A North Dakota Holiday…

We’re celebrating a North Dakota official holiday here today. The wind is whipping the cold rain around and men and women are pulling on neon orange knit caps over their  unruly hair, growing out sweet beards (well, the men anyway) stocking up on whiskey and pulling out the cards for poker tonight.

Happy Hunting Season Opener everyone!

There was a time in my life this was a reason for an excused absence from country school.

Turns out, that doesn’t carry out in the working world, but I tell you, there are plenty of North Dakotans out there today who have opted to dress head to toe in camouflage and hunker down in hurricane winds sitting just under the skyline instead of going to work today.

If you’re here today, you’ll know who they are. They are the ones with the bright orange cap sitting on the dash of their pickups, driving really slow along the county roads.

Hunting for deer.

In honor of the season I will cook up some stew this weekend, turn on the fire and maybe have some whiskey myself.

In honor of the season, I am going to resurrect this little gem here, for those women out there suddenly finding themselves lonely:

The Ten Commandments for the Hunting Widow

You’re gonna want to read this one ladies. I’m a seasoned hunting daughter who grew up to be a seasoned hunting wife, so I know a few things…

Yup, that’s me, that’s my deer, that’s my man, that’s my denim jacket and that’s my neckerchief.

There are some good tips in here. I’m telling you…

So stay safe out there. Safe and warm and for the love of GAWD Don’t. Wear. Swishy. Pants.

Hope you see Da Turdy Pointer…

Peace, Love and Venison,

Jessie

How it goes with trees

IMG_7603 There’s miles and miles of trees out here behind our houses. Just trees, yes, but trees in these parts are hard to come by.

This season is about all run out as we find ourselves at the end of October. The leaves are brown, the wind has taken most of them, swirled them around, tossed them up and let them fall.

But yesterday there were a few stragglers, a few trees that held out to stand out above the crowd. So I went out looking for them.

IMG_7604IMG_7608 IMG_7610 IMG_7612 IMG_7615 IMG_7619 IMG_7621 IMG_7624 IMG_7628 IMG_7634 IMG_7639 IMG_7642 IMG_7645 IMG_7647 IMG_7649 IMG_7654 IMG_7656It’s funny how the colors seem brighter when we know they’re fleeting. In these same spaces today, with the wind and the gray skies, most of these leaves I admired yesterday have now hit the ground.

IMG_7661
IMG_7665I knew it would happen. That’s the thing about this place. The trees, they are the reason it looks different here every day. 
IMG_7675 IMG_7677The trees and that sky.
IMG_7680So except for that sky, it will be brown now, until it turns white.

And it will be white until it turns brown again.

Then it will be brown until it turns green.

Green until gold…and so on and so on because that’s how it goes with trees…

IMG_7683

Wild, restless things…

It has been the kind of autumn weather sent from somewhere good. 65 degrees and sunny. No wind. The leaves are changing quietly and, if it weren’t for the magical mosquitos that somehow made it through a few overnight freezes, the animals would be as content as they can be.

I can hardly stand staying inside. I can’t. I sit at my desk and work and then get up and take out the garbage. I wander to see if maybe there are things that need picking up out there. I pet the cats just a little longer. Throw the stick for the dog. I just got in from checking the mailbox. And how the leaves are changing. And procrastinating life behind my desk.

Yesterday I called Husband and tried to make a plan to hit the hills when he got home. He thought that would be a good idea. He thought maybe he should be home at a decent hour. It was like 4:00 when I called him.

Three and a half long hours later he arrived…just enough time for me to walk down to the barnyard. Zig zag back to the house again, taking pictures of everything along the way. Taste a few of the biggest plums. Pet the cat. Pet the dog. Mosy back in the house to think about supper and decide I will decide later. Then out on the deck to lay face down in the sun and read a book while I wait and maybe, uh, I don’t know….fall asleep face down until the sensation of a missing limb wakes me up…

My armmmm…..myyy arrmmm fell asslleeepp…

Anyway, finally I heard the clunk, clunk of his boots on the steps and I grabbed my cap and camera and stood like a nerd without a life by the counter and proceeded to make approximately 23 suggestions on what we could do right at that moment, before the sun went down…

Take a walk, shoot at a target, check the game cams, take a 4-wheeler ride, catch the horses really quick if that’s even possible, take a drive, take a run, do pretty much anything but work, climb Pots and Pans and wait for the sunset and let me take photos of him …pick more plums…or chokecherries…or what’s left of the flowers…

In the end taking a ride on the 4-wheeler to the east pasture to check on the game cams won out and I was out the door on the back of that machine before the man could even find his hat.

I will tell you, I would always rather be on a horse, but there is nothing like sitting close to a man with your arms around his waist, under the quickly setting sun, moving through the coulees, talking and watching and just being out and about.

“Isn’t this quite the day?” I would say.

“Sure is,” he would reply as we rolled along, slowly, before stopping so I could take a photo and he could put his binoculars up to his face to see what he could see there on the skyline.

Turns out that the wild things were just as restless as I was that evening and we were in their witching hour, surrounded.

Husband killed the engine of the machine and I followed him on foot, up to the top of the hill where he would quietly hand me the binoculars so I could see up close what I was watching from afar…

A big muley buck making his way out of the trees to the north, and a white tail waiting on the other side. And then, in the corner of our pasture, a herd of elk milled around, the cows bunched up while the lead bull worked himself up trying to fend off his young competitors.

“You hear them bugling?” he asked and handed me the binoculars.

“Yeah,” I whispered, taking a look and handing them back.

And then he would turn back and watch the bucks, making a comment on their size and behavior before handing me the binoculars again.

And that’s what we did then, until the sun dropped below the horizon and we could no longer make out the animals as anything but shadows. We watched the other creatures end the day while we ended ours and it was nice.

Then we turned around and marched back toward our wheels, and I listened as he made plans for his hunt this fall and we didn’t even notice those damn mosquitos.

Yes, we’ve had the kind of autumn days that are made of all things good. And just as the leaves change, so our lives change quietly, from season to season. But I’d like to suppose, no matter how that time ticks, you will always find the two of us out there, when the weather’s good, together, with the other wild, restless things…

 

 

Layers.

There’s a moment between summer and deep autumn at the ranch that’s so good at being glorious that it actually makes us all believe we could last forever under a sky that’s bright blue and crisp and warm and just the right amount of breezy all at the same time.

We’re easily swayed to forget up here, you know, about the drama that is our seasons. I imagine it’s a coping mechanism we develop that gets the crazy stoic people here through -40 degree temperature snaps.

It’s forgetting that gets us through, but it’s remembering too. The combination is an art form.

Because at -40 degrees we remember that one-day it will be sunny and 75.

And when it’s sunny, 118 degrees and 100% humidity and there’s not a lake in sight, we remember that -40 degrees and somehow find a way to be grateful for it all.

Yes we keep taking off layers and putting them on again until we make ourselves the perfect temperature.

Funny then how we’re not really good at giving the in-between moments the credit they’re due around here. We usually grab them up and soak them in just enough to get some work done on a horse, paint the house, wash the car or get the yard cleaned up for winter.

Because we’re taught up here to use those perfect weather moments to prepare us for the not so perfect ones that are coming.

That’s why fall, though a romantic season for some, gives me a little lump in my throat that tastes a lot like dread and mild panic.

Because while the pumpkins are nice and the apple cider tastes good enough, I can’t help but think that autumn is like the nice friend who slowly walks over to your lunch table with the news that your boyfriend doesn’t want to go out with you anymore.

And my boyfriend is summer. And when he’s gone, I’m stuck with the long and drawn out void that is winter–with a little splash of Christmas, a hint of a sledding party and a couple shots of schnapps to get me through the break-up.

Hear what I’m saying?

But the change is beautiful. I can’t help but marvel at it really, no matter its underlying plot to dry up the leaves and strip them from their branches and jump start my craving for carbohydrates and heavy whipping cream in everything.

So I decided to give it the credit it was due yesterday and I took a break from the office chair intent on marveling at some leaves, collecting some acorns and walking the trails the cattle and deer had cut through the trees during the heat of summer.

I will never call this moment a season, it’s too fleeting and foreboding for that, but I will reach out and touch those golden leaves and call it a sort of magic.

The kind that only nature can perform, not only on those leaves, but on the hair on a horse’s back, the fat on the calf, the trickling creek bed, the tall dry grasses, used up flowers and a woman like me.

Yes, I’m turning too. My skin is lightening. My hunger unsuppressed. My eyelids heavy when the sun sinks below the hill much earlier than my bedtime.

My pants a little tighter with the promise of colder weather.

Ok. I’ve been reminded. Summer–a month of electric thunderstorms and endless days, sunshine that heats up my skin and makes me feel young and in love with a world that can be so colorful– is over.

And so I’m thankful for the moment in these trees to be reminded that I have a little time yet, but I best be gathering those acorns.

And pulling on my layers.

How seasons change.

We’re right in the middle of a season change, and while it’s technically not winter yet, it kind of feels like it out there. I spend so much of my time documenting my world, watching the leaves fall from the trees and bend under the weight of ice and snow only to come out of hibernation a few months later in all of their green glory.

In North Dakota the four seasons cannot be mistaken. They don’t blend in to one another, they have their own distinct looks, smell and feel, changing everything under the skyT.

And because I am out there in it all year round, taking photographs so as not to miss a thing, today I’d like to share with you how drastically a spinning earth can change our world in this northern state.

Outside my door…


On the branches…


In the grass…


And the thorns…


In the sky…


Outside the barn…



And me.



Happy almost winter everyone. And don’t worry, spring always keeps her promise.

This familiar place

Weekends out here can be bliss. Especially when it’s 50+ degrees and sunny and crisp and it’s autumn and your little sister comes over to spend the whole two days with you.

This happens sometimes–the weather cooperates perfectly with the plans you have. And our plans consisted of big breakfasts and coffee, a long walk through our favorite coulees,

a ride with Pops to our favorite spot in the trees

and a couple birthday parties for Little Big Sister and her Little Man.

Little Sister and I scheduled our weekend together and proceeded to tackle the checklist that ensured we got to everything from omelets to birthday cake. And we accomplished it all.

See, she’s been gone for a bit, out doing what we’ve been taught to do when we hit eighteen and graduate high school: get out, get going, see stuff, learn stuff, work and study and graduate and travel.

And come back if you want to.

Come back for a while.

And so Little Sister has come back. She’s come back with the same sort of remembered wonder that I experienced a few short years ago when I did the same thing. I’ve tried to explain it here a few times in these lines and photographs I share with you, how rediscovering those secret places I used to wander at the ranch as a child hold a sort of haunting nostalgia and comfort when visited as an adult.

But now that I have arrived and am here to stay my childhood secret spots have become familiar again. I visit them regularly either for a stroll to take photographs or to chase cattle along the trails. I am remembering and learning every day where all of these deer and cow paths wind and twist and turn, determined to be capable of navigating the place the way Pops does one day, without pause or back track.

And it’s an interesting and adventurous task I’ve set out to accomplish, one that, growing up, was always tackled with a shadow following a few yards behind me.

I swear just yesterday I was hollering at that little curly-haired six-year-old in the purple barn jacket to “go home and leave me alone!” Just yesterday, wasn’t I suggesting that if she really had to build a fort along the same creek bed, perhaps it should be a little further up the coulee and out of my sight.

And there we were last weekend walking side-by-side, adult women with our own fears and worries pushed back until Monday, tucked away so that we might enjoy and remember the time the tire swing broke sending Little Sister flailing into the creek, how we used to climb the old apple trees behind the house, and the hours we spent following Pops chasing a cow or a deer in the oak trees and brush that line the creek bottom.

How many mittens did we drop along the way? How many times did our boots fill with creek water?

How many wood ticks and burs and grass stains did we accumulate?

And in all of the lines and photographs I share in this space about the magic and adventure the ranch, our home, holds for me–all the ways I tell you it mystifies and heals, puts me in my place and brings me closer to the version of myself I like the most, I have to confess it is not the landscape alone that holds the responsibility.

I imagine I could fall in love with a number of creek beds, oak groves and rolling fields, marveling at the way the afternoon sun hits the leaves that have fallen into the water, getting to know how the trail winds up the embankments, coming to understand how it changes with the season.

I know I could fall in love with many places and landscapes throughout this world.

But it is this one, this one that holds my father’s footprints, my Little Sister’s laugh, my mother’s call to come in for supper. It is this one that promises Little Man a place to run and learn to ride horse and Big Little Sister a refuge if she needs it.

It is these hills, these paths, these coulees, these acorns, these fallen trees and fallen logs and this mud and these thorns and soft grasses that have bent under my growing feet and the feet of those who know me the best that gives this place a heartbeat and makes the sunrise brighter, the trees grow taller, the creek clearer, the horses more capable…

and me more grateful every day that through all these years we can be out in it, loving it and living in those familiar spaces on a days that were made to be together.

Under a Badlands Sky…


One of my favorite autumn rituals has become my now annual trip down the road to visit the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park just outside the ever-expanding limits of my home town.

These days, more than ever, I believe this park to be a blessing and a gift, a reminder among the chaos of a bustling industry to slow down and remember the best things in life.

The sky…

The grass…

The quiet, wild things.

I like to visit those rugged buttes to be reminded that I am one of those quiet, wild things and last week I took my Little Sister along on a little hike so that she could remember that too.

See, Little Sister has just recently come into some major responsibilities after graduating from college last winter. And with her new teaching degree in health and physical education, she has found herself in a small school outside of our hometown writing lesson plans, leading jumping jack sessions, chasing around adorable kindergarteners and helping seniors prepare for college while working on getting a master’s degree in counseling and guidance.

I’m tired just thinking about it, but so proud of this woman who, in my mind, should still be 8 years old and following me up the creek to the forts we built behind the house.

I still find it a little disheartening that when we grow up that seems to be the first thing we give up…walks to nowhere.

And building forts.

But that’s what the ranch does for us, and places like this park. It provides us with a reason to walk to nowhere, to climb to the top of a hill and look down,

to notice how that jet leaves a white streak in the sky and to wonder where it’s going…

while we find we’re happy to be right where we are.

Happy to point out the small deer crossing the road or a chipmunk below our feet instead of worrying about deadlines and messy kitchens to clean.

Happy to notice how the sun shines through the changing autumn leaves on the river bottom instead of how the end tables need dusting and the windows need a wipe.

Happy to trip on a rock as we make our way down from the buttes, happy for a near-miss incident that we can laugh at together, thankful we made it in one piece.

Thankful that we’re not sweeping right now.

Or doing paperwork.

Or making dinner.

Thankful that someone set aside a place for us to go to get away from all of the things that seem to matter so little when it comes to a choice between watching the leaves change or watching a television screen.

Thankful that we can walk to the river and talk about the time Little Sister broke the tire swing as it flung her out over the coulee and dropped her in the creek. Thankful she survived the fall, though she was certain she was dying.

Thankful she has nearly forgiven my reaction of hysterical laughter.

Thankful that years later, though those jets could take us anywhere, we still chose to be out under this beautiful and familiar sky…

Together.

Up here, I always feel the same.

I was interviewed today on Trent Loos‘s radio program, “Loos Tales.” Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer with a passion for the rural lifestyle. “Loos Tales” is dedicated to exploring the interesting people and places of Rural America.
Listen to our discussion here: 

http://www.ruralrouteradio.com/affiliates/thursruralroute.mp3

Now onward! I have to tell you how I feel about roundup season!

There are some tell-tale signs that fall is in the air. The evenings are getting cooler as the sun sets a bit more quickly and I am thinking about canning tomatoes so we can have a piece of summer all year round.

Yes, I’ll try my hand again at preserving our garden vegetables, but haven’t yet found a way to capture the smell of the season changing and the color of the green and gold leaves against an overcast morning sky. This season is so unpredictable, sneaking up on us slowly in the middle of a hot summer day and leaving with a strong gust of wind.

But this year it seems to be settling in despite the heat. The trees that were first to display their leaves this spring are the first to display their colors this September and I’m reminded of roundup season and spitting plums at my little sister on her pony, Jerry, as we rode to the reservation to gather cattle.

Fall roundup has always been one of my favorite events of the season. My memories find me as a young girl bundled up in my wool cap and my dad’s old leather chaps braving the cool morning and a long ride through coulees, up hills, along fence lines and under a sky that warmed the earth a little more with each passing hour.

I would strip off my cap first, and then went my gloves and coat, piled on a rock or next to a fence post for easy retrieval when the work was done.

But moving cattle, even then, never felt like work to me. Perhaps because I was never the one responsible for anything but following directions and watching the gate–it was a task that provided me with the perfect amount of adventure, freedom and accountability.

It was during that long wait from when the crew located all the cattle in the pasture, grouped them together and moved them toward my post that I would make up the best songs, sing the loudest and find ticks for slingshots or the perfect feather for my hat.

Turns out today, as an adult woman, my role when working cattle with Pops and Husband hasn’t changed much. I am the peripheral watcher, the girl who makes sure the cattle don’t turn back or find their way into the brush or through the wrong gate.

I am given direction and then left to my own devices while the guys head for the hills and I wait to see if I will have to battle a horse who is whinnying and prancing and wishing he could go with them.

Sometimes I get lucky and he just stands still.

Sometimes I wait for what seems like hours for any sign of life coming from the trees–the best time still to make up a few melodies in my head and collect photo opportunities.

Because sometimes, most of the time,  it’s just nice.

Nice and easy like it was on Monday morning when Pops showed up with our horses already caught and saddled and asked us to help him move the cows home from the west pasture.

Who could refuse that kind of valet service? So we pulled on our boots and obliged, sitting on the backs of our horses walking slowly, swatting the sticky flies with their tails and anticipating that the calm and sunny morning was sure to turn into a hot afternoon.

I could walk these trails on the back of a horse forever and not get tired of them. Because each month the pastures change–a new fence wire breaks, the creek floods and flows and dries up, the ground erodes and the cows cut new trails, reminding me that the landscape is a moving, breathing creature.

And I am the most alive when I’m out here. I think the guys are too, making conversation about the cattle industry as they make plans for the day. I follow behind like I always have and look around to notice the way the light bounces off of cowboy hats and trees slowly turning golden.

I wait for instruction and find my direction while Husband cuts a path through the trees to search for hidden cows and Pops lopes up to the hilltop to scan the countryside.

I move a small herd toward the gate and wake a bull from the tall grass at the edge of the pasture.

Pops comes up off the hill to join me, the cattle he’s found moving briskly in front of him toward the rest of the herd. We meet up and discuss where Husband might be and turn around to find him waiting at the gate with the rest of the cattle.

And that’s how it went on Monday, the three of us pushing the cows along, Pops at the back of the herd counting, taking note of brands and numbers,

Husband on the hillside making sure they turn the right way,

and me watching the brush.

We pushed the cattle slowly with the sun warming our backs and sweat beading on our foreheads as morning turned to a sweltering afternoon.

We headed toward home and talked about lunch and the fencing that needed to get done that day.

And cattle prices.

And the deer population.

And a pony for Little Man.

And the weather and the changing leaves and all of the things that need discussing when you’re on the back of a horse, on the edge of a season, on a piece of earth that’s constantly changing…

even though, year after year, up here…

I always feel the same.