Sunday Column: Be careful with this place…

I write about this beautiful place. I write about how it grew me up and sent me out and welcomed me back home again. I write about the cows grazing on the sunny side of hills and what it means to me to step outside and smell the first clover of summer as it reaches and stretches to the sky.

I write about it and I photograph it–the red barn and the horses’ fuzzy ears.

The creek and her banks, the horizon and her sunrises and sunsets. The tall grass and flowers.

The buttes and the red road that cuts through it all.

And then I write about the impact the booming oil industry is having on our home, about how the big trucks kick up dust and throw rocks at my windshield on their way to punch holes that extract the fuel that this country relies on for more things than we care to remember when we curse that dust.

I talk about the people it brings with it, those persistent, resilient people with stories to tell, because there are jobs. Countless jobs being created and recreated every day. Jobs that brought us here, my husband and I, back to this ranch to make our lives. We likely wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those jobs.

Neither would my sisters.

Because it used to be much harder out here, you know, to make ends meet.

To make a living.

So there are things that I can manage. Things that go along with looking for ways to make the most out of this land we stand on, like the dust and the traffic and the noise over the hill that wasn’t there yesterday, and maybe won’t be tomorrow. Much of this impact is fleeting.

Much of it is forever.

But I don’t want it to fail.

I read in the papers the words of reporters sent out to tell the story of what’s happening around me. If there are mistakes out here, they will be written down. If there are questions, they will be asked. If there is something to say about how this is ruining a place, making it better, making it harder, making it easier, making us mad or happy or richer or poorer or crazy, the air too dusty, too noisy, too much, not enough, too damn good to be true, not what it was, not like it will ever be again…

It will all be said.

Somedays I don’t know what to make of it.

This is what I have to say about it all today…

Coming Home: We’re not all reckless in oil country
by Jessie Veeder
March 23, 2014
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Sunday Column: What I say about Boomtown…

We stood in line to board the red-eye flight out of Las Vegas, my mom and I fresh off of a whirl-wind trip to shop for pretty clothes and shoes and jewelry to stock her store in Boomtown. We had our bags thrown over our shoulders and our boarding passes out, anticipating the deconstruction of our outfits that would soon ensue as we threw it all in plastic bins to walk through the metal detector, only to have to put it all back on again.

When you’re in lines like this surrounded by people of all shapes and sizes and walks of life, taking off shoes and watches and unloading laptops and toothpaste tubes,  I can’t help but make up stories about the characters in my head.

Mom, Dad and baby heading out to see grandparents.

An older couple leaving their Las Vegas winter home.

Three middle aged and desperately tired women heading back to the midwest after a wild girls’ weekend in Sin City.

Most of the time my assumptions are unfounded, just a guess based on superficial cues, like the “I heart Las Vegas” souvenir shirt or the child wearing one of those monkey backpacks with a leash, running wild behind his overbearing mother.

But then sometimes the story plays out before me in a conversation I can’t help but overhear.

Two young women, maybe early twenties, cute and trim and friends, dressed in sweatpants with their hair pulled up in loose, but well-tended ponytails, light jackets flopped over their arms, lift overstuffed carry-on suitcases up on the conveyer belt and turn to answer the question coming from the couple behind them…

“You heading home?” 

A tall man, like 6 foot 3, in his mid-thirties, immaculately dressed in slick jeans and sneakers, his dark hair pulled back in perfect and long dreadlocks, has his arm around a petite young blond in a tight red knit dress as she unzips her studded high heel boots and places them in one of those bins…

“No,” replies one of the girls. “I’m heading to see my boyfriend in North Dakota. Williston.  He works in the oilfield up there.”

“Oh, right!” says the dreadlocked man turning to the blond. “We’ve been there.” 

“Is it nice?” 

I turned to my mom to make sure she was listening. Williston is our neighboring town and I needed an extra set of eavesdropping ears to hear the string of assumptions, observations and impressions that would follow about our booming community from the mouths of a few mis-matched Las Vegas residents.

It was an earful.

“It’s cold as hell. Like, it burns your face and skin a few seconds after you step out the door.” 

“We ate at that Mexican place, what’s it called…oh, I can’t remember, but you’ll find it. It’s one of the only places to eat in the state.” 

“Oh, and then there’s that Barbecue place…” 

“Yeah, you’ll see it. Two restaurants. One says “Mexican.” One says “BBQ.:

“Hahahaha…”

“Oh, well, we don’t go out much when we get there. Usually only go to the two strip clubs. There’s two, right beside each other…”

“You better wrap your arms around that boyfriend of yours when you get there and tell him you really love him, you know, to have traveled all the way up there, to a godforsaken place like this…for him…” 

Two sweatpants-clad women laugh. 

My mom sighs.

Red Dress walks through medal detector

I say at least they’re right about the cold. 

End scene. 

Cold

But here’s the thing, our community is in the spotlight right now, for good reasons and bad reasons and because there is a story around every corner, one that can be easily sensationalized or one that is sensational enough on it’s own.

And we’re in the thick of it. We may have escaped to Vegas for a few days, but a world full of rumors, truck traffic, booming populations, help-wanted signs, $15 per-hour McDonalds jobs and young men working away from home waiting for their girlfriends to pay them a visit from a warmer climate was waiting for us when we got home.

If those two young women would have asked me if it was nice up in North Dakota, they would have received an entirely different answer.

I would have at least given them a few more tips on restaurants, and maybe advised on buying a beanie, I mean, wouldn’t the boyfriend have thought to mention the windchill?

Anyway, I imagine those two young women have been here and back again and now hold on to their own impressions of my chilly home state, impressions they will bring back to share with their friends in Nevada.

I’ll tell you though, having grown up in this place when it was quiet, when it was scoria roads and “everyone knows everyone” and the only thing anyone ever knew of this place was that it was cold, and that people here have a funny accent, and that yeah, we’re nice,

North Dakota nice,

I’ll admit now reading about us in the papers, about how we’ve changed, about how some of this oil booming business isn’t so nice, isn’t so pretty, isn’t necessarily understood, it makes me cringe. It’s like overhearing a a stranger say mean things about my little sister.

“You don’t really know her! You don’t know why she is the way she is! You don’t know the challenges, how big her heart is, how hard she’s trying! You don’t understand!”

But just as I observe and make assumptions about those travelers based only on the information I’m given, so go the perceptions of my home, coming from a visitors’ own frozen lips or from the lips of those willing to share their own judgements and experiences.

So I suppose that’s why, when I get the chance, in my North Dakota accent, I talk about it. To whoever’s asking, I’m happy to explain my world the way I knew it and the way I know it now.

Not that I know everything. I’m quick to note that living in a camper in sub-zero temperatures hundreds of miles away from home is a little different than living in a new house in a familiar place. It isn’t all pretty and it isn’t all nice, but some of it is. Some of it is damn exciting. Some of it, like a sunset over the badlands and a hike through the tall grass, and the fact that my husband and I can make enough of a living to stay and work in a place we love, a place we stand up for, is as beautiful and thrilling as it ever was…

That’s what I know of this place anyway…. That’s what I would have told them…

Coming Home: Northern accent perfect for telling story of my town
by Jessie Veeder
2-23-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

A prayer for the South Dakota Cowboy

As the sun shines down through the golden trees and rests on the back of the black cows grazing outside my windows and along our cattle trails, we send out a prayer to ranchers in western South Dakota who’s early autumn turned into a devastating winter storm last week.

Winter Storm Atlas Kills Thousands of Cattle in South Dakota
The Weather Channel
http://www.weather.com

Tens of thousands of cattle killed in Friday’s blizzard, ranchers say
Rapid City Journal
http://www.rapidcityjournal.com

Up to four feet of snow in some parts of our neighboring state buried cattle, horses and sheep in a cold grave, leaving ranchers and citizens without power to dig out and count their losses with the help of airplanes, neighbors and the National Guard.

I have just written and filed my Sunday column on how ranchers across the heartland are looking across the prairie, the badlands and the foot of their mountains and holding our breath, heart broken and worried for our neighbors, knowing that out here, raising these animals and crops, we’re all at the mercy of the sky.

So I’ve decided it’s worth spreading the news, not because it can reverse the damage, but because it sheds light on the industry and the farmers and ranchers who don’t call what they do a job, but a life.

Blogger Dawn Wink with Dawn Wink: Dewdrops explains the effects a storm of this magnitude has on a ranching family and not only their bottom line, but their morale.

Read it here:

The Blizzard the Never Was–and its Aftermath on Cattle and Ranchers
by Dawn Wink
Dawn Wink: Dewdrops
www.dawnwink.wordpress.com 

and send up a prayer to the cowboys in South Dakota.

Want to help? Here are some ideas: 

 The South Dakota Cowgirl
How can you help? 
http://www.thesouthdakotacowgirl.com

Heifers for South Dakota
Pledge a heifer (a bred yearling or a replacement quality weanling) for a rancher in South Dakota

Give to the cause today!
Ag Chat Rancher Relief Fund

Sunday Column: When summer’s over

The hay is baled up and waiting to be moved out of the fields.

he hot sun is starting to turn the leaves on the trees a little bit lighter.

The cattails are bending and swaying in the warm breeze.

The water in the stock damns is getting low and covered in moss.

The tomatoes are ripe.

The school busses are kicking up dust on the back roads.

The days are getting shorter.

Coming Home: Summer can’t last as life goes on
By Jessie Veeder
9/1/13
Fargo Forum
www.inforum.com

 

Summer’s almost over.

Hanging with the kids


One of my favorite parts of my summer so far has been the couple times I’ve taken youth groups out to hike around in the badlands south of Boomtown. It’s gratifying for so many reasons, the first being that I, along with my partner in crime, Extension Agent Marcia, get to be the kids’ gateway to adventure, which I like to imagine makes us like super heros in hiking shoes.

Ok, that’s a little dramatic. But maybe it makes us at least kinda cool.

Anyway, in a town in the middle of an economic boom that’s making headlines across the globe, sometimes the little people get lost in the shuffle, so I’ve made it part of my mission to help when I can. Life’s been busy lately for so many of us trying to  keep up with the demands of a town stretching and growing by the minute, but if I can help these kids out of the bustling elements for just a few hours I come home feeling like I’ve done something really worth while.

Plus, it’s a really great excuse for me to drop what I’m stressing about and focus on what it’s like to be a kid who just wants to climb to the top of the buttes and ask a million questions about whether or not that cow over there is a buffalo, if ticks can jump, what’s this bug on my ear and, umm, can you help me find the iPod I dropped in the long grass?

So that’s what I did yesterday with Marcia and my friend Megan, my partner in photography crime. We took almost 30 kids between third and sixth grade on a photography expedition

 complete with a scavenger hunt and challenges and cactuses and humidity and yes, a million woodticks, that, according to Google, can not jump.

Now, I’m not great with kids, I will be the first to admit it. I treat them like tiny adults and sometimes I see their little eyes glaze over when I attempt to explain complicated things that, well, kids don’t really care about. But we get along fine. I release them into the wild and tell them to be careful of cactus.

Someone always gets into a cactus.

So off they went, covered in bug spray and that sweaty, dirty film kids get from running around outside in the humidity of summer. We took photos of our feet and photos of the sky, photos of the grass, photos of bugs, photos of our names in the dirt. We took photos of our hands and our friends jumping up in the air, photos of the road and a butterfly and dandelion puffs.

We took photos of our eyeballs, photos of the bus, photos of the buffalo that were really black cows and photos of footprint of a dog that we were certain was something wilder.

And when we were done taking photos by the picnic area, off we went to take photos on the trail, the group splitting up a bit, the boys running ahead and the girls hanging back to take on my challenge of photographing every species of wild flower they could find.

And there were dozens.

They took it seriously.

They were my kind of women.

Unfortunately for them, however, their trusty trail guide forgot her wildflower book at home and her memory is getting foggy in her old age. Needless to say I didn’t feel as wilderness womanly as I would have liked to when I had to reply to their questions with “maybe you should Google it when you get home.”

Well, it was either that or make something up, and, as we all know, I cannot tell a lie.

And, you know, their eyes. They glaze over.

Anyway, among the wildflower explorers was one girl in particular that pulled at my heartstrings and made me consider calling her mother and asking if she would let me keep her daughter. She was small and quiet, dressed in jean shorts and tennis shoes, her brown hair cut in a bob and her eyes wide with wonder, as if the task of finding every species of wildflower on the trail opened up an entirely different world to her.

She took it seriously, but not competitively. I watched her hang in the back of the line, getting down close to a sunflower to document it from all angles. I saw her touch them, examine them, study them and, I think, truly fall in love with them.

She couldn’t get enough. We’d been out in the wild hills of the badlands in the heat of the day for a few hours and this girl had her eyes to the ground. She gasped with delight at the discovery of a new species like the other girls, but she just took a little extra time.

She reminded me of me at that age and how I could have stayed out there forever. Even when the other kids were sort of melting and hungry and thinking it was time to head back, I found her wandering quietly behind the group, examining her world full of flowers.

I’ve been busy lately. I have been pushing myself and worrying about the little things. I have been racing the clock and working to fit things in.

This is what happens when you grow up.

I forgot that I never wanted to grow up in the first place.

Yesterday I was reminded that there is always time to wander.

And that’s why I  hang with the kids.

Out to lunch in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

It’s hard to believe that after a winter that extended long into spring, bringing with it unwelcome snow and sleet and ice, that our world was thirsty for more moisture just a month after the last blizzard.

But the dry crusty earth and the dust in the air in the middle of May was telling us that we were in dire need of some moisture. The earth had some growing to do and the warm sunshine alone wasn’t cutting it.

So, after a Saturday drizzle that turned into a Sunday morning haze, the sky opened up and it poured.

It rained like the dickens, as the old folks around here would say.

And just like that the world turned from brown

to green.

I guess I don’t have to tell you how anxious I was about the types of pretty things that might be sprouting out there. I had been cooped up in the house for the weekend watching it green up from the other side of the windows and Monday found me between the walls of an office. By the time I was set loose from my work on Tuesday, it was still raining, but it didn’t matter.

I had to get out.

Because when the weather changes so drastically, I feel like I’m missing something if I’m not in it, like I’m not in on the secret.

So I closed the computer, left the to-do list on my desk and took my lunch break 15 miles south of Boomtown, to see how Theodore Roosevelt National Park looks in the rain.

I wish I could have taken you with me on that drive.

I wish you could have smelled the cedars waking up, heard the mud slosh under your feet as you climbed the trails and felt the warm rain on your bare skin.

I wish you could have seen this bison scratch his side on a trail marker and laughed with me at how a beast could be so majestic and ridiculous at the same time.

I wish you could have sat at the overlook and remembered the times you climbed up here as a kid as you looked out at the river collecting raindrops.

I wish you could have heard the birds calling.

Smelled the sweet peas.

I wish you could have taken the moment to love the rain. To be a part of it.

I wish I could have taken you to lunch.

Together.

Yesterday Little Man hung out with me while I worked around the house. Here’s a fuzzy phone photo of him trying to lift Big Brown Dog.

Big Brown Dog is his favorite. Little Man likes to walk behind him so the dog’s tail whacks him in the face. He thinks this is funny and he laughs hysterically while saying “owie owie owie” and then I get confused, but as long as he’s laughing right?

It was a good day of trying to guess what the kid will eat, bundling him up in his snowsuit for a trip to feed the horses, unbundling him from his snowsuit, reading books, licking peanut butter off of bread, throwing the ball up the stairs, pulling on the pug’s ears, looking for his socks, laughing hysterically, watching Mickey Mouse, herding the dogs into each bedroom ten times, shutting the door on them and then letting them out again before eating macaroni and passing out on the couch.

And that was all before noon.

I can’t believe the little guy is already past two years old and knows what I’m talking about most of the time, even if he choses not to say much.

Because of all of the things that make this place a home I love—the oak groves and the sunrises and the horses and the open space and familiarity of it all–the biggest gift has been that we have our family here.

Ten years ago I would have never thought it possible. Ten years ago if you would have told me that my Big Little Sister and her little family would be living in a new house in our little home town, I would not have believed you. If you would have told me she’d be followed by Little Sister, now a young new teacher, I would have been certain you were lying. Mostly because I always thought little sister would be a lawyer, you know, with all those negotiating skills she’s been practicing since birth.

Anyway, Husband and I have always known that someday we wanted to build ourselves a home and life on the ranch, but that was as far as the plan stretched for a while having left a place alongside others who were leaving too.

If we were to make a life here, we would have had to make a pretty good life somewhere else first to help us get started.I thought our chances were pretty slim for making it work, especially in the beginning stages of our careers and life together.

Wedding Tree

But things have changed out here as the country knows and as I have explained. Each day this place changes. Each day it shifts and grows as new technology has us drilling frantically for the oil 10,000 feet below the surface.

And each day someone who left has decided to come home, to ranches, to farms, to the city streets they remember but maybe don’t recognize anymore.

Each day hundreds across the country call us, look us up, pack up their cars and head this way for a chance at making it their own.

I don’t blame them. It’s a good place to be, albeit, it’s a little hard to keep up with all the buzz. That little town I remember is stretching out across the prairie more and more every day, a bittersweet realization for those who like the familiar.

I admit, I am one of those. I know where my favorite oak tree grows and I want to protect it. I miss the old drive-in and the taste of the burgers there, the Chuckwagon on Main Street and the quiet safety of the pink road where I used to ride my bike, all things changed a bit in the face of a booming industry.

But you know what I don’t miss. I don’t miss my family. Because yesterday I got to hang out with Little Man and watch him train my dogs. Last weekend Little Sister showed up at the ranch in time to help us unload our pickup from a trip to the lumber yard and then we had drinks and ate leftovers and laughed hysterically as I made plans for where we would help her build her house across the coulee so she could be reached with a tin-can phone just like the old days.

Today I’ll visit Momma at her store to see if any of the pretty things we picked out in Vegas have arrived, this weekend I will babysit my nieces and tomorrow night I will play music with Pops and the men I’ve been playing music with since I was a little girl on Main Street of Boomtown to familiar faces and hopefully, a whole lot of new faces in town looking for work, a fresh start, a place to kick back, and maybe, a place to call home.

I think that’s what everyone’s looking for. I hang on to that in times I’m feeling overwhelmed by change that’s moving down our road sometimes and unprecedented speeds.

Because we made a decision years ago that home is here, although I don’t know if I ever had a choice they way the mud stuck to my boots and never let go.

And I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but today, my family is holding to that same decision.

Today we’re all together out here, along these crazy roads and under this unpredictable sky making supper plans and helping each other build houses and checking in and stopping by and teaching Little Man important things like how to high-five and train the dogs and laughing and getting on each other’s nerves, drinking coffee and just living.



And for those out here working and thinking you would give anything to have yourfamily close by, I tell you, I don’t take this for granted.

Not for a moment.

Trail Riding

It was a beautiful fall weekend at the ranch and to celebrate roundup and the change of the seasons and friends and horses and kids and ranch life in general our community got together for a trail ride.

The Blue Buttes Trail Ride is a tradition that has been organized on and off for years in this rural “neighborhood” that spans a circumference of 30 some miles.

When I was growing up this event was the like Christmas. The opportunity to ride my horse across pastures all day alongside my best friends made me feel grown up and capable and wild and free and a million things that a little girl wants to be when she’s 8 or 9 or 10.

Sometimes it snowed. Sometimes it rained. Sometimes the wind blew and sometimes we got all three. But regardless of the weather, the neighborhood showed up. They showed up with their horses and wagons and drinks and snacks and kids and they rode together on a trail mapped out weeks before that stretched for miles across pastures and cleared fields, through coulees and along fence lines and roads.

I don’t remember anything from when I was a kid about the route we took or the weather really, I just remember being so excited the night before that I couldn’t sleep. I remember riding my old mare, Rindy, kicking my feet out of the stirrups during the third or fourth mile, swinging my leg over the top of my horse’s neck and thinking I was cool.

Thinking that there was no kid in the world luckier than me.

And so this weekend, almost twenty years later (20? REALLY?) I saddled up again to hit the trail with my neighbors. And I have to say, aside from a little horse malfunction due to all of the energy in the air on that warm fall morning, it wasn’t long before I was feeling all those things again.

Cool? Well, maybe it was more temperature related than attitude, but capable and wild and free and lucky?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

And really proud of my community and how they’ve held on to this tradition despite a changing world.

Proud of how they’ve kept their kids on the backs of horses and encouraged them to run.

Humbled by how they swing ropes and hitch up teams of horses to wagons.

Proud of their potluck dinners and generosity and enthusiasm for a lifestyle that is unique and important and tested by the modern world every day.

For twelve miles I sat on the back of a good horse and rode next to a friend. We talked about life and house building, husbands and pets, horses and work.

And we observed our world as it played out before us, young kids, their stirrups barely reaching the bellies of their mounts, kicking and flying back and forth across the pastures as fast as their horses were willing to take them.

Those kids would have gone faster and further if they were allowed.

And we watched families connected as they talked and laughed and moved through the pastures and gates. Old friends catching up.

Sisters laughing and joking.

A big extended family loaded and bundled up in a wagon sharing snacks and stories.

A husband and wife riding quietly side by side, helping one another along.

Whatever’s going on here.

And my friend and I, getting to know one another and the landscape that stretched for twelve miles as Pops pointed out where his mother was born, the dam where he used to swim and the route we took nearly twenty years ago when I was 8 or 9 and knew nothing but those miles and the back of my favorite horse.

Last Saturday I may as well have forgotten everything I’ve ever learned and all the things I’ve seen and have come to know in those years between. I may as well have forgotten I’d ever wanted to be anyone else.

Or anywhere else.

Because I was having good old-fashioned, genuine fun.

And I was the luckiest kid in the world.

Dancing.

Sometimes my job as a writer brings me to stories I am not looking for, but grateful to have found.

I visited a small town yesterday in the center of my state. In the middle of a freshly planted corn fields and along the railroad tracks cattle grazed, a construction crew pounded nails into a new roof on a sleepy Main Street building and a group of community members gathered in a small diner, opened especially for my visit to learn about their town.

We sat around a rectangle table on diner chairs in the back of the restaurant. The room was full of local men and women who were there to talk about dairy farming and population decreases, rural living and 4-H programs, the weather and how kids these days don’t understand that chickens don’t have nuggets.

I wrote down their names and got snippets of their stories: the retired school teacher, the cook, the woman from Wisconsin, the fifth generation dairy farmer.

I thanked them for their time as they dispersed after our visit to the t-ball game down the road, to check the cattle, to cook dinner or lead a 4-H group.

But as I was rushing toward the door, checking my watch and calculating what time I would land in bed if I left now and stopped quickly at the grocery store in the big town along the way, I heard a voice say, “And one more thing…”

I turned around to find that voice attached to a man in a clean pressed shirt and suspenders, holding his white feed store hat with green trim in front of him as he spoke. It was the man who sat across from me during our interview. The man with kind eyes and the daughter who was a dairy farmer.

He had something more to tell me.

And this is what it was:

My first train ride out of here was when I was nineteen. Boy was that a ride! You hear how the train moves along the tracks, squeaking and bumping along? That’s how it was on the inside, riding along like that for days.
In those days the train came through here often to pick up passengers.
It took me to the service.
The Korean War.

I anticipated his next thought and he caught me off guard when I noticed a bit of a sparkle in his eyes. He gripped his cap a little tighter. I leaned in.

He smiled big and broad and looked young as he told me…

I was lucky. They sent me to Germany and, well, my family is German. It was my second language. So boy did I have a time! I think I wore out my first pair of boots dancing.
I was a cook see, and in the evenings I would go out and, well, the girls, they asked
you to dance. They did! 

I was a little nervous at first, being there with all their men sitting along the bar. I asked them if they were sure, if there would be trouble, but they said go ahead and dance.
They wanted to sit and drink, see. 
The girls wanted to dance!  And I was young and fit and I would dance.

I was lost there in that memory with him. I wanted to be those girls, I wanted him to show me his dance steps. I wanted to know him when his eyes were young.

Young, but not any more full of life than they were at that moment.

Oh, I just I loved it. I would dance all night. 

With that he pulled his cap down over his gray hair.  I thanked him for the story and he thanked me for the time.  He held the door open for me and walked me to my car parked next to those railroad tracks, the steel lines disappearing in the distance a constant memory of the young man who took the train out of North Dakota and came home with boots worn from dancing.

 

The long way home.


Sometimes in the middle of an ordinary weekday, one filled with spilled coffee, peanut butter toast on the run, meetings, missed phone calls and long-lost plans for supper, the world gives you a chance to throw it all out the window and just get lost.

Yesterday afternoon on my way out the office, heavy-overstuffed briefcase on my shoulder, water cup in my left hand, my list under my arm and a trail of papers flailing behind me,  I dialed Husband to remind him it was voting day and asked him if he wanted me to meet him at home so we could make the trek together.

Husband works a good thirty-plus miles away from the ranch. I work another good thirty miles away too…in the other direction.  And when you live in the middle of winding gravel roads, you do not vote in the town that you travel 30 miles to work in each day. No, you take the gravel to a smaller town sitting nice and neat  alongside the county road and cast your vote in a quaint community building as your neighbors from over the hill, across the creek and down the road filter in and ask you about your family, how the house is coming and what you think of the weather.

I thought about taking the fifteen mile detour to cast my vote on my own, but the idea of a little car ride with my husband and the opportunity to actually show up in public together sounded like a nice one. He agreed.

And so we met at home, dropped our piles of work at the door, and husband drove me north on the scoria road, past the substation, and our friends mailbox where the gravel turns to pavement,  right on the county road and into Keene, ND where we would greet the ladies who have been working the polls all day and follow their instructions to fill in the circles dark and complete, and for goodness sakes, don’t vote in more than one party column or you’ve gotta do it again.

I took their directions and my packet and followed Husband into the little gym where we played volleyball this winter and where I attended craft club last week. I waited for my neighbor to cast her vote and I took her place at the round table against the wall.

I read the directions thoroughly, wondered if Husband, who was at the table on the other side of the room, was canceling out my votes, finished my civic duty, closed the folder and fed my sheets through the fancy machine.

Husband followed close behind. I waited while he cracked a few jokes, said goodbye to the neighbors and then followed him to the door and back out into a beautiful summer evening in the hub of our little township: Keene, ND-Population 266?

We contemplated heading back home to grill some brats and finish up the laundry. We talked about how the lawn needed to be mowed and that fence that needed a good inspection. We thought we could maybe get some work done on the new house before it got too late.

We said we probably should go home…we really should…

But it was such a nice evening, the sun was shining through the fluffy clouds, the grass was green and fresh from the recent rain, the farmers were out and it smelled so sweet. We rolled down the windows and pointed our car north toward the lake where we heard the restaurant at the marina had just been renovated and is open for business. What’s another 30 miles when the lake is calling and you heard they might have walleye on the menu?

What’s another thirty miles along new green fields, under big prairie skies, next to a handsome man with lots of things to tell you with the windows open and your favorite songs in the speakers?

It’s nothing.

It’s everything.

And the food was good, the water was crystal clear and the sun was hitting the horizon with a promise of a show as colorful as the rainbow that had just appeared in the clouds to south.

Husband pulled out of the parking lot and back onto the county road. He headed toward that rainbow, toward the ranch and our chores…but then, without a word between us, he ignored the turn that would take us there and chose the long way home instead.

I didn’t object. I didn’t ask why. I didn’t say a thing unless it was to ask him to stop so I could take a photo of the clouds reflecting off the glass-like pond in a rancher’s pasture.

The country church reaching up toward the sky.

A family of ducks swimming in reeds.

The sun sinking below the horizon.

We drove this way for hours, tourists exploring the landscape we knew so well, seeing it again with eyes wider.

Hearts more open.

I was exploring our homeland and my husband was my guide, a man who just wanted a little more time to move through the world he loves…

patient with the clicking of the camera and my need to let the cooling air blow through the crack of the window in the passenger seat…

humored by my theory on coming back after my death as a duck…

happy to hear his tires hum along familiar roads…

content to sit next to me and hum along with the songs we love.

And relieved to forget about the things we should do…


and just live in the moments, under the sky, moving quietly and slowly along the landscape that made us…