Sunday Column: On summer, and the uninvited…

In the spring of the year we dream of all the possibilities the summer will bring. We prepare for the work that needs to be done and make plans to hit the lake and take long rides to hunt for raspberries.
IMG_0080We clear the deck of snow and ice and wait patiently for an evening warm enough to enjoy a cocktail out under a setting sun where we eye the garden and visualize it’s late summer bounty…

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Yes, in the longest winter of our lives, we dreamed of our garden. Of plump, ripe tomatoes. Of cucumber sandwiches with bacon. Fresh garden carrots, with a little dirt still stuck in the cracks. The snap of a pea pod. The crunch of a bean steamed with butter.

The satisfaction of the taste of our growing things…

This May I helped Pops plant those little seeds in neat rows, the cucumbers in mounds, the tomato plants neatly caged up. We hoed and weeded and watered and watched those little seeds sprout…

We covered them when the frost threatened…

And then we left for Minnesota for a little getaway, hoping that the rains would come and keep things moving along…

Hoping the sun wouldn’t scorch things while we were gone.

Hoping the hail didn’t tear the leaves.

That’s the thing about North Dakota. Growing things have to grow fast, we don’t have much time for stretching toward the sun.

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The weeds know this better than any other living thing I decided I when I went to check on our little plot of dirt when we made it back home.

“Where are the pea plants? Where are the carrot tops?” I exclaimed as husband and I started pulling up little thistle plants and vines that didn’t belong.

“Wow, I something’s wrong! There should be peas here! They should be tall and lush! There should be carrot tops for crying out loud! Keep pulling, keep looking! Get Martha Stewart on the line, we’ve got issues here! A garden emergency!”

Husband just shook his head and calmly pulled and hoed at the things that needed to be pulled and hoed…

I grabbed the hose and sprayed frantically, cussing my black thumb and the idea that we had the guts to abandon a garden for a week at such a crucial time.

Could it be that we won’t have peas this year? Could it be that we won’t get fresh garden carrots or beans on the side of our steak supper?

Could it be the weather?

Could it be too much rain?

Not enough?

Could it be I planted things too deep?

Could it be…none of these things…

No.  It’s  just her.

Dad's Deer

See her there trying to hide behind the patio furniture?

She’s taken over. It’s a buffet and it’s her “all you can eat” secret.

And she’s at Mom and Pops’ every night.

Her favorite dish? Peas.

Dessert? Mom’s geraniums.

And nothing can stop her. Last night I heard her hissing at the dogs.

Step out on the deck and she barely lifts her head, each bite and munch crushing our garden dreams…

A million acres of sweet clover and this girl prefers Pops’ tomatoes.

Funny how, in the middle of the deep freeze of winter, our summer memories skip over mosquito bites, black flies, pig weeds that grow over our heads, barn swallows that make nests in the garage and shit on my car and pretty, bossy, little deer that bite the heads off of petunias.

Ah, every season has its battle. This week it’s all about ours…

Coming Home: Battling the annoying side of nature
by Jessie Veeder
7-20-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Cheers to the best parts of summer and here’s hoping all your house guests have been invited…

My column, Coming Home, appears Sundays in the Fargo Forum and weekly in the Dickinson Press and Grand Forks Herald. 

 

The golden hour…

IMG_9124Summers don’t last long enough here. But the days are long and so we make up for it by squeezing every last inch of sunlight out of our waking hours.

We have supper at 11 pm. Quick. Whip something up. We need to sleep so we can wake and do it again.

I like every inch of this time of year, but I like the witching hour best, the time right before sunset when everything on earth is bathed in a golden light and the creek bottoms cool and the clover smells fresh and crisp and like every childhood ride I’ve ever taken.

IMG_9099Last night I rushed home from meetings in town to meet up with Husband to push some bulls and a few cows through the gate to the west. I ran inside and switched from my sandals and fancy shirt to boots and jeans and jumped in the old green pickup and on down to the barn. I rearranged the tack room and swept away dust while I waited for him and the horses to come down.

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It would be a quick and easy ride, the cattle right by the gate. We saddled up and admired our animal’s sleek backs. They’re summering well, we said. Fat and sassy, full of gas.

We swung on and out of the barnyard and pushed those cows with their new boyfriends toward the creek. And they went well and so did our two bays and when they were through that gate we decided to keep going ourselves, to check the dam on the other side of the pasture. To just ride a bit and be out in it.

To make sure all the other cows were in between the fence lines.

I wish you could have seen it, the way the green looked neon and the purple flowers popped from the earth in the bask of the 9:30 sun sink. On a different Wednesday evening I might have brought my camera, but I left the house on a deadline and, sometimes it’s nice to just be there without the burden of trying to capture it the way I see it, because sometimes it just isn’t possible.

And sometimes it’s nice to just talk about nothing really and ride along.

IMG_9112Sometimes it’s nice to just say, “What a night! What a night!” and believe it between the two of you.

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We made our way to the dam, spotting a hawk and a coyote and a couple deer along the way. Oh, and some cows. There were cows too.

Good thing there were cows.

And then the sun that was kissing the top of my husband’s hat, filtering through his too-long hair, making him look like a western movie poster, sunk down over the horizon, chilled my skin and turned our stroll into a trot, back across the new spring on the hill, down through the valley where the plums grow in the fall, up along the deep trails, across the flat, to the creek and through the gate we left open.

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Feeling proud of our accomplishments and hungry for our 10 pm supper, we popped up over the hill that would take us to the pink road, past the grain bins and down to the barnyard.

But not before we came upon the cows and their boyfriends, the same ones we just pushed through that gate, munching and strolling exactly where we found them an hour or so before.

“Cows” I exclaimed as if my husband didn’t have eyes.

“Yup,” he replied in typical Husband fashion. And then, “Shoulda probably shut that gate…”

But if there ever was a night to do a chore like that twice, it was that night. Because in the golden hour or in the dark, we would rather be out there than anywhere…

And anyway, tacos taste best at 11 pm.

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Badass 4-H Nerds

Alex & Me. 4-H

I’ve had this photo on my fridge for a few weeks. I found it while going through photo albums in search of something else.

And then this gem falls out of from the pages, unattached and out of it’s place and I thought, well, what a shame that it’s been hidden all these years when it should be on display for me to see each day.

Because, well look at these nerds. Me and my little sister at the county fair, fresh off the ranch where we likely spent the night before washing my old mare, Rindy, in the backyard with Mane and Tail shampoo, a brush and a hose spraying freezing cold water.

I would have put on my shorts and boots and worked to convince Little Sister to hold Rindy’s halter rope while the horse got busy munching on as much lush green grass as she could, without a care about that tiny, fuzzy haired girl in her way.

Little Sister, enthused initially, likely started to get annoyed by the whole deal, the sun a little too hot on her already rosy cheeks, the bees getting dangerously close, so she probably abandoned ship after a couple arguments about it and then I would have been out there finishing the job, picking off the packed on dirt and yellow fly eggs horses get on their legs up in these parts and then standing back, pleased with the work I did and excited to show my horse in the big arena and decorate her up and ride her in the parade because she’s never looked so good, so shiny, her red coat glistening in the sun.

Then I’d take her down to the barnyard and give her a munch of grain, tell her I’d see her in the morning.

It would rain then, soaking the ground nice and good and I would wake up bright and early because likely I didn’t sleep a wink, so nervous about getting that purple ribbon. I would pull on the crisp dark blue Wrangler jeans that I laid out next to my brand new clean white shirt dad picked up for me at Cenex or the western store on Main Street and I would tuck it all in nice and neat and head out to the barn with Pops and Little Sister trailing behind to get my glistening horse and her fancy halter loaded up in the trailer only to find that she had gone ahead and taken advantage of the mud the rain produced, rolling in it nice and good and letting the clay form a thick crust on her back.

I’m thinking this scenerio is the reason for our serious expressions here.

But it looks like we got it worked out, because damn, we look good.

Especially that mare.

Badass we were. Badass 4-H nerds.

I frickin’ love this picture.

Alex & Me. 4-H

Sunday Column: When the outside comes in…

Well, it snowed.

So there’s that.

I sorta knew this was coming. We watch the weather like hawks around here, so on Friday when it was a calm, almost 70 degrees I called in the troops and we saddled up and headed east to get the kinks out of the horses’ backs, stretch our legs and get our saddle butts back.

It was a glorious few hours spent out under that spring sky, visiting pastures we haven’t seen in a while, counting crocuses and ducks and blades of green grass.

I even saw a couple turtles sunning themselves on a log in the stock dam.

I bet those turtles are pretty pissed right about now.

I bet those ducks are booking their flight back south.

I bet that muskrat that found his way into our garage last week is glad the cat put him out of his misery.

This week in my newspaper column I wrote a piece about all of the creatures that have come to life in this warm weather.

I was one of them. I had emerged. I traded my muck boots for cowboy boots. I put on a short sleeved shirt for crying out loud!

Things were looking up.

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I should have known better. Only in North Dakota would the end of April mean ice pellets slamming up against your window at midnight, turning a perfectly peaceful promise of spring into a snow day.

At least I didn’t go so far as to pack away my winter gear. I have a feeling a few creatures will be knocking on my door today, looking to borrow a sweater…

Coming Home: When the great outdoors venture inside
by Jessie Veeder
4-28-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Happy Day Earth! Thanks for being our home.

IMG_6720Earth, we love you. We love how you bring flowers after the snow. How you promise them to us, even when you’re still brown and thawing. How you don’t let us down.

IMG_6553Earth, we love you. We love how you keep us, how you hold us, how you call us to lay down in the grass under the warm sun.

Cowgirl Wildflower

And how that warm sun changes you so you look different every day.

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We love your tall trees and your tall grass.

Grass and Sky

We love your mud and dirt for growing things.

Rain on the ButtesYou’re stark and flat and predictable.

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You’re rocky and uneven and scary and beautiful.

Horses in BadlandsWe love your horizons and the way the moon emerges from the edge of it all.

moon above the landscape

And then the sun comes.

Ranch SunriseOh, we love your sun.

IMG_6727 Wild SunflowersSunset

Sunset RideAnd your wind.

IMG_6517 WindWindWindAnd your rain.

Rain on horsesRain on ConeflowersRain on berriesBarnyard RainAnd your snow.

Purple flowers in snow Bird in snow

snow stormFrom all who take from you, live on you and love you and thrive…

Horses on Hill

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one last clover Lake Binnoculars Laying in the grass Big Lake Lab

IMG_6745Happy Day Earth. Thanks for being our home.

Landscape

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.