A North Dakota Story

I don’t know if you noticed, but North Dakota’s sort of popular right now.

In the last few weeks, it seems like every time I turn around I’m returning a call from a press source interested in this economic boom on the western edge, or I’m reading a story about how cool it is to be living on the eastern edge (and by cool, I don’t mean ear-flapper-cap cool, I mean like, actually, you know, cool).

Perhaps you’ve caught some of the blurbs in the news about our low unemployment rate and our endless job opportunities. Maybe you’ve heard about Western North Dakota’s boomtowns and eastern North Dakota’s revitalized downtown culture.

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Maybe you’ve got a gramma or a great uncle who lives here (seems like everyone has a gramma or great uncle who lives here).

Maybe you’ve just heard we’re home to the World’s Largest Holstein Cow. And the World’s Largest Statue of a Turtle. And the World’s Largest Bison. And the World’s Largest Metal Sculpture of Geese Flying Through an Enchanted Sky….

Or maybe your only impression of North Dakota is from that movie turned recent TV series Fargo, which, now that I think of it, could be responsible these days for all the recent buzz about our great state, even though it’s based in Minnesota, but hey, we’ll take it…

Anyway, I’ll tell you it’s pretty exciting for the residents of a state like North Dakota to get any attention that isn’t based solely on our accents, our sparse population and our subzero winters followed by explanations that Mt. Rushmore doesn’t live here.

And neither do mountains really…just badlands. Miles of beautiful badlands. And that’s good enough for us…

When I drove up and down the country singing for my supper, I spent much of my time on stage explaining to inquiring minds that, yes, we have running water up here and no, this is not a Canadian accent.

Talking North Dakota (in my North Dakotan accent) has always sort of been my thing, my roots running so deep and holding so strong that no matter where I traveled I couldn’t quite  shake the red scoria from my car or the pull to head back North to the buttes when the day was done.

Pink Road

A strong sense of place has been as much a part of me as breathing, and in this part of my life I can say I owe my living to this place.

Not just because it grew me, but because it inspires me, and inspiration, it seems, is how I’ve come to get and give back to this world.

Chasing cows on the back of a good horse through tall grass in a wet year; singing on a flat bed trailer in the middle of small town Main Street while a community visits and walks by, dipping corn dogs in ketchup on paper plates; walking out into the hills to places with no human footprints but my own; sledding parties and long winters spent writing music and fishing for walleye on a giant lake, a lake so big it has more coast line than the state of California. Quieter coast line I imagine. Quieter and muddier and with a  few more cows…

This is how this place made me.

These are reasons I wanted to come back.

Now there are many theories about what it means to be North Dakotan and what’s so appealing about a place once known as nothing but a sort of abyss of open plains, a place people left, a place once proposed better left back to the buffalo…

How do such warm, hospitable people spring out of such a brutal climate? How did North Dakota become so happy? Like top of the list happy?

What life is like in North Dakota, America’s New Happiest State

There are many theories, the economic boom, simple living, low crime, clean air, healthy people…

Good people.

North Dakota has always had some good people.

And I met some this week as I washed the cat prints off my car and headed east to Fargo to attend and speak at a North Dakota Bloggers and Writers Workshop as one of almost forty women (and two or three men) who came from all over to discuss writing North Dakota’s story.

There were travel writers, food writers, fashion writers, gardening writers, culture writers, writing writers,  mommy writers, photography writers, cooking writers,  farming writers, restaurant writers, poets, journalists, well dressed city girls and country girls who could relate to the whole cat print on my car thing…

We exchanged stories and tips between sips of cocktails, bites of bratwurst and convincing each other that another dessert and another beer was perfectly acceptable.

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I have to tell you it was wonderfully inspiring to gather this way. In this life out here I spend much of my time formulating ideas and writing in the quiet, miles away from these women who are working and searching and formulating and expressing their own ideas about life and love and food and work on the prairie, between the sidewalks or in the oil fields of our great state.

And what these writers reminded me of is what I’ve always known–that North Dakota is a different type of home, a different destination, for each and every one of us. We all see her and know her, discover her and love her in our own ways…

In the sink of the sun below a wheat field. In the cheers in the gym of a small town basketball game. In the taste of a dish made from the wild pheasant in the brush. In the long road that brought her back. In the eyes of a man who loved it first.

Yes, right now the world seems to be looking our way, eyes fixed to the North to see what all the fuss is about, and I’m so happy to share what I know to be true of this place.

And proud to know there are so many other beautiful stories being told…

Thank you North Dakota Tourism for presenting me with the North Dakota Ambassador Award, I’m happy and proud to sing the praises of my home and thank you for your work in promoting all this great state has to offer! 

Sunday Column: I’ll be an old woman

I’ve been thinking about growing up lately, about my age and what it means to be an adult, to be a grown woman. To be established in my skin.

Maybe it’s the changing of a season, another summer coming upon us and the noticeable way my plans have changed from frolicking around the hills on the bare back of my sorrel horse to fulfilling obligations and responsibilities, meeting deadlines and penciling in time for the fun.

Maybe it’s the new silver scattered in my hairline, the silver I just sat in a chair for hours to have covered, to camouflage the passage of time as it’s made a splattering of an appearance for the world to see.

It could be those things and then it could be how it feels to watch my big sister raise an almost four-year old, my little sister finish her Master’s degree and my parents make plans for a new chapter in their lives.

Or it could be tax season and the oh, so grown-up responsibility and that cringeworthy check I’m plopping in the mail for the government today.

Maybe. Maybe it could be that.

When I was a little girl no one told be about these things. About what it’s like to wake up one day and realize that the growing up part isn’t like a music montage in a Disney movie.

No one told me the adult version of myself might forget about the ten-year old girl who used to wonder out loud when a person turns from a kid with energy to burn into a tired adult who would rather sit on the porch and drink coffee. No one told the ten-year-old version of myself that one day, I too would find myself a little too tired at the end of the day to build forts in the trees and stay out until dark or suppertime, whichever came first.

No one explained to me that one day that supper would be my responsibility and it’s importance would eclipse my waning desire to lean logs up against fallen trees.

I wouldn’t have believed them anyway.

But all that doesn’t matter now. I’ve made it this far and between the work and the worry I decided I needed to make some promises to myself.

About getting older.

About the kind of woman I want to be.

The kind who doesn’t bother with things like gray hair and doesn’t get worked up about mud on the floor.

The kind that saddles her own horse and breathes in the spring air, declaring the beauty of the season change while searching for crocuses.

The kind that doesn’t mind the passage of time. Who wears the lines on her face and her weathered hands with grace, a badge of a life well lived under the big blue sky of home.

Making these sort of declarations is freeing. To know how I want to turn out, to see myself there in my garden below the house, to know with as much certainty as that ten-year-old girl I used to be that I want to be the kind of old woman who doesn’t just live here on this place, but becomes a fixture, like the old fence posts holding stretched wire across the landscape–expected, subtle, weathered, wise.

Useful.

Beautiful.

Coming Home: When I grow up, I want to…
by Jessie Veeder
4-13-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Catch me at the
North Dakota Bloggers & Writers Workshop
Monday, April 14, 2014
Fargo, ND

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: A season comes home again…

The sun sets on an old day

I hit the road to see a friend

Some days I need to leave this place

so I can come home again

Coming Home: Winter blues washed away by spring melt
by Jessie Veeder
3/16/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Sunday Column: The miles together

photo-64We’re leaving Nevada this morning, saying goodbye to our first National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. I’m sitting in my hotel room at the Rodeway Inn listening to sound of my husband’s breath rise and fall as he sleeps, cars swooshing past this door on their way to  church or the grocery store down the road, and my fingers clicking on the keys, procrastinating the task of packing up the clothes draped over chairs and tables, cords and papers, CDs, toothbrushes and shampoo bottles and to-go coffee mugs strewn about before we hit the road again.

In a few minutes Husband will wake up and jump in the shower. If I can get it together, we’ll be out of here in an hour or so, turning up the radio and pointing the car back toward a beautiful part of Idaho we look forward to seeing in the daylight. When we get hungry we’ll pull in the next town, head toward Main Street and hope for one of those really great diners, the ones where the old folks go after church. He’ll order chicken-fried-steak and I’ll have a burger and we’ll sit and chat and notice things about this place that we like.

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When the miles start to drag out before us we might start making plans for the barn or the unfinished house. Or I might wonder out loud what sort of animal I was in a past life. A Canadian goose, I’ll say, like the two who fly away together and return to the stock dam every spring…

In my life I have been given a solid traveling companion (and this week, he’s made a pretty great purse holder, guitar carrier, outfit chooser, audience member, and therapist too). We’ve  put on a lot of miles together, back and forth and up and down and home again.

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We have three more days on the road–a yet to be determined stop tonight when we’re road weary and one in White Sulphur Springs, Montana on Monday before heading back home. These miles could be daunting, but they’ve never been for me as long as we’re taking them together, sitting close, moving forward and wondering about things…

Coming Home: Stretch of road brings back memories
by Jessie Veeder
2-2-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com 
photo-65

Diners, Fenceposts and Cowboy Poems: Road Trip to Elko

1,037 miles, 16 hours, seven thousand fenceposts, one overnight snowstorm,

two or three little hometown diner meals

one night in a Comfort Inn in Idaho Falls and a couple of tourist moments later…

Twin Falls, ID

and we finally made it all the way down to Elko, Nevada from the great white north to participate in the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

There’s cowboys here from all over the country, but it turns out I’m the only one with red scoria still stuck to her car and a good ‘ol Northern, kinda sounds like you’re from Canada, accent.

And I’m the one hanging around with this guy.

I can’t tell you what it means to be here surrounded by all of this talent, all of these stories of ranch living, all of these expressive people in hats and boots and some really great mustaches. Last night I met a hat maker with a leather-tooled neck tie and vowed I’d find one and start spreading his style-sense back in North Dakota.

Would it be weird if I wore a leather tooled neck tie?

Maybe.

Anyway, last night was my first gig at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Martha Scanlan sound check

I took the stage at the Convention Center for a show called “Straddling the Line,” with landscape storyteller and accomplished musician Martha Scanlan and sage rocker and cowboy Brenn Hill.  In its 30th Anniversary the gathering is focused on the next generation of cowboy poets, singers and storytellers so we each took our turn talking and singing about what it means to be out here loving our land and the work we do.

Watch the full concert here: 

The audience and the people here are warm and inviting. We’re from all over the country, but we have things in common and so much to learn from one another. Wednesday night we rolled into town and bought tickets to a Ranch Radio Show where Stephanie Davis sang about the magic of baling twine, and besides the leather-tie promise, I promise to learn all the words to that song, because I swear it was written about Pops.

Today the streets and concert halls will fill up again, a sea of cowboy hats and the buzz of information, stories and music being passed around.

This morning we will walk down the street for a fresh donut and I’ll take the stage with my friend D.W. Groethe before heading back to the Convention Center to join other forth and fifth generation ranchers to talk about what it’s like to be back on the ranch.

Tonight we will see Ian Tyson and dance at Stockmens.

And tomorrow we’ll do it all over again before heading back up north to the horses taking in the winter sun on the top of the hills outside my window.

Music has given me so many gifts in my life, this week is one of them.

Grateful to be here. Grateful to tell my story.

Grateful that you all are listening and sharing yours too.

Peace, Love and Happy Trails!
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.

Cowboy Singing

We’re looking ahead out here in the arctic tundra. Every day Pops is getting stronger and more antsy and our biggest job is to keep him from taking the keys and heading out the door without us.

I keep reminding him that it’s only been 2 weeks since they cut him open and rearranged his heart, but it doesn’t matter.

He’s ready to move on.

And so we are. Moving on and looking forward, me in particular to next week when I’ll be loading up my guitar and my husband and all of my boots to head on down to Elko, Nevada for the 30th Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

It’s a big event and my first visit as an entertainer, so I’m excited.

And then I saw my name in the Western Horseman Magazine and I got even more excited.

North Dakota. Montana. Close enough.

Then I got nervous.

And I’ve been going back and forth between those two emotions for a few months.

But it’s going to be a good trip and I’m happy to be a part of an event that celebrates and lifts up Cowboy culture with poetry, art, music, dancing and lessons on things like leather-working, two-stepping and cast-iron cooking.

It’s our kind of party, I tell you what.

I’ve always been thankful for the opportunity to grow up in these hills so I’m thankful for the opportunity to tell my story a few state’s over.

And I’m thankful for the music.

If you’re in the area, stop on over. Here’s my schedule:

Thursday, January 30

Straddling the Line

With Brenn Hill, Martha Scanlan & Jon Neufeld
8:30-10:00 PM
Elko Convention Center Auditorium
$35/$30
Fusing deep rural experience with diverse musical influences, 29-year-old troubadour Jessie Veeder demonstrates that the younger generation doesn’t really leave the ranch behind–but they may find themselves straddling the line. The musical outcome is electrical and enthralling.  

Friday, January 31

Jessie Veeder & DW Groethe
10:45 – 11:45 AM
Flag View Auxiliary

Back on the Ranch
With Meghan O’Toole Lally and others
1:00-2:15 PM
Gold Room, Convention Center

Saturday, February 1

Across the Medicine Line
With Doris Daley & Rodney Nelson
10:00 – 11:00 AM
Gold Room, Convention Center

Being Cowboy in a Digital World
with Jessica Hedges & Jolyn Young
2:30-3:45 PM
Gold Room, Convention Center

Here’s a link for more information about the gathering. 
www.westernfolklife.org

And here’s a link to a little interview and a few songs I played on a North Dakota Morning show. I woke up at 4 am to get there in time, so please take that into consideration with your critique :)

Music with Jessie Veeder
NBC North Dakota Today

For more information about my music visit:
www.jessieveedermusic.com 

 

Sunday Columns: What faith might be

The reason I write is to share, to relate and reason and wonder out loud. The reason I read is to find a common ground, to learn about the world and those who exist here and to find out that I might not be so alone after all.

When I wrote about my dad’s survival from a major heart condition and emergency surgery last week, it was my way of connecting the dots, researching and sorting through my own feelings. I was terrified. I was grateful. I was nervous and worried and not breathing. I was on my knees.

And then I was alive. Alive with my family in the middle of the frozen North Dakota prairie.

Alive with my dad who means more to us in this world than we could truly understand before.

Before we almost lost him.

And now here we are. It’s been two weeks since he opened his eyes and declared he was living and every day we learn something new about what it means to be hopeful, to have faith, to wonder why and how and what next.

But I don’t really know what next, except that the cowboy is getting restless and we all prayed for this moment.  His sister took him to visit his aunt and uncle yesterday. Then we drove him to the badlands, my aunt, my little sister and I. We drove through those buttes with the window down a little and then stopped to take a walk on a paved trail through the campground before driving him back home in the sunset.

Since I got my dad back all of the the little things have become big things.

All the things I thought were so big have become much smaller now.

And I know I still wonder about all this.

Because I wrote his story and it was out there then, out there being read and shared and open for discussion. His story was seen by thousands of humans around the world. He received hundreds of comments and messages wishing him well, thankful that he was alive. Glad that we got our dad back.

Because some of them did too and they felt our joy and relief.

And some of them didn’t.

The week before Christmas one of my best friends was scheduled to deliver a baby. Their first. I visited her the month before and we took pictures and talked about names. We decorated the nursery and made plans for my next visit when she would have a little baby boy or girl in her arms. When she would be a momma.

The week before Christmas, as planned, my friend delivered a beautiful baby boy.

All he needed to do was breathe. To suck in the air of this world. To cry and scream with the shock of it all and their dreams would be fulfilled. Their prayers would be answered and life would move on.

But the baby didn’t take a breath. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. No matter how hard they prayed.

A week before Christmas my friend met and lost her first child.

And I can’t shake this as I walk with my father down the paved trail in the badlands, bring him tea and sit with him as we watch t.v. or play the guitar and think about the months ahead when the snow melts and the earth greens up and we get back to work. Get back on the horses. Get back to life as our lunges fill with air and our hearts beat strong and alive within our chests.

How can a world be so cruel and so forgiving all at the same time?

We all have our own story. My dad has his. My friend has hers. And the only lesson I can take with me as I move through the days is that we just don’t know the plan. We don’t know how tomorrow might hurt us or make us rejoice.

And maybe I am grateful for that. Maybe I am scared as hell. I’m not sure yet.

But what I do know, what I have learned is that our pain, our struggles and our joy is not ours alone. And maybe that’s the only thing that faith can really provide for us after all.

The promise that we are not alone.

Sunday Columns

The day my dad lived
by Jessie Veeder
1/19/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

A happy life starts with what you do on the weekends
by Jessie Veeder
1/11/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Life about laughter, not resolutions
by Jessie Veeder
1/4/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Sunday Column and a Holiday Re-Cap

I just had a sugar cookie for breakfast.

Ok. Two sugar cookies. And I’m contemplating a third.

But they were relatively small–little green and red churches–so like two equals one.

Anyway, don’t judge me. I am working on coming down from a whirlwind of Christmas festivities that started ten days ago with prime rib and presents at the in-laws and carried on with the eating and merriment until last night when Husband and I crawled into the house around 11 PM under the falling snow after a quick trip to Arizona to celebrate one of our best friend’s marriage.

Yeah, we get fancy when we need to…

There was still frosting on the counter from the sugar cookie and crafting debacle that ensued on Christmas Eve.

There was wrapping paper stuck to chairs, stale Chex Mix on the table, crusty pancake bowls in the sink and undelivered presents for the neighbors waiting to be unwrapped under our un-lit and lean-y Christmas tree. 

We dropped our bags at the door and trudged up the steps, swept the remains of our day-after-Christmas whirlwind packing episode off the bed and on to the floor and proceeded to fall into a Christmas Coma.

Seriously.

I have pillow lines on my face that will take weeks to fade, just like the dents in my feet from the heels I wore to dance the night away on Saturday.

But oh, we had fun for Christmas…




photo-51

photo-53

And then…the extraction of a runaway remote control helicopter from the chandelier…

And oh, we have such great people in our lives. Between our Thanksgiving Disney Adventure,  my little Christmas concert tour in mid-December, Christmas with the family and wedding festivities with my best friends under the Arizona sun, we got to see and squeeze so many people we love this holiday season.

View More: http://thelivephotobooth.pass.us/131228-biltmoreAnd it’s that kind of squeezing, that kind of love and celebration that gets us through the deep-freeze of December and helps propel us and thaw us out a enough to bear with optimism the upcoming North Dakota January.

Unfinished houses and all…

That and an occasional glass of whiskey.

And so, while the snow is falling outside my window today in quiet little swirls, I am sipping coffee from my holiday mug, planning our New Year’s meal and warming up with memories of a holiday well spent.

View More: http://thelivephotobooth.pass.us/131228-biltmore

Because in a few days I will go on missing summer, but today I couldn’t be warmer.

Sunday Column:
Horses weather winter better than their human counterparts
by Jessie Veeder
12/29/13
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com