’t take it.


He looks like a gremlin.

And well, he sorta is…


Who knew this tiny little grunting fur ball that fit in the palm of my husband’s hand would turn into such a specimen…

And he’s only been alive for like six months.

Oh Gus, it’s fun to watch you grow. And I can’t wait to see how many woodticks/burs/mud/cowpoop you collect when summer comes.

Until then, let me reminisce you back to when you were small and innocent, when you peed puddles on the floor and weren’t such a threat to my cats… seriously, you need to go easy on those cats…IMG_4390 IMG_1573 IMG_1591 IMG_9881 IMG_0044 IMG_0027 IMG_9964 IMG_9958 dogs

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Gus, Gus, Gus…such an adorable bundle of energy and trouble brewing…

If you need us we’ll be out in it…

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Sunday Column: Thousands of miles away…

January is a tough month for us here in North Dakota. It’s smack in the middle of winter. It’s generally the coldest, the days are the shortest and the holidays are behind us…ahead of us? More winter.

To combat the January blues this year we decided to to break free before the New Year and ring it in somewhere warmer, somewhere that didn’t look anything like the rolling, white and brown ice colored hills and bare trees of the winter landscape at home.

So we packed up our swimming suits and our vacation hats, gathered our friends and headed to Mexico.

On a real vacation. One that wasn’t attached to some sort of work I had to do. (Which is typically the types of vacations Husband and I do).


I told you about it a bit, I showed you the juxtaposition of it all in a slideshow of contrasting photos of bare skin and snowsuits.

But there was more to say about it I think. More to say about a chance to break free for a moment…


It’s funny how a few days in a world so different, so far away from our own, sort of pulls you out of place, your own place, sweeps you off your feet, widens your eyes and lets down your hair.

But it wasn’t long before I started wondering what it might be like to really live there, on a place that touches the ocean. A place where cactuses stretch their arms to the sky and the wind blows sea salt and sand up on the shore, a place with sea fisherman instead of oil men.


Who would I be here in this sand, under this sun? What would I love?

What would I do?

Coming Home: Finding yourself thousands of miles from home
Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

This week I’m back in Nashville, working on finishing up the new album. I’ll spend my days listening to instruments–dobros and guitars, fiddles and harmonies, fill up the spaces in my songs, songs about work and worry and love and landscape.

Songs about horses and home.

And I will sing and sing and sing to get every word right.

That’s the work I’ll do this week, hundreds and hundreds of miles from the buttes and the place that raised me…and I am so grateful for it.