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.

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!

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!

 

When a squirrel becomes a turkey…

On Sunday morning I woke up to a sort of screeching, clicking, weird throaty sound coming from outside my open bedroom window.

When something squawks and makes a ruckus up there in the tree tops I assume it’s that damn squirrel.  He’s always gathering acorns and he makes like a really big deal about it, as if he’s the only squirrel who’s working.

I bet his friends think he’s annoying too.

Anyway,  I was groggy, sleeping in a bit after a weekend of singing and late nights. I thought to myself, wow, that squirrel is sounding a little off, like, he’s got laryngitis or something.

Except I wasn’t quite sure about the diagnosis.

Then I wasn’t quite sure it was a squirrel really.

Because it wasn’t.

I stretched and rolled over to take a look and thought, huh, that squirrel has sure grown…into a turkey.

Yup. I guess we have wild turkeys now.  Like a lot of them. They come gobbling down from the coulee in the morning to see what’s shaking by the house.

All fifteen or so.

And they’re brave. Because we have a bobcat type animal, remember? And that bobcat type animal is brave too. She’s brave and like not even close to the size of a turkey. She’s more like the size of a pretty small cat, despite her wild pedigree. But it doesn’t matter, she flings her body at them anyway. Like launches herself, full force, paws up, claws out, teeth showing with no regard for what she might do if she actually latched on to one of those things.

I’d like to see that. The damn cat clinging to the back of a turkey as it screeches and flops to safety in the tree outside my window. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.

Good Lord it can get weird out here sometimes.

Yawning Horse

Anyway, I rolled out of bed to take a look after Husband declared the cat attack. I wanted to see for myself the shenanigans. I wanted to catch a glimpse of these turkeys.

I squinted and shaded my sleepy eyes with my hand and counted…one….two…three…

Six flew and flopped out of my tree…

And one on the roof.

Pooping.

And it’s the same story this morning.

If you need me I’ll be Googling  “stuffing recipes”…

A neighborhood tradition.


We helped our neighbors brand  calves this Sunday. The sun was finally shining enough to give us hope the corrals might dry up by the time the day was over, so it seemed like the perfect day to get some work done.

Branding calves is a traditional chore that happens once a year. And whether your herd is 50 or 500, branding is always a great and necessary excuse to get neighbors, friends and family together to get some work done under the big prairie sky.

Branding, for those of you who are not familiar with ranching operations, is what cowboys do to identify their calves a month or two after they are born in the spring. Each ranch has a certain symbol associated with its operation and that symbol is placed on the cattle by using grey-hot irons that have been heated up in a fire and placing those irons momentarily on the calf’s hide.




At one time cowboys ran their cattle in open range on land not divided or sectioned off by fences. Branding your cattle meant that each ranches’ herd could graze freely on the open range and could easily be identified come roundup time when the calves were taken to market. Today in Western North Dakota ranch land is split up and sectioned off into pastures. If a neighbor’s cattle break down a fence and get into a field or an adjacent pasture, they are easily identified. In addition, branding cattle has traditionally been a way to deter cattle thieves, as brands are registered and inspected when taken to market.

With most calves born in March and April, ideally a rancher would want to get their branding done in May, but with the snowy and wet weather that occurred during calving and on into the late spring, things have been delayed a bit this year.

Now every operation has their own traditions and ways they like to work their calves. Around here a typical branding day would start early in the morning with a ride out into the pastures to roundup all of the mommas and babies and gather them into a corral where the crew then sorts the calves off from the cows into a smaller pen.

There’s a lot of mooing at this point, which will not cease until the mommas are back with their babies, the end goal the crew will work to accomplish as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.

Once the calves are sorted the real work begins.  Typically, if the calves were younger, a crew of able bodied cowboys and cowgirls would work to catch and “wrestle,” or hold the calves in place on the ground while another crew works quickly to vaccinate, fly tag, brand and, if it’s a bull calf, castrate.  If all goes well the calf is only down for a few short minutes before the crew releases the baby back into the pen to find his momma.

At the neighbor’s last weekend the process was the same, but because the calves were a little older and a little bigger, Cowboy Kelly decided it would be easier on all of us, calves included, if we used the chute.

And because, as I have mentioned earlier, I was out a little late the night before, drinking some adult beverages, I was ok with missing the opportunity to brush up on my calf wrestling skills. But my desire to be involved was completely selfish anyway, because around this neighborhood it seems you always find you have plenty of help.

And so was the case on Sunday as one by one under a sun that turned my fair skinned friend’s skin pink, even under her cowboy hat, the crew pushed the babies through the chute and Cowboy Kelly marked them with a brand that has been attached to his family’s ranch and cattle for over 100 years.


I stood by Kelly’s daughter, my best friend and neighbor when we were growing up, as she tagged the calves to help keep the summer flies away and counted and inspected each and every one for her father.

My best friend is a mother now. I watched her carry one of her babies piggyback as she trudged through the mud to shut the gate and I wondered when it was exactly that we grew up.


She just had her first son, her third child, a little red headed boy, a few months ago. He was likely sleeping in his great grandmother’s arms in the house as his grandma set out the dishes, turned on the oven and put ice in the cooler for the crew.

His two blonde and freckled sisters were hanging on the fence in their pink boots and ponytails, watching the action, counting the calves and asking questions next to their cousins and aunts who stood just close enough to make sure they didn’t fall and hurt themselves.

I look at those girls and it’s like I’m looking at my friend, new freckles appearing with each hour those little noses see the sun. I used to stand next to her on that very fence, watching our dads, asking questions, wearing holes in the toes of our red boots, happy with the business of being friends.

And so I stood next to her again on Sunday and we were ourselves, older versions of the children who used to ride their bikes up on the highway between our two ranches, weaving in and out of the yellow center line, our feet off the pedals, the wind tossing our hair, making plans to grow up and get married and work and be cowgirls and mommas out here on our ranches, the only place we knew, the only place on earth for us.

So I guess we are grown up now. And so are those boys we brought home to help with branding back when we were sixteen or seventeen and hoping they could pull it off.

Hoping our dads approved.

When the last calf got his brand, the crew gathered for a Bud and to  lean on fences and find some shade. I snapped a few more pictures as my friend tallied up the ratio of bull calves to heifers.

She’s always been good with numbers.

I’ve always liked words.

And so I’ll tell you the most important part about branding. Everyone will agree.

While we were standing in the sun and the smoke of the branding irons, inside the house our mothers were cuddling the babies and cooking up a casserole meant to stick to a hungry man’s ribs.

Because the number one promise after a successful day of work in this neighborhood is a hearty meal and the chance to catch up, to visit a bit after a busy calving season.  It’s why you can always get a crew, because the work load is eased by friendship and comradery and the spirit that still lives out here on 100 year old ranches, the spirt that holds hope that it could carry on like this through the generations in the faces of the children we used to be.

Sunday Column: Living with the wild things

Well, party people, look what the weekend drug in.

Snow and rain and not a green thing in site. Thanks to everyone who’s been sharing thier spring photos on the Facebook page and email. Every pretty flower cheers me and every snow flurry makes me feel less alone in this arctic tundra!

It’s not too late to get in on the game! Whether the birds are chirping in the warm sunshine or retreating back to the southern climates, abandoning the whole migration idea all together, show us how spring is shaping up in your neck of the woods and I will post them  all on the website Monday. Our favorite photo will win a copy of my new album “Nothing’s Forever” and a print of a warmer and prettier spring day at the Veeder Ranch.

So make (and warm up) my day and post your photos on the Facebook page or send me an email at jessieveeder@gmail.com

In the meantime, read  my Fargo Forum column on the other unpredictable thing around here–wildlife.

Coming Home: Humans, beasts learn to coexist.
Jessie Veeder, Fargo Forum
April, 21, 2013

Because like snow in April, some things just need to keep thier distance.

Peace, Love and Sunday Pancakes,

Jessie

Snow on the backs of horses.

This is what it looks like when you put a house cat out in the snow for the first time in its life.

Coincidently this is also the face that was staring back at her after I peeled her out of my arms like a piece of velcro with really strong legs ..and then again off my head…and then again off of my boots.

We’re in a fight, but don’t feel bad for her, the weather is warming up and I think it’s time she gets acclimated to this wild place.

Yes, tomorrow it will be March and my longing for green grass, crocuses and creek beds overflowing with melted snow will summon me to pull on my muck boots and go exploring for the slightest change in scenery.

It will be March tomorrow, and I feel the chilled surrender that January brings start to break up and separate inside of me, even as I stand under a gray sky that blends into the horizon as if it weren’t a sky at all but a continuation of the snowy landscape…below us, above us…surrounding us.

Flakes fell from that sky yesterday afternoon, big and soft and gentle they drifted down to the icy earth and summoned me from behind my windows to come outside and stick out my tongue.

When the snow falls like this, not sideways or blowing or whipping at our faces, but peaceful and steady and quiet, it’s a small gift. I feel like I’m tucked into the mountains instead of exposed and vulnerable on the prairie. I feel like, even in the final days before March, that someone has shaken the snow globe just the right amount to calm me down and get me out of my head.

When the snow falls like this I go look for the horses. I want to see what those flakes look like as they settle on their warm backs, on their soft muzzles and furry ears. I trudge to the barnyard or to the fields and wait for them to spot me, watching as they move toward that figure in a knit cap and boots to her knees, an irregular dot on a landscape they know by heart.

I know what they want as they stick their noses in my pockets, sniff at my camera and fight for the first spot in line next to me. I know they want a scratch between their ears.

I know they want a bite of grain.

They know I can get it for them.

Our horses in the winter take on a completely different persona. The extra layer of fur they grow to protect them from the weather makes them appear less regal and more approachable.

Softer.

I like to take off my mitten and run my fingers through that wool, rubbing them down to the skin underneath where they keep the smell of clover and the warmth of the afternoon sun. I like to put my face up to their velvet noses and look into those eyes and wonder if they miss the green grass as much as I do.

On this snowy, gray, almost March afternoon the horses are my closest link to an inevitable summer that doesn’t seem so inevitable under this knit hat, under this colorless sky.

I lead them to the grain bin and open the door, shoveling out scoops of grain onto the frozen ground. They argue over whose pile is whose, nipping a bit and moving from spot to spot like a living carrousel. I talk to the them, “whoah boys, easy” and walk away from the herd with an extra scoop for the new bay, his head bobbing and snorting behind me.

In a month or so the ground will thaw and the fur on the back of these animals will let loose and shake off, revealing the slick and silky coat of chestnut, white, deep brown, gold and black underneath. We will brush them off, untangle their manes, check their feet and climb on their backs and those four legs will carry us over the hills and down in the draws and to the fields where we will watch for elk or deer or stray cattle as the sun sinks below the horizon.

I move my hand across the bay’s back, clearing away the snowflakes that have settled in his long hair and I rest my cheek there, breathing in the scent of hay and dust and warmer days.

He’s settled into chewing now, his head low and hovering above the pile of grain I placed before him. He’s calm and steady so I can linger there for a moment and wonder if he tastes summer in the grain the same way I smell it in his skin.

My farewell to winter is long, lingering and ceremonious.

But it has begun. At last, it has begun.

Farmers at the Super Bowl.

So you watched the Super Bowl. You saw the game, you saw Beyonce shake it, you saw the lights go out and, among the flashy messages, the advertisements for M&Ms and beer and phones and underwear and cologne, you saw this:

Another ad for another product, yes. But one that had a message attached to it that has sent my world into a humming since it aired.

Now it’s possible you missed it. It’s possible you didn’t hear it tucked in there among the baby Clydesdale and the elderly escaping the nursing home for a night at Taco Bell.  It didn’t make the top ten commercials and didn’t get nearly as much buzz in other parts of the country, but it sure is buzzing here.

I don’t usually comment on pop culture or what ‘s happening on T.V. or in sports here because I’ve made it my mission to talk about different things: the way the sun shines on the back of a horse, how the wind blows snow across the prairie and what it’s like to be a woman connected to a place, but as a girl who grew up feeding cattle alongside her father in the coldest winter nights, someone who watched him doctor horses, bring new-born and frozen calves into the basement of the house and nurse them back to life, as a former FFA president and the 4th generation on my family’s ranch, I have to talk about this.

I have to tell you why people like me have been so inclined to share this advertisement, to watch it over and over again, to shout its praises from the rooftops and, well, post it on every social media networking site they can link up to out here in the boonies.

Because finally, among the hype of sports, the glitzy glam of pop culture, the humor and the ruckus and the fight to be the winner, right there in the most prime real-estate of prime-time television someone out there felt it might be important enough to slow it down and tell our story.

Now, I wasn’t at every Super Bowl party in middle America during the 2.5 minutes Paul Harvey’s message was pumped into millions of homes across the country, but I was at one, and as soon as that familiar voice spoke the first word, the room fell silent.

We held our breath in that moment we were certain we were looking at an image from our backyards: a black baldie cow near a barbed wire fence in a barren, snow-covered prairie.

We were quiet because we saw our church standing tall and worn beside a country road,

we saw our grandfather with callused hands and a face wrinkled and weathered from the long days spent in the elements.

We shushed our voices and choked back a tear for the colt our father couldn’t save, laughed a little because we’ve ridden a horse using a head stall made out of hay wire and smiled at the memory of our father’s stopping the tractor to move a nest of newborn rabbits out of harm’s way.

We saw ourselves standing in those fields, our grandmother’s eyes under that hat, our mother holding our hand, our father holding on hope.

We saw our children in the steady cadence of comforting words and a familiar voice that we’ve heard coming through the static on our old tractor radio for years.

The rest of the story.

Our story.

Some days I feel like we’re moving further and further from our connection to the land and the understanding of the dirt from which that potato was plowed. Farmers, ranchers and agriculturalists are not known to stand at the pulpit and tell their stories to the masses. No. Many spend long days working alone in the combine, on the back of a horse checking cattle or working fencing pliers in the deep brush.We share our stories by living them alongside our elders, hoping to learn something, dreaming that one day we might be fortunate enough to try our hand at tending the land.

I know my grandfather’s story. I see the old equipment that couldn’t be repaired breaking the wind from the hilltops on this place. I find little pieces of wire, old engines, scraps of leather, worn coveralls and other little pieces of a life spent scraping and saving and getting by in the old out buildings, in the 100 year old barn, in the fences that need to be repaired. My father keeps the same collection, adding to it at will in case he might need to patch something up.

I know my father’ s story. I know that on Sunday mornings he will knock on the door of my house like he does every weekend for a cup of coffee and a chat between chores.  I know he will take off his boots, un-do his silk scarf and leave his wool cap on his head. I know he will keep his Carhart jacket on because he won’t stay long, just long enough to wonder out loud what might be wrong with the old tractor this time and discuss some plans about buying cattle, fixing the corrals in the spring and making things work better out here.

I know that tractor’s story. It’s been on this place for decades, bought used when my father left for college in the 70s. I know the only thing wrong with that tractor is that you can’t stop time, and we could not afford to buy a new one.

Each day my father has been the caretaker of the family’s ranch it has been an adventure to get that tractor up and running.

Every day it has been worth it.

Somewhere along the line a company like Dodge took notice of the kinds of people buying those trucks they were selling, not for the paint job or the heated seat, but for the horsepower and the muscle that it takes to haul a trailer full of bulls to the sale barn, a couple of priceless horses and a teenage daughter to her first high school rodeo, or through a snowy trail as your grandfather scoops grain for the cattle in the winter.

Somewhere in their marketing plan Dodge thought it  might be a good idea to mention those farmers and ranchers out there throwing bales and feeding the country, because quite frankly, they have helped keep them in business.

So they declared it the “Year of the Farmer” and are working their marketing plan so that spreading the word means supporting the FFA.

That moment a company like Dodge took to tell our story while they had the world’s attention gave us–the farmers, the ranchers, the corn growers, bottle feeders, chicken-coop cleaners, post-hole-diggers, pig-sloppers, 5 a.m. cow milkers, –a little reminder that ours might not be a glamorous story, but it is one worth living.


Click here to watch an interview with the Montana ranchers featured in the commercial.

Seeing it all.

We’re finding our way to the end of January, and around these parts that’s a huge relief.  I’ve been keeping busy playing music, writing and eating carbohydrates, and after a Friday evening spent singing to a full house, I was thawing out and happy with the way life gives you gifts, like 40 degrees on a January weekend.

Funny how a little warm up can turn an attitude around. Suddenly I was in love with winter again and while Husband worked on hammering and nailing and putting up walls in our master bedroom, I worked on ways I could sneak out the door unnoticed.

Because I decided it was of utmost importance that I load up little Juno and give her a tour of her new home turf.

Because we needed to check on things, ensure the gears were grinding right, the snowbanks weren’t too deep and the view was still as beautiful.

We needed to make sure those weird clouds weren’t storm clouds above us.

We needed to introduce her to the horses.

We needed to play…

and run…

And do whatever Tucker was doing here…





That looked like fun.

See, around here, if we chose to look, we can see things like this every day.

And although winter gets long, it’s one of those seasons that changes the landscape constantly. And so I suppose I’ve made it my mission here to keep tabs on the way the horses grow beards to ward off the chill…

The way the clouds roll and shift and change directions and colors…

How the light hits the grass and makes it sparkle…

How the horses settle lethargically into a pile of grain…

and how their noses feel under our hands.

I watch it all because I don’t want to miss it.

Because I like the way a puppy kiss looks.


And the sound of snow melting under a blue sky.

And the tree rows planted all those years ago? I like that they’re scraggly but standing still under a slow to rise winter sun.


I like the idea that this all will be green again, but first it has to be blue and white and brown.

I like that I’m here for all of that changing.

And I like the feeling, that like Juno, I’m hearing it all, seeing it all, discovering it all for the first time…on a 40 degree weekend at the end of January.

Summer horses.

I miss my summer horses. I miss the way their coats lather up under the saddle after an evening ride to the east pasture.

I miss the way that smells and the way it feels to see them grazing on the green grass of the season–admiration and beauty and peace and home all wrapped up in their breathing and munching, snorting and fly swatting.

I even miss those damn burs I pull out of their mangled manes every evening.

I miss my summer horses because they have turned into winter horses, wild and free in the big pastures chewing on hay bales and hiding from the wind in the coulees at night.


We don’t ride much in the winters, the ground’s too hard, the wind too bitter, the hills too slick, so we give our working animals a much needed break during the coldest months and in no time they turn into a sort of wild and wooly that always amazes me.

On the coldest days they find their way to the barnyard and I bury my face in their thick coats where they keep the summer,


feed them grain from the buckets in the tack room and watch as they argue over the first and last bites.

You have to have respect for the animals that bear the burden of this extreme weather on their backs. I know the white tale deer that bed down on frozen hillsides or in a bull berry patch, the grouse roosting in tree tops and the wild elk competing for the same domestic feed as our horses are built for endurance with instincts that save them, but I still wonder if their noses get cold.


On frozen days like this I go looking for them, as if catching a glimpse of how they’re surviving this season might help shed some light on how I might do the same.

There are bison that live on the land next ours. I catch a glimpse of them when I’m on the highway, stopping to watch as the young ones run and the old ones nuzzle the ground for grass. Frost forms on their muzzles where they breathe in the cold air and on days the ice settles in on our world those creatures wear it, unassuming, as just one more layer of their being.

I wear my sweaters like the bison wear the weather. I cannot grow a wooly coat, so I wrap a scarf around my neck and lean into the cold.

I wonder if those bison miss the summer grass.

I wonder if those deer bedded down in the oaks behind this house notice the lights in the bedroom and dream of coming in from the cold.

I wonder if they know I would let them if I could. I would let them all in to warm by the fire if animals were meant for houses.

But I’ve said it before. Houses are for people and this big wide world is meant for deer in the bull berry brush, grouse in the tree tops, elk in the hay bales and horses in their wool coats waiting for a girl who’s waiting on summer to come and drop them some grain.