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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The way it should be

This week the cows came home, and so did 70+ degree weather.

When there are cows around in 70+ degree weather it’s next to impossible for people like us to stay inside, or do anything other than find the horses and ride around.

Of course there are things to be done, fences to be fixed, etc. etc. and that’s why we ride. Because on the back of a horse at least you can look like you’re working.

And when the cows are home and it’s 70+ degrees things that might have annoyed you, like opening one gate to let the horses in only to watch them run wide open out the open gate on the other side of the corral, make you cuss for only like five to ten minutes while you rush to wrangle the animals off the green grass on the other side of the fence and back to the barn.

Even the bird that shit on your head and the wood tick(s) stuck behind your ear are taken as a small price to pay for the arrival of summer

Because the wild berries are blossoming and it smells like heaven. 

This is my ride.

The man beside me is telling me things that make me laugh and he’s handsome and he’s getting all the gates and I get to go home with him tonight.  

The calves are adorable.

And the cows are home and it’s 70+ degrees and weekend’s here and life is the way it should be back at the ranch.

Boot Stories: Winner Winner!

Andrea's Boots (via Twitter)

Andrea’s Boots (via Twitter)

Today my boots hung out on the floor of my car while I traipsed around town at my big girl job in some big girl heels.

I raced around the pavement checking things off of my “To-Do” list so I could get home and announce the winner of what has been the most fun we’ve had on this blog since Cowboy’s last Kitchen Adventure.

When I asked you to share stories and photos of your favorite boots, I had no idea I would get such a glimpse into the spirits and hearts of my readers. When I said “It’s the boots that make the woman,” I didn’t know how right I was. Who knew that our boots, in whatever shape or form they may be in, could hold such connections:

To our family history: 

Jess Boots

Jess’s Boots

Jess: These weren’t my first pair of boots nor have they been my last but every cowgirl had her first pair and I’m glad that my second pair survived. I I have a pair of dad’s boots hanging at my coffee shop, James Gang Java. Often people will ask about them. After I tell their story, I often will produce my little pair and show them how young we are when we get started wearing boots. I’d like to go back in time and spend a couple of days in those little boots and look around at my world then. A lot of stories could be told about the times we have had in our cowgirl boots!

To our love: 

Marnie's Boots

Marnie’s Boots

Marnie- When we first dated, my husband and I used to kick around pawn shops and thrift stores of (old) downtown Fargo. He was the only cowboy I’d ever known, and when he dug out a pair of bent-over double, dirty dusty, scuffed up Acme boots from under a rack of polyester suits, I didn’t see their potential even though they fit. Two days later, when he delivered them polished and buffed, I saw potential. They’re my love boots.

To finding who we are: 

Toni's Boots

Toni’s Boots

shapeofthingstoni-I convinced my parents to buy me my first pair of walking boots when I was about 13 years old, and had well-lived in pairs until my mid-20s when I became a much more urban girl and my boots were replaced by office-friendly mary janes, with comfy skate shoes for weekends. Then about 6 years ago I took a long, hard look at my life, packed everything up and moved from urban Brisbane to the little city of Hobart, Tasmania, right at the bottom of Australia.

Hobart has great access to amazing national parks and hiking trails, as well as cold, wet winters that turn those trails into freezing streams that quickly soak through socks and joggers. So I bought myself these boots and I started walking. In re-discovering my childhood love of the outdoors I re-discovered myself. I got out of a marriage that was destroying me, I moved to a tiny cottage, got seriously into gardening and started seriously becoming the person I’d always wanted to be.

In 2012 I set off for a travel adventure in South America, and my boots carried me from the coastal bohemia of Valparaiso to the desert dust of San Pedro de Atacama and up into the spectacular Andean mountains around Cusco, where I fell in love with Peru as well as a certain Peruvian. Eight months later my boots came back to Cusco with me to follow my heart, and spent many happy hours travelling the cobble streets of the Inca capital, and working in the veggie garden of the orphanage where I was teaching the girls basic food-growing skills.

Back home again in Hobart my boots helped me to keep sane on weekend hikes through snow, mud, dust and rain, while I figured out how to live with my heart on the other side of the world, and in September 2013 they were on my feet as I flew back to Peru yet again, to take up a year-long position working in environmental management here in Lima, my stomach full of butterflies and my heart all over the place.

The guy and I couldn’t make it work, in the end, but the boots and I are still going strong. We’ve trekked up to 4 800 mASL in the Cordillera Blanca, we’ve visited ruins from long-vanished cultures.For the princely sum of 20 Nuevo Soles (about $8 US) I got the holes worn through by my heels patched and my patched-up boots were on my feet again when my patched-up heart and I wandered through Cusco again recently and shared a moment of healing with a man I’ll always, always remember.

They’re almost 6 years old now and they’ve covered a lot of ground, but there’s life in my old boots yet. They’ve outlived three pairs of pricey hiking sneakers and I’ve learnt that no-one can bring out the shine in them like a Peruvian street boot boy. At the end of my project here in Lima I’m hoping we can adventure together through Patagonia for one more grand South American adventure before I head back to Tasmania and work out just what comes next in my life. These boots are my freedom, my adventurous spirit, the wonders I’ve seen and the paths I’ve chosen to tread. Dear old friends who’ve never left a blister, their passing will be mourned, though long may they live on as planters in a happy garden somewhere.

Or expressing that we’ve known it all along.

A story that reminded me of my own little sister…

Amanda Remynse-My favorite pair of boots aren’t even mine. I realize that sounds a bit Dorothy-ish in the Wizard of OZ, but that’s not the case. I’ve actually never even put on these boots. They belong to my sister, who is 9 years younger than I am. I should have known that she’d be more cowgirl than I ever could imagine when she started sleeping with a three-legged plastic pony versus the teddy bears that most kids sleep with. She became a cowgirl at a young age when she realized that she could put on her bright red with bling (sounding Wizard of Oz-ish again) boots all by herself. These boots didn’t require anyone to tie her stupid laces or help her ensure that they got on her feet. She put them on herself and would go out the door. I’m sure 50% of the time they were on the wrong feet but it didn’t matter to her. She had places to go and adventures to make into a reality. Twenty years later, she’s still rocking some boot of some shade. I think that this early independence shaped her entire attitude, as long as she had her boots, red blinged or not, she was invincible.

Your boots have walked you through starting over:

Kandie's boots

Kandie’s boots

karenrsanderson-My boot story is a little sad…About 15 years ago, I lived in Delaware. I had two pairs of cowboy boots, one pair brown, one pair distressed black. I wore them for years, every day. Then I moved to Albuquerque – again, every day, boots. Then I moved to Minot in the fall of 2010. That winter was brutal, and I had a stinky hot-weather car, so I didn’t get out much, I wasn’t making friends, and I had no job yet. We were warned to get ready for the flood. My son (Air Force) was on special flood duty. My daughter-in-law (Air National Guard) was on special flood duty. I was full-time babysitting my two grandsons. So when my son finally got off, it was THE DAY the sirens were to go off. I had just time to grab some clothes, all my genealogy research, and my books. I lost both pairs of boots and most everything else. 

Stumbled you right into your future husband: 

smartbsolutions boots

Smart B.’s boots

smartbsolutions- ...here I am am admiring your perfect cowboy boots – never even have seen a cowboy bending over a branding fire  and obviously never even owned a pair of such beauties. But still I wanted to share a little story about my boots that involve my husband. The boots that are my all time favorite are a pair of brown leather beauties, made in Portugal and with a most bizarre zipper clothing in the back – they are high and stylish and from the first day I bought them absolutely perfect fit. I have been wearing them for 6 years now (in winter season only). They are part of the story how I met my husband in the Brussels airport back in 2008. That day I had my brown boots on (have just bought them) and a brown leather coat, it was a perfect sunny morning in January and I was driving my friend to the airport. We ladies, have had a couple of drinks the night before to celebrate our last evening together before she is heading back home and of course we were late and totally stressed so I hardly remember the way from my apartment to the airport, but we made it and she headed off to her gate and me I headed out the sliding door of the airport in the sun looking down admiring my then still brand new leather boots I felt such a relief and so happy at the same time – also to see the sun and my beauties and how great I looked wearing them and then, boom, boom, boom, several heavy suitcases are rolling off the trolley and land right next to my boots. I didn’t even look,  just tried to pick up the closest of those heavy bags thinking “Thank God they didn’t scratch my boots!” and right then I hear a very deep voice of a man telling me: “That’s ok, I can handle this, thank you!” Well I had to look up to see who is so rudely refusing my help and there he was trying to pick up all his luggage and stuck it back up on the trolley smiling at me. Well, we started talking and the rest is history! we’ve been together since and this August will be celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary:) I just felt I needed to share this story about how just a pair of boots become part of such a romantic memory. And btw our cat Trigger also loves those boots in his own way. He has managed to “personalize” them twice to show me that he doesn’t like it when I go out and don’t take him with me:) 

They’ve walked you down the aisle and hung on as you rode across the country on the back of a motorcycle:

Andrea's Boots 2

Andrea B.’s Boots (via Twitter)

Andrea-My all time favorite pair of boots are the boots I wore on my wedding day, last September. They are black with lizard inlay (like the boots your husband got for you) except they are square toes. I think it took me longer to pick out the boots then it did to pick out my wedding dress. Not only did I wear them for the wedding, I wore them on the honeymoon! We took the motorcycle out to the Hills in South Dakota. I love that these boots are so comfortable! Every time I put those boots on it takes me back to that special day! 

Have been sacrificed on your way out of near death experiences:

Kathie-I can’t send you a picture of my favorite boots because they’ve been lost. I was very young, maybe 5 or 6, and my parents had bought me my first pair of boots; they were red with green trimmed tops. After a few days of owning them our neighbors came over and of course we children were sent outside to play. A game of follow-the-leader soon developed and I was blindly following my friend when she ran over the pit the milk cows’ urine drained into (fondly known as the piss pit). It was fine for her but when I ran over it one of the planks in the cover broke and I plunged into it. She quickly thought to sit on my hands and yell for help. My older sister came running, tried to lift me out and failed so ran to the house to get my dad. He and the neighbor guy came running and pulled me out to safety but my boots were, sadly, left in the piss pit for eternity. To top things off, Mom wouldn’t let me into the house to bathe so I ended up in the water tank and THEN we had to clean the water tank so the cows didn’t get ill. I still remember those boots fondly and have never seen a pair like them.
Some have been abused by your best friend:
spottedfeatherfarms boots

Lisa’s Boots

Lisa Tucker- (spottedfeatherfarm.com) So, there I was sleeping soundly (well I guess not that soundly) when I hear munching coming from the kitchen. I go in, flip on the light and what do my eyes see? My Cocker Spaniel “Gunner” having a 3 am snack of my new 2 week old Justin boots!!!! I gasp! I’m in shock! Am I having a nightmare!? Gunner looks up at me (mid chew, mind you) with an expression of “can I help you with something”? All I can say is OMG Noooo! I grab the boots and just want to cry. Now Gunner is only giving me side glances. Damage is done so what could I do but regain some composure and try to find the humor…

I know own a pair of customized Justin Boots that I still love and wear daily, but occasionaly still have flashbacks.http://spottedfeatherfarm.com/2013/03/16/finding-the-humor/
He even signed them. I feel so privileged…

And some of your most precious boots haven’t even been purchased yet.

Little Man’s first pair…

megansredbarn -As you know… I too share a love for boots… I’m pretty sure that’s what makes us such good friends!

I would like to say that my favorite boots are my wedding boots that are so scuffed, my husband bought my me new “should be” favorite snip toed, wing tipped boots. But they aren’t. They aren’t even my fabulous Corral boots, that a sales lady at the only “western” store we could find in the Minneaplis area, thought were “vintage”… I’ll take that as a compliment! I can’t even say my favorites are my most fabulous Muck Boots anyone has seen because I “girlified” them with some awesome fuzzy boot covers that my mother in law gave me for Christmas one year.
I have to say that my favorite pair of boots are a pair that I havn’t purchased yet.
I believe my favortie boots are going to be the 1st pair of boots that my Little Blessing, Ellie, wears. For some reason, out of all the cute clothes and gifts that she’s recieved, we havn’t recieved a pair of boots yet. I’m thinking it’s because that’s something that her and I are going to get to share together. Maybe our Bestie-Jessie will even be able to join us in the fun… and to Jake’s dismay, pass on our love for a good pair of boots… For every occasion!

Mandy's Boots

Mandy’s Australian Boots (via Facebook)

Yes, there’s a lot of soul in those soles….

I wish I could have you all over for that hike, now more than ever. But more than that I wish I could give you all a free pair of boots!

But alas, the winner of the drawing has to be announced. And if there was anyone else in this house with me I would make them do a drumroll, but there isn’t. And I don’t have drums.

So everyone tap the toes of your favorite boots while I announce the winner of the Rocky Boot Stories Giveaway!

Taptaptaptaptaptap…..

Suzie from Quirky Culture 

Suzie’s name was drawn out of my husband’s smelly old hat (because it’s the hat the makes the man). She shared a beautiful story about how buying her first pair of cowboy boots in Nashville, Tennessee was her first step into a new life.

Suzie, email jessieveeder@gmail.com and I”ll get you on the road to buying your Rocky Boots!

Read Suzie’s story and all of the boot stories shared in the comments of the post “Boot Stories (Prize Alert)” and then head on over to my Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram  and do the same.

Thank you Rocky Boots for the giveaway and for making boots that are made for all sorts of wonderful men and women.

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And thank you again for sharing a little piece of yourself with me, the special piece tucked into those fabulous boots.

Peace, Love and the Perfect Pair,

My singing boots!

Jessie

Sunday Column: What it means to be a cowgirl

The wind is blowing so hard out here it woke us out of a dead sleep early this morning and detached some of the new shingles on the roof of the garage, undoing in one second some of the hard work Husband laid down last weekend when the weather was a little less tornado-ey and a bit more melty.

You never know what you’re going to get out here. If I’ve learned anything this winter I’ve learned that. 

So we’re spending the day inside making shelves, making plans, making progress and making egg in a hole.

Ever had it? It’s gourmet.

Later today after I get tired of handing my dear husband things like nail guns, screwdrivers,   sandpaper and the thing he just asked me to find that I will never find because I have no idea what it is, I will go hide in my room and play some cowboy music and try to get  prepared for our trip to Elko on Tuesday. 

This trip to another region of cowboy country has gotten me thinking about my roots and where I may have picked up on the idea that I want to stick around here and ride horses for the rest of my life.

In fact, lately I’ve been in touch with a woman from New York who is working on “The Cowgirl Project,” a documentary and movement that explores what it means to be a cowgirl. She’s going to meet me in Elko next week and we’re going to talk about it a bit more, but to prepare she called me up and asked me for my initial thoughts on the topic.

Visit www.barbaranewmancreative.com for more information

At the time I was riding in the back of my Big Sister’s car as she drove our dad around town, a sort of outing we’d been scheduling that week to get him out into the world as he recovers. Lately I’ve found all of the women in my life have had to ‘Cowboy Up,’ so to speak, to tap into the best and strongest parts of ourselves to move through the scariest moment of our lives and come out better–more compassionate, more understanding and more capable–on the other end.

But I have to be honest, I’ve never thought to define the word “cowgirl.” And so when I was asked to do just that, I sort of started rambling. I mean, I have plenty of thoughts on what it means to be a cowboy, but really, when I get right down to it, some of the best cowboys I know are women.

And they don’t all wear hats and chaps and ride a strawberry roan. 

No. In fact one of the best cowgirls I’ve known, the one who showed me at a young age the kind of woman I could turn out to be if I stuck here with the cattle and the buttes and a roast in the oven, was my grandmother.

And when I think of her I think of an old free feed cap and hands that can soothe a baby and fix a fence.

When I think of her I think strong, not just in muscle but in spirit.

When I think of her I think of homemade rag dolls,  popsicles on the porch, rainwater catching in the barrel below the house and digging up potatoes in the garden out back.

When I think of her I think overalls in the winter and her voice yelling “Come Boss! Come Boss!” as my grandpa threw out grain for the cattle.

When I think of her I think of family and holidays surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles in a tiny kitchen on the prairie, homemade buns and the jello salad she always forgot in the refrigerator. 

When I think of her I think of that old sorrel horse, the one I rode when she was gone. The one that taught me how to fall off and get back up again.

Coming Home: How I define a cowgirl
by Jessie Veeder
1/26/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

There are plenty more like her out there, some of who’ve never sat thier ass in a saddle, but if asked to get ‘on up there  would give it her best shot, with confidence, grace and good humor.

And when you got home there would be a roast in the oven and maybe a jello salad somewhere in the back of the fridge.

And I don’t know what it all means except that as long as their are women out there who know how to “cowboy up,”–in between sidewalks or on the wide open trail–I think we’re all going to be ok.

If you need me I’ll be in my room singing about it.

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

The roundup.

Sometimes we have to bring the cows home.

This is what that looks like…

when it takes a little longer than planned to get them there.

And this is what it looks like in the morning waiting for the rest of the crew to come and help finish the job.






Rounding up. Gathering. Sorting. Working.  Punchin’ ‘

These are all words for moving cows home, although I can’t say we wear out the last very often.

I should start though.  Cow Punchin’ sounds cool and retro and as you know, that’s the image I strive for.

Well, something like that, but anyway…cow punchin’ is my favorite task on the ranch. I like the idea of gathering everything up in a big black mass of bellering and creaking and munching from all across the Veeder Ranch acreage. I like to make a big swoop of the place,  riding alongside the cowboys, loping up to hilltops, opening gates and following behind a nice steady stream of marching cattle on a well worn path.

I like the crisp air and the way my bay horse moves under me, watching and knowing and doing a better job of anticipating a cow’s move than I ever could.

I like the dogs and how they work as our partners in pushing the bovines forward, seeking approval and a little nip at the heels of the slow ones.

I like the way voices carry off into the hills and the conversations and curse words that come up when we’re all out in the world on the backs of horses.

I like how anything can happen and that anything always means a good portion of the herd will head for the thick brush and I will eventually have to go in there, no matter how many hats, mittens and chunks of hair have come to their final resting places among the thorns.

Or how many thorns have come to their final resting place in my legs.

This week was no exception: wool cap in the trees, tree in my hair, thorn in my leg.

Sounds about right.

Sounds just fine.

Because this is what it looks like when the cows come home in the light of day.





And no matter how many years pass, how many trucks hit their breaks on the way by or how many power lines or pipelines or oil wells cut through the once raw land. No matter the fact that some cowboys carry cell phones now and that I might hear one ringing in the trees below me, roundup always throws me back to the long held tradition of cattle ranching and care taking.

Because no matter what, horses and saddles and riders and neighbors and good dogs still work best to get the job done.

And technology can never save a rancher from the occasional necessity of standing in shit all afternoon.

No. In this line of work, some things just will not change.

Cannot change.

And so I tell you my friends,  if there is anything in the world that brings me peace…

it’s the roundup.

Heroes Proved

I’ve been writing music since I was a little girl. Some of it has escaped the walls that held me at the time, others have been locked up, unfinished, never ready to be played for anyone.

I have ideas. I try to show you. I try to tell it as I see it, or maybe as a stranger might. I try to share a little piece of me and my surroundings with whoever wants to listen.

I don’t always know what it is that I want to say.

Sometimes, if I’m lucky, the song knows better.

When I was in college touring the midwest in my Chevey Lumina, I wrote a song called “Heroes Proved.” It was the middle of winter in Northern North Dakota and I was cold. I was on the road and alone a lot. I missed home,  the smell of the sage and horse hair, black cows and the way the grass bends in the breeze.

I missed the neighbors and how they would come and visit on Sunday and linger over coffee.

And I missed cowboys, the ones I was convinced no longer existed in the world, except the few I left behind,  scattered and  lonely on the quiet scoria road.

I didn’t know if I would ever get back to that place for good.

I didn’t know if that place even existed anymore.

I didn’t know anything.

“Heroes Proved” was my way of asking the world to slow down.  I was desperate for it, but in a completely different way then I am now.

Now that I’m home and never leaving.

Now that I’m home and watching the world drive by–rushing, digging, kicking up dust on the way to meet the bottom line.

At 20 years old I couldn’t see the future. At 20 years old what I was writing felt so personal and disconnected from my peers. At 20 years old I couldn’t have known the progress waiting to barrel down that dusty road toward my family’s ranch, bringing me and the world with it.

“Heroes Proved” hasn’t been on my set list for years. I moved it out of the way to make room for new words and ideas.

I never considered that some of my songs might have become more relevant to me over time.

This is one.

“I think what you notice most when you haven’t been home in a while
is how much the trees have grown around your memories.”

― Mitch AlbomFor One More Day

The recipe for time.

The best part of summer is the back of a horse on top of a hill when the sun is slowly sinking down below the horizon leaving a gold sort of sparkle in its wake. And the cows are in their place, grazing in the pasture with the big dam and the tall grass that tickles their belly.

And that guy you love is finished arguing with you about how to get them there, so you can relax now and just love each other and take the long way home to notice how the coneflowers are out in full bloom and the frogs are croaking like they’re trying to tell us something urgent. Something like, “Hey, stop worrying about trivial things. Stop working so hard to make more money to buy more stuff. Stop moving so fast.  This is it right here guys. This is the stuff.”

Who knew frogs had such insight.

Around this ranch moving cattle is a sort of therapeutic chore. With everyone working a day job, taking care of the cattle is a priority that gets us home in the evening and out of the confines of the office, the checklists, the phone calls and the stress of the highway miles full of big oil trucks we pass by with white knuckles to get back home.

If our office could be the back of a horse all day, I think it’d be better for our blood pressure.

Maybe someday it will. Maybe not.

This is my third summer back at the ranch and every day I’m gaining more insight into what it takes to keep a place like this up and running. I’m beginning to understand that there are things in my life I need to weed out to make space for the time I want and need to spend out here on the back of a horse.

It’s funny coming from a woman who, three summers ago, started writing again because she had more time on her hands.

Because she didn’t know how to sit still.

Because she needed to work through what coming home for good means.

You’d think I’d have it figured out by now, but I’m not sure I’m there yet. For months our minds have been set on the bricks and mortar that hold us and all of the stuff we’ve picked up along the way.

That’s the step we are standing on.

But every day I look out the window, step outside to feed the dogs or pull at a weed or get in the pickup to move down the highway and I’m so overwhelmingly grateful that the summer came as promised.

And then I get a little lonesome.


And I haven’t figured it out quite yet, but I have a theory.

I have responsibilities. I have burdens I’ve placed on myself to move forward, to achieve goals. I have deadlines I’ve committed to and jobs to complete, people who have questions and dates marked on my calendar to leave.

And when I’m leaving I want to stay. When I stay I think I’m missing a chance.

What chance? I don’t know. Aren’t I where I want to be?

But I’m not eleven anymore. No one is buying my milk so I can play outside all day.

All I want to do is play outside all day.

All I want to do is sing.

All I want to do is write.

All I want to do is take photographs.

All I want to do is ride.

All I want to do is drink cocktails and sit on the deck that we need to build and catch up with my friends and family and take in the sunset.

All I want to do is everything.

Is this a battle we all fight, the battle of balance? I feel I’ve been fighting it my entire adult life, with a list of so many things I want to be, so many places I want to see, and only one body, one life to achieve it.

No frogs, I don’t want stuff. I want more time.

More time to sit for a bit on the back of a horse and watch the sun go down on a place I love with a man I love and watch the cows graze.

But no one is selling time, turns out it is homemade.

I just need to find the right recipe.

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.

A prayer for wild women…

To be content at the end of the day. As the sun goes down and the world goes dark, to know that it was yours for the taking, and so you took.

This is my prayer for you and wild women everywhere.

To know you’ve tamed some wild things, and let the others run free. To have ridden hard and fallen harder.

To have found your way back to your feet.

This I hope for you.

To have loved a good man, a good horse and a good dog, but not necessarily in that order.

To have been loved. I know you have been loved.

To have mud on your boots, on your face and under your fingernails and still call it a good day. To know the smell of a well-worked horse and call it sweet. To stand in the rain because it’s raining.

To find a soft place to land, wild women, I pray for a soft place to land.

To climb a hill to be closer to the moon.

To do it yourself because you can do it better.

To work. To work. To work. And to love it as much as you can possibly love it.

Wild woman.

Wild, wild women.

This is our prayer.