Sunday Column: The hunt

Deer on horizonWhen I was growing up, Pops would take us hunting out in these hills surrounding the house and the barnyard. He grew up out here, scouting and sneaking and watching the animals and how they move through the valley. He’s never lost his fascination and appreciation for the way they can survive and thrive out here, even in the middle of the harshest winters.

Deer tracks

He studies them, their patterns, how the big buck spends his days bedded down in the bull berries, where the group of does and fawns water in the morning. He taught us how to tell the difference between a whitetail and a mule deer.

He made sure to note the direction of the wind and why it mattered.

He geared us up with blaze orange and we went sneaking over the hill, crawling on our bellies.

He packed jerky in his pockets. Coffee in a thermos in the pickup.

deer 2

When the time was right, he taught us to shoot. When we were old enough we took hunter’s safety through our shop courses in school and we went out and took our own animal. He mounted the horns for us. He was proud.

Pops remembers every deer taken on this place. Where we were. Who was with him. How cold it was.

deer 3

He keeps a book of photos from the hunts, dating back to when he was a young man, hunting with his uncles, with his dad, with his young kids and now with grown daughters and the man I married.

Deer Hunting

When my uncle was here a few weeks back, I went out with Husband on a bow hunt in the east pasture before the snow fell. We all paired off, two hunters in each corner of the place. I followed along and couldn’t help but think of all the stories swapped around the kitchen table the evening before. The memories attached to all of these trails, all of these hilltops, all of the breath held in the wind out here is not so much about the animal taken, although it’s never taken for granted, but more about the time spent together in the quiet of  a place so special to us.

Here’s one of my favorite memories…

Coming Home: Cold winter memories warm the heart
by Jessie Veeder
11-30-14
Fargo Forum/Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

deer

“Cow Dog,” defined

Pudge

You all know this about me, but I grew up with dogs who slept in barns and garages, on hay bales and under heat lamps. They were the first to go into the brush after a wayward, ornery bull and the first to be there to lick your face and give you a nudge when you fell of your bike and skinned your knee.

They were cow dogs. Working dogs. Partners.

They chased field mice, got in fights with raccoons, rolled in cow poop, howled with the coyotes and rode in the back of pickups.

Dogs

In various stages of my life out here we had a border collie, a blue heeler, a kelpie, an Australian shepherd and mix of a few.

This place is hard on dogs it’s wild and dangerous and full of just the kind of trouble that makes life worth living of dogs like these, so, unfortunately, some of our beloved canines, due to snake bite or bull fight, didn’t make it to old age. 

But regardless, I am almost certain they had the best lives for them out here. They were made for this place, as tough as the ground they run across.

pudge

As a kid I knew inside dogs existed, I just didn’t know anyone who had one. I knew there were dogs who wore sweaters and had their own place on couches, but, it was like how I knew a million dollars existed somewhere, it knew it was true, I’d just never seen it.

In a few weeks, Husband and I are going to bring home our first real cow dog. I am so excited I’m counting down the days.

Here he is on the bottom, left side of the pile.

I’d tell you his name, but, well, last night we had a lengthy discussion on that topic that I won’t get into, but it got pretty heated. Good thing we have a some time to get this all worked out.

Anyway, I was thinking about this little guy and how he’s going to change the make-up of this place. And how his makeup: border collie, heeler, kelpie, Australian shepherd and Catahoula, is the make-up of all of the best cow dogs a girl could ever ask for…

And how he’s the same animal as that big brown dog laying out in the garage, snoring away a rainy October day, but how they might as well be a different species.

Lab in stock tank

The biggest difference? With a cow dog in the family standing guard in the yard, a herd of cattle will find it pretty hard to stand and chew cud on my new concrete patio.

Because labs, frankly, don’t give a shit.

Lab

And I need something out here to give a shit.

I need my little cow dog.

I can’t wait!

So in honor of Throwback Thursday I found this little gem: a declaration I made when I was 8 or so that used to hang on my grandmother’s fridge, ready to tug at the heart strings of all of the ranchers stopping by for coffee with a blue heeler-cross waiting for him in the bed of his feed pickup…and, well, to put the wayward city slicker in his place…

Country dog:city dogAs you can see, I was pretty passionate…

I promise to never put you in a sweater little guy.

But you might have a place on the couch…just for a little while…

 

Sunday Column: My village…

IMG_7197 copy

A few weeks ago one of our neighbor girls got married at a church in our hometown.

I remember when she was born, when she was wobbly, and chubby and learning to walk in that little farm house up the road. A little toe-headed spit fire of a girl I was certain would never grow up.

My sister and I photographed the wedding, behind the camera doing our best to capture personalities and memories and people just loving each other, laughing and having fun.

Here we are, demonstrating...

Here we are, demonstrating…

When you’re behind the camera you get to be a sort of quiet observer, sometimes chiming in to direct a look one way or the other, but mostly you’re just there to see what happens.

IMG_7495

What happened for me was a rush of gratitude for the people who raised us, my blonde neighbor girls and brunette Veeder girls down the road. Gratitude that after all these years we still come together to celebrate.

Gratitude that it takes a village…and grateful that our village just keeps growing…


Coming Home: Our village grows with us
by Jessie Veeder
9-21-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com IMG_9017

So off you go, Pug…

Some of you have asked what has become of the pug, noticing his absence from the spotlight on these pages.

The truth is, I have been wondering the same thing for a few months now.

Because a few months ago, the pug went missing.

And I’m afraid that this time it’s for good.

Now, you’ve heard the stories of Chug the Pug’s tendencies to hike to Mom and Pops’ to visit his girlfriend, or to the nearest oil rig to see what the guys have cooking in terms of food and a warm cushy spot in the campers for him to lay and receive an unlimited amount of belly rubs from nice guys who think he’s been orphaned.

The pug, with his one eye and all, was really good at convincing those who didn’t know better that he was pathetic. But he wasn’t. He was self-sufficient. A big dog in a compact body, tortured by the limitations of his physique.

He was a pooch on a mission to sucker you into letting him on the couch, right after you witnessed him dragging a dead squirrel into the yard.

He was a wish granted to me from my husband after a particularly tough year where things appeared to be coming together, but I was falling apart.

And so he found a flyer on the bulletin board of the gas station in a small town as he was passing through. A picture of a dozen tiny black pugs in the arms of woman.

For Sale.

He was sold.

And so he brought him home to a woman under a quilt on the couch, recovering from a surgery that was meant to help her become a mother, the first of many experiments that have dissected and disappointed.

The pug was a way to take the edge off.

And he did.

Get home from a shit day at work? Watch the pug steal the stick from the lab.

Sick on the couch with the flu? The pug’ll keep your feet warm.

Grumpy because the world is annoying? Laugh at the pug barking at the dogs on TV.

Frustrated on how some things just don’t go as planned? Howl it out.

When I was a little girl we had a cow dog who had puppies and I rescued the runt. And then the runt went missing right as winter set in. I was a kid fresh out of Bible Camp and so I prayed every night that the tiny puppy would come back.

I searched for her in every culvert, old building, tall grass and hole on the place.

I cried and worried and wondered where she could be

And then one day the snow kicked in and I had sort of given up hope, dragging my sled to the hill up the road, and that little puppy jumped out from behind a rock, right toward me. A prayer answered.

Now, that puppy was sick from the start, so a week or so on her own didn’t do her any favors and she didn’t make it much longer, no matter how hard my dad tried to warm her and medicate and bring her back to life. But regardless, I sort of held on to the memory of that little border collie running back to me for the first month of our search for the damn pug, because, well, you just never know.

Every night on his way home from work, Husband would stop at a rig asking about the little black dog. We called the neighbors to keep an eye out. We drove around, up and down the roads, checked the ditches, hollered his name.

I would come down the drive expecting that one of these days he would decide his adventure was done and it was time to take his place on the rug on the floor by my chair.

He hasn’t come home yet.

And I don’t think he will now. It’s just been too long.

The pug is no longer mine. I say that, but I don’t suppose he ever really was. A creature is his own creature, we just take care of them the best we can when we decide on the job.

I’m glad I had the job. I wish I had done better.

I miss the little guy, but I can’t help but think of him tucked under the arm of a tender hearted roughneck, a guy who found a stray and took him home to lay at the foot of his daughter’s bed.

Or maybe he’s running with a pack of coyotes, howling at the moon at night, being wild inside that block of an unfortunate body.

Or he could be riding shotgun with a trucker along these backroads hauling water or crude, a bandana around his neck, his head hanging out the window, ears flapping in the breeze.

Or maybe he’s out saving stray and wandering cats. He’s always been good with cats.

Pug and Kitten

There’s no evidence to the contrary on any of these scenarios, so I’ll just leave it at that and say goodbye now pug.

You helped me through. I’m gonna be fine now.

So off you go…

Among the clover.

I wish you could smell the sweet clover out here this time of year. I step outside and I’m flooded with a wave of memories of all that I used to be, summer after summer growing up out here. It smells like work and evenings spent sliding down hills on cardboard boxes with my cousins. It smells like ingredients for mud pie and playing house in the lilac bushes by the red barn. It smells like bringing lunch to dad in the field above our house, horseflies and heat biting our skin.

It smells like my first car and the windows rolled down, taking back roads with my best friends as passengers, kicking up dust as we tested the limits of teenage-dom.

It smells like my leaving, bittersweet. My last summer as a kid here before it was time to go and grow up already. Be on my own.

And it smells like coming home, take a right on the pink road, stop at the top of the hill and look at it all before heading down and turning into mom and dad’s for a glass of wine and a steak on the deck that looks out toward the garden and up the crick bed where I used to play everyday.

Pink Road

Last week we had family here from Texas, a couple of those cousins who used to help me make mud pies, a couple of aunts and an uncle I adore and then, of course the grandkids. The ranch was buzzing, laughing, full of life like I remembered it when I was growing up and our grandparents were alive and serving us push-up pops from the small from porch of their small brown house.

Funny how the world changes when suddenly there are kids running through the grass, pulling up dandelions, blowing bubbles and making memories on this place like the ones I hold so close to me.

After the Centennial celebration was over we did nothing but sit on the deck and visit, catch up, eat and then run inside to watch the rain pour. We laughed at the kids as they played and fought over toys and I looked at my cousin, the one closest to my age, the girl I used to wish was my twin sister, a mother now, and I thought, well, weren’t we just the same size as her baby A? Weren’t we just five years old running through the clover, itching our mosquito bites, begging for popsicles and just one more hour to play outside.

Now look at us, all grown up and still here on this place.

I was so thankful to be here with them on this place.

Because I know it didn’t come without a cost for our family, keeping it here for us, so future generations can smell the clover and be young and wild out here…

Country Cousins

I know that we did nothing but be born to good people who know the value of the land, not in dollars, but in something that is hard for me to find words for right now.

Pride?

Work?

Home?

A place to belong?

On Monday when the rest of his family loaded up and hit the road, Uncle W, stayed home one more evening. Little Sister came out and we saddled up our horses and headed out east, riding along and listening to the two brothers remember what it was like to be young out here.

Little Uncle W always found hanging back on a roundup, eating on a Juneberry bush.

Young Pops getting bucked off on the road when his little brother popped over the hill on his tricycle.

Milking cows and riding broncs and chasing girls and growing up together, out here on this place.

How many gloves and hats and scarves have been left dangling in these trees, scooped off heads and hands of little cowboys and cowgirls rushing on the backs of horses running through the trees?

How many wild plum pits have been spit at one another?

How many mud pies have been made in this barnyard, topped off with little pieces of sweet clover.

It’s so quiet here this morning as I get ready to head to a show tonight and then on to Minnesota to celebrate the 4th of July. If I had my way we’d all live out here together, my cousins and us, and those kids would be over the hill forever being raised by kids like us, and we would rehash memories and then create new ones.

Every day, out here on this place the way it used to be.

But that wouldn’t work. There’s space out here, but not that much…not enough…

So I’ll take the clover. I’ll breathe it in and I will remember when it itched our bare little legs in the summer while we searched for kittens in the nooks of the red barn.

Then I’ll remember the weekends, weekends like these, when they came to visit us out here along the gravel roads, and how small the kids were and how they were so little, because they’ll grow up too fast you know. Just like we did, out here among the clover.

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: Adventures in boots…

Our stories make us. To sit around the kitchen table, or to stop and chat up a friend on the street, to lean against our shovels, taking a break from work. To grab a beer on a patio somewhere and lean back into our memories with our good friends, or the friends we are making. To tell about the time you got bucked off so hard you couldn’t feel your right arm for days, the one that turns into a memory from your new friend or old friend about her favorite horse that used to eat her hat, stories that lead into other stories, stories that show us parts of one another, they mean something, they say something about the fabric woven in us.

Stories are how we come to know one another. Stories are how we share pieces of our lives with pieces of the rest of the world.

But I have to tell you that when I asked you to share the stories of your favorite boots with me here on the blog, I didn’t expect to be so moved. Each memory or commentary is touching or funny or perfectly heartfelt in it’s own way and I feel like I have the best group of loyal, well-dressed friends out there.

I’m so glad I asked for your stories

So thank you for sharing!

And if you haven’t commented with your own boot story yet (or Facebooked at Facebook.com/veederranch or Tweeted/Instgrammed a photo with #rockybootstories) there’s still time to enter for your chance to win a FREE PAIR OF BOOTS!  I will post the winner on Wednesday!

And now to celebrate spring and our stories and all the kinds of trouble we can get into way out in the country with our best friends in our favorite pair of boots, I present to you a story about childhood, breaking rules and paying the price.

P.S. This is a story about wood ticks and I apologize in advance for that creepy, skin-crawly feeling that will likely result after reading it…

Coming Home: Bending the rules ends in surprise infestation
by Jessie Veeder
5-11-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Keep those stories coming friends! And here’s to many more adventures in those boots!

Sunday Column: On Easter

IMG_6544

In the little Lutheran Church, along a gravel road out in the middle of a cow pasture families filled the pews, back to front, to celebrate Easter. Children were dressed in new outfits, bonnets and vests, ties and frills. They sat next to grandmothers shushing their excited squeals and helped put money in the offering plate.

I stood next to Pops at the front of the church as he played guitar and I sang a song I’ve been singing since I was a little girl. My best friend was baptizing her new baby that day and she asked for a special song.

I hadn’t sung in this little church since I was ten years old.

IMG_6532

The girl who grew up down the road from me, who went to a country school with me,  who traveled to High School Rodeos and could relate to what it meant to be the middle sister, the blonde girl who grew up and moved away, came home for the holiday and she was sitting in the front row with her two little girls.

Behind them, wrangling three young boys in matching flannel shirts, was one of Husband’s best friends.

And then there were the little neighbor girls, all tall and grown up and beautiful. There was their dad, a little more gray in his hair.

There they all were, really, my community gathered on a spring morning that felt like spring. A spring morning that had the birds singing and the baby calves bucking and kicking, the horses basking in the warmth of it all.

IMG_6550

Easter, the pastor said, is a time to start again. The promise of a new season. A second chance.

A resurrection.

It made sense to me then that we would celebrate a baptism on that day, a baptism of a child that is hope and prayers answered personified.

It made sense that we passed two new baby calves, still wet out of the womb, on the road on the way to the church.

It made sense then that we were granted some sunshine and a place to gather with family and friends we’ve known all of our lives. So many they had to bring out the folding chairs.

So many familiar faces, growing up and growing old and still sticking with this place.

Still coming back to the broken up fields and this old church.

And I remember when I was the girl in the Easter hat, a little girl standing up before the congregation with my hands behind my back and singing out.

I remember what it was like when my legs didn’t touch the floor, but dangled there off of the hard pew, kicking and wiggling with excitement about the fun waiting for me and my cousins when the sermon wrapped up and the clusters of adults lost in conversation and laughter and church basement coffee had broken up and disassembled to their respective homesteads where they would conduct their own Easter traditions.

Ours was the annual Easter Egg Hunt, one that took us across dangerous barbed wire fences, in the dark depths of the old barn and the grain bins, to the top of muddy gumbo hills where the crocuses were working on blooming, and then down again to get stuck in that mud, tear our Easter dresses and count and sort our candy on carpet of our gramma’s tiny living room.

These were our traditions out here, out here by the red barn when we were all together and young, without a care in the world, no worries about time and what we could lose, who we could lose between all the Easter sunrises and sunsets.

Sunset

It’s been almost 20 years since our last Veeder Ranch egg hunt, almost 20 years since we continued the tradition a little further south to my aunt and uncle’s farmstead with the white barn and the neat corrals.

And then there was a space there where we found we were, all at the same time, too old and too young for egg hunts.

But time is a funny and magical thing. If you wait long enough it will turn those kids in Easter bonnets into mothers and fathers of children whose legs dangle off church pews in anticipation…and we are the ones who go “shush, child. Shhhh now…”

We turn into the Easter Bunny…

And all old things are new again…

On Easter.

Coming Home: Childhood Easter egg hunts helped us find more than candy
by Jessie Veeder
4-20-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

IMG_6347

IMG_6706IMG_6708IMG_6568IMG_6637 IMG_6631 IMG_6710IMG_6623IMG_6659 IMG_6574 IMG_6594 IMG_6585 IMG_6630

Leotards, fuzzy ponytails and long-winded stories…

Ok, there was a time in my life when I wore nothing but leotards.

There, I said it.

I needed to make this confession today.

Purple leotards with pink tights. Pink leotards with purple tights. Short sleeves, polyester, spandex blends stretched tight over my belly, squishing the baby fat desperate to escape the confines of the fabric out  the seams and topping the whole thing off with leg warmers, velcro shoes and a fuzzy ponytail.

I was a sight to behold, a wild-child, a weird kid who had no explanation really for her choice in every day attire except, I can imagine, simply that today, I wanted to wear my leotard.

And tomorrow, I want to wear it again.

Leotard

Maybe it was because my mom was a dancer and an aerobics instructor and I had seen the woman, long and lean and graceful, rocking her own Jane Fonda attire while she lead a class to the tune of the Flash Dance soundtrack.

Or maybe it was because my big sister was a ballerina. A tiny, delicate ballerina who wore beautiful sparkly tutus and toe shoes and twirled and jumped and leapt elegantly across the stage under the lights.

Or maybe I just liked the free movement spandex provided while I drug my blankie through the grass on my way to the sandbox in my grandmother’s back yard.

I’m not sure, because I was too young at the time of my leotard obsession to hold on to the reasoning so that I might go back in adulthood and analyze it. But I’ll tell you this, even though I was only three or four years old, it was pretty clear I was inheriting none of that grace and elegance thing. But it didn’t matter to me. In my mind I was something. In my mind I was leaping and twirling right alongside my big sister on that big stage. In my mind I was Jane Fonda.

Of course I was also digging in the dirt, popping heads off of dandelions, peddling my trike towards gramma’s, making mud soup, bossing around the neighborhood boys, singing Sunday school songs at the top of my lungs, making up the words as I went along and hunting and tracking ladybugs in the short grass.

All in my trusty leotard.

Can you imagine the looks on my grandparents’ faces when my parents brought their girls over for Easter dinner, their oldest in perfect pastels and frills and the youngest traipsing around the egg hunt looking like Jazzercise personified? That was a cute family picture.

Country CousinsCan you imagine what my parents thought when their three or four year old woke up one day and declared it was time to put on her leotard, obliging, I’m sure, because I put up a fight, or maybe, because they were always free thinking supervisors and probably didn’t see the harm in a day in a spandex. But that day turned into another day and on to the next, and, well, you know the rest…

Anyway, eventually I moved on. Probably to my Wonder Woman costume, but that’s another story. I bring this phase of my life up today only because I was reminded of it by my Texas cousin last week via a Facebook post about her daughter.

It looked like this.

“A insists on wearing her leotard every day now. You went thru this too, right?:)”

A 2

To which I replied something like: “Yes, and I hope this similarity doesn’t worry you…”

Now, my cousin M and I were born a month apart and spent our childhood dressing alike (after my leotard phase) and trying to convince the world we were twins. It made sense to me, I wanted to be just like her, and still do.  She’s beautiful and sweet and funny and always pulled together.

She was a perfect long french braid. I was a fuzzy ponytail with plastic barrettes keeping the flyways at bay.

She was a Christmas dress. I was an oversized holiday themed puffy paint sweatshirt with stirrup pants.

She was flute playing pretty notes. I was a guitar playing some weird song I just made up…

She is a math teacher. I’m a long winded-story…

And we get along perfectly.

Then along came baby A…

Baby A, who’s not really a baby anymore because she insists on riding her pony Pearl all by herself, and yes, Uncle G, she can let the cats out of the barn whenever she wants.

Baby A who sprays herself in the face with a garden hose and thinks it’s a riot so she does it again and again.

Baby A who has her own guitar and uses it to accompany herself as she sings long songs at the top of her lungs about girls riding horses through the trees.

Baby A who’s hair escapes that golden brown ponytail and fuzzes just right.

Baby A who is just stubborn enough to convince her mother every day that she should wear a leotard.

A

I looked at the photo, me here between the buttes of our North Dakota home and my Cousin M under the warm sun of Texas, and I wondered if the miles don’t matter as much as we think they do.

That there are pieces of us in our family that surface and resurface throughout our lives, showing up in our children and their children’s children in a familiar laugh, a crooked smile, a skin tone or a shape of a nose.

Cousins

Looking at Baby A standing so confidently in her plastic high heels and pink leotard miles and miles away but so close to my heart, I can’t help but think that maybe an affinity for leotards just runs purple and pink somewhere in our blood, alongside the place where we keep fuzzy ponytails and long-winded stories…

And to that I say, oh, Baby A, I’m so happy there’s someone else out there who understands…

Sunday Column: School bus stop ahead

School Bus Stop Ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George. What a guy, that George.

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