Sunday Column: A song about you

I spend my life telling stories. Most days it’s my own, but much of the time I’m looking for inspiration in others, whether it’s from behind the lens of my camera, my guitar or my computer screen, it’s the people out here who have things to say.

Things to teach us about the human condition.

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In this part of the country there are so many stories moving in and out of this place at a rapid pace. Each day in my booming community, something changes, a new house goes up, a new road is built, a restaurant opens its doors. It’s hard to keep up. Everything’s moving so fast.

A few years ago, when we were still living in the little old house, I sat down on the bed with my guitar while Husband cooked soup in the kitchen and I wrote a song called Boomtown, a song that attempts to tell the story of the different souls who have made their way to my hometown in the face of a the oil boom for a second chance, a job, a way to be home. A true folk song, the closest I could get to the ones I was raised on.

I’ve written about this place, this Boomtown, multiple times. The song has been the backdrop in documentaries and stories around the country, and even over seas.

This summer I decided it might be time to show you what it looks like here, in a different way.

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So a few weeks ago we gathered the band and hashed out a plan to make Boomtown into a music video.

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I can’t wait to show you these people, the heartbeat of a community that is hope and worry and chaos and relief, dreams-come-true and dreams shattered all in one place.

This week’s column is about the video and the people of Boomtown.

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Coming Home: Listening to the stories of Boomtown
by Jessie Veeder
9-7-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Stay tuned…

Buy Boomtown and the rest of my album, “Nothing’s Forever” on iTunes or at www.jessieveedermusic.com 

Happy Birthday! Love, Your Biggest Fan…

Today this guy here celebrates another year of living.

I just spent part of my morning writing about him, my husband, the man I’ve celebrated sixteen or so birthdays with in our lives together.

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I included photos and everything. I said something about the awesome birthday gift I got him that he picked out and purchased.

Kinda like the boots I told him he bought me a month before my birthday.

It was a good post. Real heartwarming.

Funny even.

Then my internet crashed and all that I wrote is lost in the abyss…

And I yelled, COME ON!

But it doesn’t matter now. What I really wanted to say is today we are celebrating the birth of a good man.

A patient man. Master of the grill. Master of the kitchen.

Folder of my underwear.  Fixer of broken things.

Troubleshooter of our lives together.

Caregiver.

Kitten

Terrible singer.

Yeller at stupid TV shows.

Wearer of a great collection of snapshirts.

Watcher of westerns.

A good shot.

Lifter of heavy things. My roadie.

Handyman, fisherman,

sportsman,

Huntingthe most handsome man in my camera lens.

I said all those things, eloquently. Was just about to send them out into the world…

And then…

CRASH.

But it doesn’t matter.

He knows who he is.

And what day it is…

Happy Birthday Husband,

Love,

Your biggest fan.

Sunday Column: Good days in a season change

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Ever had one of those perfect days? Where the sun is not too hot, and the clouds come at the right time and all of the things you want to do you do because somehow that voice in your head that is usually there nagging you about vacuuming and paying bills is just silent, quieted down enough for you to just live in the moment?

That seemed to be Sunday at the ranch. After a late Friday night and a busy Saturday of running around town filming a music video (yeah, I can’t wait to show you!)…

I woke up Sunday with plans on my sisters coming out to the ranch and then we would take it from there…hopefully on a horses’ back and then to the plum patch to fill our buckets.

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Husband said something about bow hunting as we squished together with our morning coffee on the big chair with the caramel rolls I decided to make.

 

Then Little Sister showed up and so did the sun and we went down to the barn to catch the horses, listening for Pops’ 4-wheeler coming down the road to join us.

And the three of us, Pops, Little Sister and I rode, through the east pasture and up to the fields to check out the plum crop before heading to the other house to meet up with Big Sister and Little Man to see if he wanted to take a ride too.

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And from there we ate lunch and made plans to pick plums from the patch we found up by the grain bins just loaded with branches of fruit. The plums this year are like nothing we’ve seen.

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So they met us up there, my friend and her two daughters, her dad and her gramma. They came driving up the trail and backed that pickup right up into the brush patch so the little ones could reach and we talked and swatted bugs and filled our buckets to the top in no time.

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Back at the house Husbands’ buddy pulled into the yard and they were shooting at targets, practicing their aim with the bow, warming up for the hunt that evening, dressing up in camouflage.

I came home with buckets of plums. They were off into the trees.

A rain storm blew through, leaving behind a rainbow and then a bright beautiful sunset. I played guitar and sang on that big chair as it passed.

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Then I pulled on my muck boots to walk under that sky because there’s nothing like the air after a summer rain.

This was back in the last day of August, the last day of the summer months and it was a good one.

One of the best.

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This week in my column I talk about seasons, in weather and in this life. I turned 31 last week. My high school friends have kids who are in first or second grade. I am not feeling as restless as I am planted here.

Coming Home: Life measured by seasons–even if we’re not ready for change
by Jessie Veeder
8-31-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Swaying to the band at the bar on Friday night…

You are a hammer, you are nails
spare change piled up on the nightstand
I am half drunk water glasses on the coffee table top

You are snap shirts over t-shirts
long hair tucked under your felt hat
I am stories scratched on napkins and all the things that I forgot

All the things that I forgot

I am seventeen and leaving
Twenty-one and almost gone
You are eighteen with a ring just waiting for the time

To be together on the backroads
Together at the movies
Together buying groceries in the supermarket line

In the supermarket line

For all the things here that aren’t worth taking chances
For all we lost that wasn’t worth the fight
You are strong arms wrapped around my shoulders
And we are swaying to the band at the bar on Friday night
We are swaying to the band at the bar on Friday night

You are six eggs over easy
coffee black and keep it coming
I am wild plums in a bucket in the heat of August air

You are that green Chevy
that we bought when we had nothing
I am all the windows rolled down tangling up my hair

You’re tangling up my hair

And you are generations of people leaving town
I am horses and hay crops in the field
You were not supposed to be the one to stick around
Then again I never really meant to leave here

Then again I never really meant to leave here

For all the things that aren’t worth taking chances
For all we lost that wasn’t worth the fight
You are strong arms wrapped around my shoulders
And we are swaying to the band at the bar on Friday night
We are swaying to the band at the bar on Friday night

You’re two fingers of whiskey. I am a glass of cheap red wine
and we are standing with our bottles in the supermarket line

Tangled.

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Out here on the ranch there are people and animals and machinery and water and buildings and growing things and plans thought out but maybe not discussed with one another…

When you combine all the moving parts sometimes things can go kinda weird, get tangled up so to speak.

Like last week I came home from something or other to Husband pushing dirt on the Bobcat, just like every other dry summer day. We have been working on landscaping and planning for a fence to keep the cows out of yard, so getting the dirt in the right places has been the longest and first step in the process.

Anyway, so I get home and I drop my bags, shuffle the mail pile on the counter and look out the window at the hill where the horses generally graze, and then down at the plum patch on the edge of what will be our fenced in yard one day.

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Then I notice a piece of wire or string or something stretched across the edge of the yard, from the plum patch, across the open toward the dam, with no end that I could see…

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With Pops and Husband involved in this place, a few scenarios run through my mind about the existence of this piece of wire or string or whatever.

1) Maybe Husband is staking out where the fence will go, which is good, because I think he’s right on in the placement.

2) Could Husband have strung a piece of electric fence or wire or something to temporarily keep the cows off his dirt moving masterpiece?

3) But it sorta looks like a piece of twine, and Pops was out here on the 4-wheeler the other day driving up the hill to check on things. I bet a peice got stuck to the back of his machine and he drug it a ways…that’s probably it…

4) Who the hell knows…these boys never tell me anything…I gotta call Pops, I’m too lazy to try to catch Husband on that Bobcat right now…

I dial…it rings…he answers.

“Hello.”

“Hi, it’s me. Yeah, did you like, string some twine across our yard, or like, maybe drag a piece on your 4-wheeler when you went by the other day…”

“No. No I didn’t. I noticed it too. It was there when I drove past…piece of twine, goes all the way up to the dam as far as I can tell…a cow musta drug it I think…”

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“Well that’s a theory…really? Weird…I wonder how far it goes?”

“Yeah, I don’t know…”

“Well, ok, just checking…I guess I’ll go investigate…wrap it up…”

“Yeah, ok bye.”

I hung up.

Wonder where a cow picked up all that twine? Wonder where it got hooked? On her foot? On her ear? On a tooth or something?

How did she pull it all that way without a snag or a snap?

I headed down to the plum patch, which seemed to be the middle of her destination, twine strung up in the thorns and heading toward the dam in one direction, to oblivion in the other…

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I grabbed it and followed it along the cow path that lead to the dam…
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To the edge of the dam where she grabbed a drink…

IMG_4185and then literally into the dam where she must have hung out to cool off.

IMG_4187And then turned around IMG_4188Then turned around to head to the shade of the trees up by the fence…

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But that was only the beginning. because there I stood with a pretty substantial roll of twine around my arm looking for the end, which seemed to be trailing back toward my house again, up the hill and toward the barnyard, with no end in sight.

I backtracked, to find the source, coiling as I went…

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It was going to be a long trip…

Back past the plum patch, up along the cow trail that turns into the road on the top of the hill. Past the old machinery and the broken down three-wheeler and lawn mower that we need to move for crying out loud. I have to get on that.

Then down toward the shop where the cow seemed to have gone back and forth, back and forth, zigzagging in front of the old tractor and little yellow boat. IMG_4217Then up to the old combine to scratch her back or something…

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Then back up to the top of the hill, across the road, to the scoria pile we’re saving for a literal rainy day, then back down through the brush on the side hill toward the old combine again, tangling up in the thorns of the prairie rose patch somehow…

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Then over toward the barn yard…wait, turn around, not yet…back in front of the shop, hooking on every stray weed and grass along the way, but never coming undone…no…where the hell did she pick this up?

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Why did we leave a big-ass roll of twine just laying around for some creature without opposable thumbs to go dragging for miles and miles across the countryside?

Why can’t we get our shit together around here?

How long is this damn roll? How long is this going to take?

Do you know how long this is going to take!!!

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And how does this even happen?

Where did it even…

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Begin? …

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Sunday Column: Traditions, heartbeats, one another…

img_9628.jpg When I was about 19 or so I wrote a song called “Heroes Proved.” I was knee deep in college and missing home, missing a slower paced life. Missing college. Missing a time when neighbors came over and sipped on coffee from a big mug and visited long enough to have a couple more refills.

It was a time I was certain all of the yard lights along the pink scoria road where I grew up were going to blink out one by one as stewards of the land grew old and moved to town, with no one in line to move in the old place, because there was nothing for them here.

I couldn’t be convinced then that just eleven years later I would be adding a yard light to the picture, staying up late building a life out here with plenty of prospects. Plenty to do.

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And down the road and up the road, other families, other friends my age or younger are moving into old houses or building roads to new ones, putting up walls where they plan on raising their babies and having friends over for coffee or for a bon fire and drinks late into the night.

It’s a new world. It moved fast in those eleven or so years when I got my first cell phone and used it only for calls back home because it was cheaper than long distance.

I was in college before texting and leaving campus right as Facebook hit the scene. I was a child of a less digital age, an age when you asked your dad instead of Jeeves or Google. The world looked different without YouTube, three thousand channels on television and more information at our fingertips than we had in our parents’ set of 1993 Encycopedias on the shelf.

Now I’m not always nostalgic for a slower pace. In fact, I owe my career out here in the middle of the buttes to the accessibility that technology has allowed. I am able to have virtual coffee with all of you on a whim, share my music and photos from the ranch, get to know you through cyberspace. Write. Submit. Send emails. Get paid.

But some days I want to throw it all in the stock dam and go running wild into the trees, over to my friends’ house to pick chokecherries and make plans for a pie and a neighborhood party. Because a neighborhood party is more important than seventy billion followers on Twitter.

For all the connections we have to one another these days, Skype, Snapchat, Instagram, FaceTime, Facebook and who knows what else, some days I just miss my friends.

And some days I wonder if I’m the only one feeling this way as I use Snapchat, Instagram, FaceTime, Facebook and, *gasp* the telephone, to invite them all over, bring some drinks, bring some noodle salad and sit with us, tell us how you’ve been while we dish up some slush burgers on paper plates and tell stories while we talk with our hands, spill things and laugh about it all.

Because in all the ways we can connect with one another, I like this one the best.

Turns out I’m not the only one. Turns out the art of a good get together has not been lost, and some souls are spending time preserving the oldest traditions. I know this, because we’ve been invited, to sing so they sing along…

Down the road a couple hours a family has fixed up a barn specifically for dancing,

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across the state communities have been celebrating centennials and milestones and summer with gatherings in parks and on the streets,

along the river in the big town a friend hosts a dinner at a farm…

And I sing on a horse drawn wagon…just because…

(Beth from Rhubarb and Venison hosts a dinner at Riverbound Farm near Mandan, ND)

Down my road my neighbor hosts a bonfire, in backyards and garages along neighborhood streets in town, people stop by to chat and have a beer…

In some of these cases social media, texting, Skype and telephone calls were all ways to get them there…in others, it was a whim, a neighbor missing a neighbor, a family hosting supper, an aunt needing to squeeze her niece, sisters needed to catch up, brothers off to site in their rifles or make plans for a bowhunting trip.

This week’s column is about these things we still hold on to, traditions, heartbeats, one another.

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This week’s column is on sipping coffee from a big mug, talking and sticking around long enough for another cup…

Coming Home: Get to know your neighbors and strangers
by Jessie Veeder
8-24-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Jessie’s column, Coming Home,  can be found weekly in newspapers across the state, including the Fargo Forum (Sundays), Grand Forks Herald, Bismarck Tribune and the Dickinson Press.

Another year…

Last night Husband and I sat out on the deck, poured some champaign and toasted to 8 years of marriage while the steaks and lobster tail I splurged on sat waiting in the kitchen to be cooked.

I’ve spent a lot of time away from this house-in-progress this summer, so it was nice to make a plan to stick around and enjoy it. My husband, he’s a good conversationalist, and I like to ask questions of him, hypothetical, favorite memory, why things work the way they do questions.

“In 8 years of marriage, what’s your favorite memory?”

“Tiling the bathroom upstairs,” he replied.

“Shut your face,” I said.

And then he said, “I don’t know. I like the collective. I like how it’s all working out the way I hoped. Most things anyway…”

We looked through our wedding album and commented on how brown the landscape was compared to this year, remembering the heat and the fire danger in 2006, and how maybe it wasn’t a great idea to roast the pig in a pit outside my parent’s house for the grooms dinner.

It feels like it was yesterday and 100 years ago all at the same time, when I was almost 23 and making this huge commitment to a man.

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I had no expectations, except that we would keep going the way we were going, singing and cooking and poking fun at one another to keep things light. I hoped for another few vacations to the mountains. I hoped for a dog and a baby or two.

I hoped for a house in the trees, one that looked a lot like the one I’m sitting in now.

Yes, it’s nice to see things coming together.

Most things anyway.

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I poured another glass of champaign and a hummingbird flew by us, an arm’s length away. I hit Husband’s shoulder to make sure he saw it. He said he did. He saw it perched up on the oak tree by the deck where it landed. Then he saw it come down to the pink petunias, the only deck flower I can sort-of keep alive.

Then the cat saw it, then it was gone.

Over by the dam a doe walked out of the shadow of the brush and into the light of the open. She was the color of a vibrant summer and we watched her flick her tail at flies and talked about hunting elk this fall.

When I was growing up with this man on a small ranch outside a small town in the small world of Western North Dakota, we were not supposed to mention that maybe we’d want to come home someday.

There was nothing for us here except maybe a job at the bank or a couple kids to raise. We needed to grow up in a bigger world…That’s what we were told, except I don’t know why now remembering how I watched our mothers do just fine, teaching us about happiness and love and how to make spaghetti for the family…

Somedays I wonder what I’d be like between the big city sidewalks. I like to think I would be just fine anywhere, if it’s where I chose. I’d like to think, but then I’ll never know.

But aren’t we lucky to have choices…

I fell asleep on my husband’s shoulder last night and woke up to a kiss on the cheek and a see you later tonight. Today it is 80 some degrees and the wind is sorta blowing. The cats and dogs are in the garage and I’m making plans to stain and finish that deck we sat out on last night.

I think I’ll go to town and buy supplies, pick up an ice cream for the way home.

Ice cream season doesn’t last too long, summer just sort of melts away slowly and then all at once, just like these years…

Just like that ice cream cone.

Some days, when I’m asked, I don’t know how to answer why it is that I decided to be a girl who came back home. Some days I feel sort of silly that I’ve been so loyal to a place and to a man, like maybe I’ve missed something. Like maybe people think it’s a sorta shame while they nod their heads and say “well, isn’t that nice…”

We play that game too, Husband and I. What would you be doing if you weren’t here?

Who would you be with?

He says he’d live alone in the mountains and drink lots of whiskey and trap things. He says he wouldn’t be such a good man if I wasn’t around.

He says the right things.

I say I’d probably still be driving the Chevy Lumina and watching TV on that little yellow set my mom got me when I moved to college. I’d probably still be driving around, wondering if it was time to land yet…

I’m glad I got to him before he became a mountain man. I’m glad he’s home when I come in late from playing a barn dance by a lake and a little town down the road.

I’m glad we’ve got each other.

Glad he likes whiskey so I could have the champaign to myself.

Glad that we get another year…

Sunday Column: On best friends and lemonade stands

We all had a best friend growing up. The one we would meet on our bikes every day in the summer, the one we got chicken pox with, the one who would fearlessly have our back in an argument with the stupid boy who kept pulling your ponytail in 3rd grade.

Mine had short blond hair and freckles and blue eyes and was always a foot or two smaller than me. She could do backflips and front flips and side flips on their trampoline, and could ride her bike with no hands or feet when I was still working on the one-handed trick. She had a tall roan horse named Teddy who looked pink and she would climb up on his back like a spider monkey and ride like the wind in the badlands after her dad after the cows.

She could make an expert Juneberry pie long before her 16th birthday and was my passenger in her dad’s old Lincoln when we got a flat tire and spun around on the road and into the ditch on our way to pick up a goat to practice tying.

She cried with me for one second and then pulled it together enough to help figure out how to change the darn thing…just a few minutes before some neighbor men showed up…

Yes I hope everyone had a friend like her. A best friend who knew you before you had lost all your baby teeth and made big plans with you while jumping from hay bale to hay bale. Plans to grow up and move out, get married and bring those boys back here someday so we can live here and be neighbors forever.

We all know most childhood plans don’t quite come to fruition, maybe because they are a little too big or too wild or too bold.

At the time when the roads were quiet out here and the towns were shrinking as fast as the porch lights were going out on homesteads along the pink roads,  asking to be grownups making a living on a ranch in North Dakota was probably about as far fetched a dream as we could conjure, and we only sort of understood that…

But we still believed it. And we were right to. Because just a few weeks ago I stood in the yard of her new house with a bottle of champaign and a request for a tour.

I didn’t ride my bike because I’m a grown up and now, but I came over to welcome her home, her and her three blonde haired, blue eyed kids and that boy she said she’d bring here,  along that once quiet highway.

My best friend, my neighbor again…

Coming Home: Childhood summers full of good ideas, plenty of things to do

http://www.inforum.com/content/coming-home-childhood-summers-full-good-ideas-plenty-things-do

by Jessie Veeder
8-10-14
http://www.inforum.com

On bighorn sheep and humans…

Oh my gosh you guys, look at this. 
It’s a baby bighorn sheep. He’s trying to get down to his momma.

And then look here, here’s the herd of nannies and babies I spotted a few weeks ago on a little drive through the badlands on my home turf.

The bighorns are badlands residents that I don’t get to see too often. In fact, this sighting was only my second in all the years I’ve lived and roamed around here.

So I was pretty excited to find a whole clan of mommas hanging out on a cliff in the badlands, posing for me.

These badlands that we live on the edge of are full of surprises, changing every day, every few minutes even, with the shift of light and weather.

Change is a big topic out here in these boomtowns exploding with growth above the shale formation where we’re busy extracting millions of barrels of oil.

Somedays are harder than others to get around, to make plans to accept that there are things that simply will never be the same. And this is both for the worse and for the better and that can be a hard thing to explain to people wanting to hear that it’s all black and white.

If I’ve learned anything from living back at the ranch it is that this world is full of blending colors…

Somedays I don’t feel like talking about it. Somedays I do.

But that day I was taking a drive outside of town, scoping out a spot for an oil truck  photoshoot.

A shiny oil truck in the middle of the badlands.

Not my usual subject and sort of a funny juxtaposition of industry and beauty…

I was kicking up dust on a gravel road, me and about a dozen other pickups, along the Little Missouri River, when I got a glimpse of this little family…

And so I slowed down and watched them eating on the yellow clover, twitching their tails at the bugs and content and unconcerned with the world outside the fence moving and changing so quickly around them.

I stepped out of my car to get a closer look. A trucker stopped with his camera.

And then a car. And another pickup.

Working people behind out of state license plates taking a marvel, taking a second to admire these mommas.

The guests came and went but I stayed for a bit longer, like a visitor at a zoo, studying their behavior, admiring how they move so easily up and down the cliffs. How they were made for this place.

I think I was made for this place. Most days I do. I was made to defend it and scuff my boots on it. I was made to witness it in all of its changes.

In its struggles.

In its best moments.

I was made to tell its story if I can. To ask questions and make sure I take notice of things that are just so spectacular. Things that we might miss if we drive too fast.

Sometimes I think we’re all driving too fast.

Maybe in another life I’ll be something like a  bighorn sheep momma, with just a few simple tasks, eating and moving and keeping us all alive….

Then again, maybe that’s all we’re really trying to do here…as humans…

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…