Sunday Column: The longest season

It’s been snowing all weekend.

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Actually, it’s been snowing all week.

Yesterday, after a night out singing with the band until 4 am I was a pathetic pile of “I’m too old for this…”

and, thankfully, the weather cooperated with my lack of sleep. On and off white-out flurries outside my window coincided nicely with the opening and closing of my eye lids.

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At one point I mustered up enough energy to look at myself in the mirror and actually scared myself.

“Wow,” I said to MYSELF from our bathroom upstairs. “I’m a mess.”

To which my husband replied a little too quickly and a little too loudly from his perch at the kitchen table downstairs, “Yup.”

“Shut it,” I said said as I found my way back to the fuzzy blanket on the couch with my kitten.

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And that was about the extent of our conversations that day, up until I woke up from my late afternoon nap and wondered out loud what he was going to cook me for supper.

But he was putting together a gun or something on the kitchen counter, (classic hunting season scene) so I decided on macaroni and cheese and thought maybe tomorrow I would try life again.

So I went to bed.

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And today I woke up to more winter.

And so it begins.

But thankfully we saw it coming. We heard about that pesky Polar Vortex, but we could smell it in the air, see it in the wooly fur on the backs of the horses and the crust of ice on the stock dam in the mornings long before the weatherman came up with the clever graphics.

So I called up Pops and the two of us went on the last ride before the snow flew while Husband was out sitting in a blind working on filling his bow tag and our freezer with venison.

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And that’s what this week’s column is all about. It’s about noticing the signs of a changing world. It’s about the animals and how they move around us, the coyotes running wild outside our door, the deer in the rut, the horses carrying us into a new season, and this bald eagle that perched out in front of the windows of our house, posing just long enough so we could all see him before spreading his wings and flying away.

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IMG_9932Coming Home: Change of seasons hits inside and out
by Jessie Veeder
11-16-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

It’s about the minutes we spend just being aware enough to exist out here and appreciate it for what it is.

Gold turning to gray. Sun going down turning a blue sky black and our breath to puffs of smoke.

Fall turning quickly into the longest season.

IMG_0165I write a weekly column for North Dakota newspapers. Look for “Coming Home” Sundays in the Fargo Forum, and weekly in the Dickinson Press, Grand Forks Herald and Bismarck Tribune. Want my column in your newspaper? Let me know and I’ll help you make it happen!

Sunday Column: Texting on horseback

Yesterday I went out riding with Pops and Little Sister. We rode up to the fields to put some cows back in their place. It was a gloomy day, but sort of perfect for riding, just a little bit chilly, a little bit breezy, exactly what to expect for autumn in North Dakota.

I loved the view of the Blue Buttes and the two black cows and their calves along the road and two of my favorite people on my favorite horses in front of me. I wanted to tell you all about it. Show you the view from up here.

So I took a photo on the phone I had zipped up in my pocket, pressed a little icon, hit share, and, snap, just like that, it was out there for everyone to see.

I didn’t even have to stop my horse.

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I was grew up out here when bag cell phones were the smartest communication technology we could own. The idea of taking a photo on a cell phone that fit in my pocket while chasing cows in the middle of a field was unfathomable.

I mean, we didn’t even start getting cell service out here in these hills until last year!

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So it’s a weird juxtaposition, this technology in the wild places. I mean, think of how many walks home from the broken down tractor or feed pickup my dad could have saved if he could just call home to mom for a ride?

We wouldn’t have to re-live that time when mom drove right past him coming in out of the trees after his three mile walk from the west pasture at every Thanksgiving dinner.

The woman is a focused driver.

He could have just called. IMG_0331

Anyway, I guess I’m young enough to keep up and take advantage of this ever-changing phenomenon, but old enough to remember playing Oregon Trail on the computer at school on the first Macintosh computer ever invented.

In fact, I have this memory I rehash every time I call up Pandora on my smart phone or try to settle an argument about that one actor who plays that one guy in that one movie while Husband and I are on a road trip: The time he told me, on one of our long drives back to the ranch from college across the state, “Jessie, one day we’ll be able to drive down this highway and surf the internet.”

To which I replied: “Never! I can’t even imagine!”

It turns out he was right.

photo-66And it turns out you can do it on horseback too.

“Is that poison ivy?” You might wonder while you’re fixing fence…and the answers will be right there in the pocket of your snap shirt.

Wanna scare the shit out of your mouse-a-phobic aunt? You can instantly torture her with what you found in the tack room with one click of a button…

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“Are these boots as adorable as I think they are?” You might ask yourself while shopping 100 miles away from your fashion forward mother…and so you’ll just take a photo and send it along to her for an instant “Yes! Buy HAVE to buy them!”

So this is what I’ve been thinking about lately and what this week’s column is about…about how I’m thankful for technology, how it connects me to you, how it helps us tell our stories, how it helps me pay the bills…literally, and figuratively…

But what I’m not sure I expressed accurately in the 700 words I’m allowed is this:

I was born before anyone had a home computer.

We didn’t get internet in our house until I was well into Junior High.

I did research with Encycopedias.

And then, when we got the internet, with a modem.

When I was growing up we had maybe 20 channels. I’m not even sure. Maybe 10. I didn’t pay that much attention.

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I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was 18 years old and headed to college. And it was for making calls home.

I remember what it was like to be disconnected, except I didn’t know that I was ever disconnected.

And I’m thankful for that too.

Thankful that I am old enough to know that we survived without it, so that, when I drop my phone in the toilet at a gas station, I don’t lose my mind or my life.

I just lose my phone.

And it’s sort of nice.

Now, if they could just invent bur repellent my life would be complete…

Burs


Coming Home: Alone, yet always in contact
by Jessie Veeder
9-28-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Hey, while we’re at it, you should follow me on Instagram!
instagram.com/jessieveeder

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Horses and Home

IMG_5428It’s a little familiar, a little bit wild
A big dream in the wandering eyes of a child
It’s all of the secrets wrapped up in the land
And all that we know about the pride of a man

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It’s letting it go then holding on tight
It’s what’s left to lose at the end of a fight
It’s saying a prayer before hitting the ground
And when you need to be gone, it’s where you can be found

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And that’s how it goes
With horses and home

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It’s dirt under nails and work left to do
It’s fist clenching, back breaking, things that can bruise
It’s broke bits and burs and get up again
And all of the reasons to call someone friend

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And that’s how it goes
With horses and home

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We put up fences to own this place
Tame all the wild beasts and give them names
But we cant’ be sure just who’s being saved
When we let go of the reigns…

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It’s wind through your long hair then on to the trees
Forgiveness and bravery on trembling knees
And then there’s the part where you think you might be
Stronger than most and a little more free

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And that’s how it goes
With horses and home

IMG_5483 That’s how it goes
With horses and home

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Wild, restless things…

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

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

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

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

My armmmm…..myyy arrmmm fell asslleeepp…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Like rain in August…

It rained this morning. In August that’s a gift around here. Things have stayed green and fresh because of these little showers. So we are happy and so are the cows.

There are things in this life that are just simply good, and a rain in August in Western North Dakota is one of them.

The other is a ride through the pastures with Pops under overcast skies, checking the cows, the grass and the chokecherry crop.

There are a million chokecherries.

And you should see the raspberry bushes.

Aww, I miss summer, even when I’m in the middle of it.

I wonder how that can be? How can I be lonesome for these long days when I’m out in them, doing the things I wish to be doing when the winter drapes it’s cold arms around us and holds on for dear life.

I have done this my entire life, not just with summer, but other things as well. Like I remember distinctly laying on the floor of my grandma’s little house at the ranch, in a sunny spot after an afternoon of playing outside in the barnyard with my cousins, and feeling so content, so where I wanted to be, that I squeezed my eyes tight together and wished to never grow up…wished for time to stop…

How could I know at a such a young age that the way things were in that moment would inevitably change? How could I know enough to be sad about the fact that as it was happening it was also, slowly ending…slipping away from me into another uncertain day?

Yesterday, after my ride with Pops I came home to my Husband sitting in the Bobcat moving dirt around our house, creating a nice slope in the yard where we can plant some grass, build a fence and continue with the whole making our lives out here project.

I took a drive to the gas station and got him some fuel. I came home and helped him move boards out of the way, hauling and stacking and making plans for the next project.

It was Sunday and it was just us out there getting things done and I have always liked it that way, I’ve always liked Sundays, always wished them to be a little longer…

We’ve spent so much of our life here in the last few years planning for the future, the next project, that I am much more in love with the moments after they’ve passed than when I am in them.

And some days I just miss when it was a little simpler…when we lived in my grandmother’s house over the hill and everything was broken and tumbling down, we didn’t have enough space for our things, we had wide eyes and a few less gray hairs and the rest of our lives to look forward to, so let’s just go down to the river and go fishing…

But anyway, our lives stretch out before us every day, staring at us with ideas and procrastination and all of the things we should be doing.

Some days it’s nice to just believe that what we’re doing is what we’re supposed to be doing. And I knew it. I knew that when Pops came over on his 4-wheeler to get his dog (she decided to spend the night with us) that I should follow him down to the corrals and saddle up.

I knew that I should taste the chokecherries, even though I knew they were going to be bitter, not quite ripe for the eating.

I knew that I should get Husband a treat at the gas station, something sugary and cold to drink.

I knew that I should be standing out there in the yard with him taking directions and lifting things I am too wussy to lift.

I knew I probably shouldn’t have pointed out that my belly button was filled with dirt from all the manual labor…and then showed him…

Except I only knew after he told me I should keep that stuff to myself…but who else am I supposed to tell…that shit is funny…

And I knew that days like these, days where we get to choose what we should be doing, days where we get to make progress at building our lives, days where we get to sit on the back of a horse and ride a little further just because there’s time, are things that I’ll miss when the snow falls, my hair turns gray and they are gone from me.

Like rain in August…

I don’t want summer to end.
I don’t want to grow up.
I don’t think Husband will ever admit that he also had dirt in his belly button…

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

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.

Sunday Column: To simply live.

A few weeks ago on one of the first warm days of not-quite-spring, Little Sister made her way out to the ranch after school. We didn’t have any plans in particular, except that we both felt like we needed to take advantage of a sunny afternoon and then throw something on the BBQ for grilling.

Maybe we’d clean up the ditches.

Maybe we’d walk to the top of the rock hill in the east pasture.

Maybe we’d search for crocuses.

Maybe we’d catch the horses and take the first ride of the season.

And because that last idea sounded like the best idea, we called up Pops to see if he’d join us. But Pops was likely out on his own spring day walk-about and so, understandably, wasn’t answering calls.

We could have taken a ride by ourselves, just the two of us, but something about it didn’t feel right.

So Little Sister and I meandered, up to the top of Pots and Pans, where we kneeled down to inspect the crocuses, then along the top of that hill and across the fence to the fields where we followed the trail past where once, a million years ago, Little Sister watched me jump off my horse and emerge from the weeds with a concussion and a crooked and broken wrist.

We followed that trail down to where it met the road and we talked about everything and nothing like sisters do. Taxes and deadlines, summer plans and new recipes, our funny nephew, our mutual hatred for wood ticks, traffic and how things have changed around here.

Then we took a left off of that road and walked down to the hay pen where we used to feed cattle in the winter. Where once, when I was little, I watched dad get chased down by a mad momma cow while he was ear-tagging her calf.

It’s funny how all of these places out here hold different obscure memories for all of us. I doubted that Pops remembered that momma-cow incident, but at the time I was sure it was the closest he’d ever come to death.

Because, even as a kid I was aware that this life was fragile. I think growing up on a ranch surrounded by the sometimes cruel realities of nature helps a kid understand these things.

It’s a lesson I am glad to have, but sometimes I wish I could tuck away the worry as easily these days as I did back then.

See, I’ve told my sister, and I’l tell you, that ever since that long, cold week in January spent sitting next to our dad and willing him to live, to take more breaths with us, to keep pumping blood through that heart, I’ve been jumpy and much too aware that at any moment everything could change.

And I’m planning on it wearing off, that worry melting away from me as the sun warms my back and the tips of the long grass. I plan on unclenching my teeth and dropping my shoulders a bit as I remember that we can only know what’s in this moment, and in this moment we’re fine.

My sister talked about the future then and where she might build a house someday and we walked up the hill toward my house, then headed for the trail in the trees that would take us back inside, stopping to take a look at the Blue Buttes and how the sun hit them that evening, turning them purple…

And then we turned around, two sisters standing side by side. Two sisters who cried over the idea of their father’s last day on earth and took turns sitting with him during those long nights in the hospital, me from 10 to 2 am, her from 2 to 6…these two sisters who learned to ride horses by his example saw that dad riding towards them up over the crest of that hill.

His first ride, the one we prayed for, the one I promised him he’d have again if he just held on.

Last weekend I stood next to my dad on a stage behind a guitar and we sang out into a small crowd of dancing people words to songs it seems we’ve known forever, if forever was a promise we ever believed we were given.

But it doesn’t matter now. Because these things we do, the things that unclench our jaw and soften the hard parts of living, I believe they pull us through with their own promises, not to live forever, but to simply and fully live.

Coming Home: Some things in life are uncomplicated 
by Jessie Veeder
5-3-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Love and snow fall…

We woke up this Valentines Day to find a nice fresh coat of fluffy snow, a little sun and some sparkle in the air.

I was happy to see it, because for about three months it’s literally been too cold to snow.

Yes.

Too. Cold. To. Snow.

That’s a thing here.

Which means I’ve been cooped up a bit, and so has my camera. Things like cameras and fingers don’t work too well when it’s too cold to snow.

But those clouds and that sun seemed to be working this morning (I mean it was like 10 degrees above zero) so I went out in it.

A gift to myself for a day covered in love.

Love and sparkly snow on the tips of berry covered branches…

On the noses of dogs…

Ok, all over the faces of dogs…

On the tips of the grass…

On the backs of horses…

In barnyards…

and all of the things made more beautiful with a little light…

and a little frosting.

Happy Valentines Day Friends. Spread a little love today.