Sunday Column: On summer, and the uninvited…

In the spring of the year we dream of all the possibilities the summer will bring. We prepare for the work that needs to be done and make plans to hit the lake and take long rides to hunt for raspberries.
IMG_0080We clear the deck of snow and ice and wait patiently for an evening warm enough to enjoy a cocktail out under a setting sun where we eye the garden and visualize it’s late summer bounty…

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Yes, in the longest winter of our lives, we dreamed of our garden. Of plump, ripe tomatoes. Of cucumber sandwiches with bacon. Fresh garden carrots, with a little dirt still stuck in the cracks. The snap of a pea pod. The crunch of a bean steamed with butter.

The satisfaction of the taste of our growing things…

This May I helped Pops plant those little seeds in neat rows, the cucumbers in mounds, the tomato plants neatly caged up. We hoed and weeded and watered and watched those little seeds sprout…

We covered them when the frost threatened…

And then we left for Minnesota for a little getaway, hoping that the rains would come and keep things moving along…

Hoping the sun wouldn’t scorch things while we were gone.

Hoping the hail didn’t tear the leaves.

That’s the thing about North Dakota. Growing things have to grow fast, we don’t have much time for stretching toward the sun.

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The weeds know this better than any other living thing I decided I when I went to check on our little plot of dirt when we made it back home.

“Where are the pea plants? Where are the carrot tops?” I exclaimed as husband and I started pulling up little thistle plants and vines that didn’t belong.

“Wow, I something’s wrong! There should be peas here! They should be tall and lush! There should be carrot tops for crying out loud! Keep pulling, keep looking! Get Martha Stewart on the line, we’ve got issues here! A garden emergency!”

Husband just shook his head and calmly pulled and hoed at the things that needed to be pulled and hoed…

I grabbed the hose and sprayed frantically, cussing my black thumb and the idea that we had the guts to abandon a garden for a week at such a crucial time.

Could it be that we won’t have peas this year? Could it be that we won’t get fresh garden carrots or beans on the side of our steak supper?

Could it be the weather?

Could it be too much rain?

Not enough?

Could it be I planted things too deep?

Could it be…none of these things…

No.  It’s  just her.

Dad's Deer

See her there trying to hide behind the patio furniture?

She’s taken over. It’s a buffet and it’s her “all you can eat” secret.

And she’s at Mom and Pops’ every night.

Her favorite dish? Peas.

Dessert? Mom’s geraniums.

And nothing can stop her. Last night I heard her hissing at the dogs.

Step out on the deck and she barely lifts her head, each bite and munch crushing our garden dreams…

A million acres of sweet clover and this girl prefers Pops’ tomatoes.

Funny how, in the middle of the deep freeze of winter, our summer memories skip over mosquito bites, black flies, pig weeds that grow over our heads, barn swallows that make nests in the garage and shit on my car and pretty, bossy, little deer that bite the heads off of petunias.

Ah, every season has its battle. This week it’s all about ours…

Coming Home: Battling the annoying side of nature
by Jessie Veeder
7-20-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Cheers to the best parts of summer and here’s hoping all your house guests have been invited…

My column, Coming Home, appears Sundays in the Fargo Forum and weekly in the Dickinson Press and Grand Forks Herald. 

 

Hazy Skies

There has been a haze in the air for the last couple days. Fires in Canada couldn’t hold their breath any longer and so some puffs escaped our way, lingering in the calm, hot air and reminding me of living in Montana in August.

When the wind doesn’t blow here in North Dakota it’s sort of eerie, like there’s some secret we’re not being told.

This place is full of them, untold secrets. I’ve always thought that.

How the snow ever fell on all this green and gold I never understand come mid-July. How it could look anything like this, my skin anything but brown and warm, my hair fuzzed just a bit from the heat.

How pink flowers spring from the same earth that was frozen seven feet under just months ago…

and the once wooly horses shed their coats and transform into sleek, high-spirited creatures I can’t comprehend because I have decided it’s magic.

And so I can hardly stand to be inside.

There’s plenty to do out there in terms of work, so I wander around a bit, grab a broom and sweep the garage, pick a weed or two and then sort of wander off to a couple hilltops to see how the flowers look from up there. The purple coneflowers out in full force, sprung up overnight among the grass and clover stirrup high.

I was away less than a week and look at all I missed.

How can I be lonesome for a season I’m standing in the middle of? How can I be scared that I might not catch it all? It’s ridiculous to be so anxious about the flowers. It’s ridiculous to be so worried that I might blink and miss the best part of a summer sunset.

When I was a little girl I was convinced there were parts of this ranch that were yet to be discovered and so I was determined to explore every inch. I walked the trail beside the creek bed in the spring, throwing in sticks to see where the cold rushing water would take them. In the summer I took off my boots and walked directly in that water, my bare feet navigating trails to the big beaver dams.

In the fall I would crawl to the tops of the banks and count the colors. In the winter I would bundle up and trudge, trudge, trudge…not to be kept away no matter the weather.

It wasn’t until I grew up and came home, camera pointed out of every window, dangling off my neck on every ride, every walk, that I discovered the gift of this place is the very thing that makes me crazy and sends me walking, searching for the undiscovered places. The most beautiful things.

This place never looks the same. Every day, every shift of light, every turn of season, every passing cloud, every breeze, every snowflake and raindrop changes it completely.

Gray sky, gray grass. Gold sun, gold flowers. White snow, white trees. Rain clouds, sparkling leaves.

It’s nature, but isn’t it interesting? Isn’t it magic how something so many miles up in the universe can change things for us, our mood, or intrigue, or plans for the day.

May the fires in Canada soon become a memory and the ashes turn to the greenest grass.

Because up here, the wind, the wind changes everything.

Among the clover.

I wish you could smell the sweet clover out here this time of year. I step outside and I’m flooded with a wave of memories of all that I used to be, summer after summer growing up out here. It smells like work and evenings spent sliding down hills on cardboard boxes with my cousins. It smells like ingredients for mud pie and playing house in the lilac bushes by the red barn. It smells like bringing lunch to dad in the field above our house, horseflies and heat biting our skin.

It smells like my first car and the windows rolled down, taking back roads with my best friends as passengers, kicking up dust as we tested the limits of teenage-dom.

It smells like my leaving, bittersweet. My last summer as a kid here before it was time to go and grow up already. Be on my own.

And it smells like coming home, take a right on the pink road, stop at the top of the hill and look at it all before heading down and turning into mom and dad’s for a glass of wine and a steak on the deck that looks out toward the garden and up the crick bed where I used to play everyday.

Pink Road

Last week we had family here from Texas, a couple of those cousins who used to help me make mud pies, a couple of aunts and an uncle I adore and then, of course the grandkids. The ranch was buzzing, laughing, full of life like I remembered it when I was growing up and our grandparents were alive and serving us push-up pops from the small from porch of their small brown house.

Funny how the world changes when suddenly there are kids running through the grass, pulling up dandelions, blowing bubbles and making memories on this place like the ones I hold so close to me.

After the Centennial celebration was over we did nothing but sit on the deck and visit, catch up, eat and then run inside to watch the rain pour. We laughed at the kids as they played and fought over toys and I looked at my cousin, the one closest to my age, the girl I used to wish was my twin sister, a mother now, and I thought, well, weren’t we just the same size as her baby A? Weren’t we just five years old running through the clover, itching our mosquito bites, begging for popsicles and just one more hour to play outside.

Now look at us, all grown up and still here on this place.

I was so thankful to be here with them on this place.

Because I know it didn’t come without a cost for our family, keeping it here for us, so future generations can smell the clover and be young and wild out here…

Country Cousins

I know that we did nothing but be born to good people who know the value of the land, not in dollars, but in something that is hard for me to find words for right now.

Pride?

Work?

Home?

A place to belong?

On Monday when the rest of his family loaded up and hit the road, Uncle W, stayed home one more evening. Little Sister came out and we saddled up our horses and headed out east, riding along and listening to the two brothers remember what it was like to be young out here.

Little Uncle W always found hanging back on a roundup, eating on a Juneberry bush.

Young Pops getting bucked off on the road when his little brother popped over the hill on his tricycle.

Milking cows and riding broncs and chasing girls and growing up together, out here on this place.

How many gloves and hats and scarves have been left dangling in these trees, scooped off heads and hands of little cowboys and cowgirls rushing on the backs of horses running through the trees?

How many wild plum pits have been spit at one another?

How many mud pies have been made in this barnyard, topped off with little pieces of sweet clover.

It’s so quiet here this morning as I get ready to head to a show tonight and then on to Minnesota to celebrate the 4th of July. If I had my way we’d all live out here together, my cousins and us, and those kids would be over the hill forever being raised by kids like us, and we would rehash memories and then create new ones.

Every day, out here on this place the way it used to be.

But that wouldn’t work. There’s space out here, but not that much…not enough…

So I’ll take the clover. I’ll breathe it in and I will remember when it itched our bare little legs in the summer while we searched for kittens in the nooks of the red barn.

Then I’ll remember the weekends, weekends like these, when they came to visit us out here along the gravel roads, and how small the kids were and how they were so little, because they’ll grow up too fast you know. Just like we did, out here among the clover.

Sunday Column: Spontaneous Fishing

When you live on a ranch, your free time is pretty much mapped out for you. Meaning, you don’t really have it. There’s always something to be done, especially in the summer–fences to be fixed, cows to be checked, weeds to be sprayed, yard work to procrastinate, gardens to weed…you get the idea…

And it’s ok really, because if you choose to live on a ranch, most of the time most of us prefer to be out working the place than anything else.

Especially in the summer. Summer is why we stand strong through the winters here.

But when you live on this ranch there is a bit of a distraction, one thats swimming in the river about ten miles to the south, or the big lake that surrounds us.

And when your work in the yard or digging fence posts unearths dozens and dozens of worms just waiting to be collected for bait on a Sunday evening after you’ve tired of tinkering on the tractor or you’re on your seventeenth load to the dump grounds, a farmer or a rancher might take it as a sign to head to the river before dark and see if the catfish are biting.

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes you just need to throw those homegrown worms in a coffee can, grab whatever tackle is leftover from last summer and maybe the new stuff you got for Christmas, trade your boots for your old tennies, grab some seeds and bug spray and head to the river.

Because it’s summer dammit. And sometimes you just need to go fishing.

Coming Home: Quick, hold on to summer traditions
by Jessie Veeder
6-15-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

You can find my columns weekly in the Fargo Forum (Sundays), Dickinson Press and the Grand Forks Herald. All columns are reposted on this blog.

Sunday Column: From a real cup.

This month marks the fourth year we’ve been back at the ranch and fourth birthday of “Meanwhile, back at the ranch…”

And while I don’t remember the exact day that we officially declared that we were never again leaving this place, I do remember the first day I decided to write about it.

It was a warm June day and the windows were open on the old ranch house. I sat at the kitchen table, my hair in disarray (because I just woke up and I had no intentions of setting foot in civilization), my laptop was open and my coffee was steaming in a real cup from the cupboard.

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And when I say real cup, I mean one without a lid. Ceramic with a handle only made for taking trips across the kitchen or out on the deck…not across the country or to town for work or groceries.

Small Spaces

That day I decided to share what it was like coming home to a place that raised me. The day I decided to try and explain how everything seemed so much smaller now that I was grown, that I didn’t have a place for my shoes in this house where my grandmother raised three kids, several foster children and hosted massive family holidays, the day I tried to make chokecherry syrup in a tiny, 105 degree kitchen, the day I slid down the gumbo hill in my pajamas in the pouring rain and warned you not to do the same, were days that were gifts to me only because you were out there reading and sharing your own stories about how you botched plenty of chokecherry recipes and how you might have a solution for my shoe issue….

And the stories and observations, the photos I took, the memories that percolated, might have started out in the cow pasture chasing a bull through a thorn patch or rushing to my husband’s side after he slid off the roof of the garage in the middle of winter, but they finished and found you because I have learned to sit with these stories long enough to bring them to life again somehow.

What a thing to sit.

It seems such a simple concept, but one we don’t indulge in much. But to sit for an hour or so in the morning, sipping coffee in my big chair, clicking away at the keys of the computer, and, if it’s nice out, maybe opening the sliding glass doors to hear the cows moo or the birds chirp, is the reason I have continued to keep writing and showing you things.

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Because it connects me to this place in so many ways. It makes me an observer, a storyteller. It brings me back to moments that might otherwise have slipped away.

And I find myself then, not rushing out the door, because I have something that needs to get done, something I’ve got to tell you. And while I’m at it, I’m sipping my coffee from a real cup…

Coming Home: Take time to sip from a real cup and chat
by Jessie Veeder
6-8-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Thanks for reading all these years. Thanks for sharing this place with me.

Peace, Love and many more coffee dates,

Jessie

Moving Cows

 

Badlands Skies.

It’s Friday and it seems I have run out of words for the week, but that’s ok.  I want to show you something that I don’t think I need many words for.

Because I was in the badlands this week, in the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora. After my work was done,  I went out looking for landscape, for beauty and life in those rustic buttes, and found that above the vibrant green of the grass there were these colors in the sky, constantly changing, casting shadows and light that changed the way the world looked every minute.

I couldn’t take my eyes away.


Here’s to a beautiful weekend.

Peace, Love, Sunrise to Sunset,

Jessie

 

Sunday Column: Holding on under the sky

Well, what a party! I spent all day yesterday sort of propped up, sipping coffee and eating as much sugar as I could to keep me alive until dinnertime. We couldn’t have asked for a better celebration to honor the good life and the people we share it with.

A yard full of friends and family, good food, good conversation and music ringing into a quiet country night is about as close to heaven as you can come.

Especially when the sky is sunny and full of those nice fluffy clouds just rolling in over a horizon of green trees.

I’m going to get back to that party thing later, because there’s so much to be said about why we need to be hosting more backyard parties in the world, but  today I want to share with you this week’s column.

Because last week North Dakota was all over the news, particularly my home town of Watford City where a Memorial Day tornado touched down and wiped out fifteen campers where families were living while working in this busy and booming town.

9 Injured as Tornado hits Camp near Watford City

It was a scary situation, one that thankfully ended with only one serious injury of which a full recovery is expected. It’s a true miracle considering the size and force of that funnel and the vulnerability of the residents’  housing where the tornado touched down.

So much of what we do out here is entangled with the unpredictability of the sky and when that sky opens up, when the clouds rain and hail and swirl around, we are truly at our most vulnerable as a species who sometimes has a hard time accepting the fact that we can’t control everything in this world.

Last week my hometown was reminded of this hard reality, and then they rolled up their sleeves and got to work doing the things they could do, making change in the ways they know how by helping clean up, raising money for the family’s affected, donating clothes and pots and pans, hosting a spaghetti feed and moving on with life holding one another up.

Sometimes we lose sight of the human experience and what it means to be under this unpredictable sky together. Until that sky falls down around us.

Last week my community was reminded, the same way we were reminded this winter that when it comes to the sky and our beating hearts, there is no rhyme or reason, all we can do is hold on to one another.

Coming Home: Weather challenges us with its predicable unpredictability
by Jessie Veeder
6-1-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com 

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.

The greening up…

 When it decides to green up around here, it sure does a good job.

This time of year is my favorite. I love it so much I don’t mind the ticks.

(Like, I mean, lots of ticks.

Like, I had so many I had to strip off my clothes and put them outside. Like, I won’t tell you how many because you would never sleep again and also, I had one stuck on my butt and that was one of those conversations you don’t really want to have with your husband, but, well, let’s forget I ever mentioned it.

And while we’re at it let’s also forget that I found a tick in my bed last night…)

Annnyywaaayyy… ticks or no ticks, there’s something to be said about being the first one out there to find a patch of sweet peas.

There’s something so new and refreshing about it all, the green grass poking up out of the ground before the weeds and brush take over.

The fresh air before all the bugs wake up.

The smell of rain coming in.

The damp dirt and the birds and all of the sounds and smells of things coming back to life.

I feel like I’m coming back to life.

So I make it a point to go out in it. In the middle of the long, cold winters those are the promises we make to ourselves: If it ever gets above freezing we will not complain about the weather.

We live here and we endure this because this is what we’re promised. We’re promised the greening up. And the process couldn’t possibly be as beautiful, as spiritual and soul reviving if we didn’t fully understand what cold feels like.

Yes. We know cold.

And endless white.

And to know the white is to truly know the green.

And all the life that comes with it…

Spring, up close.

I left the house yesterday looking for signs of spring. The wind and sun had dried up that last late April snow storm pretty well and I wanted to see what was emerging under that warmer sky.

It took some looking, but I’ve learned out here that while the big picture can be quite beautiful,

sometimes it’s the smallest things that are the most intriguing. Like a bud on a tree and how it knows it’s time to emerge from once bare branches, in perfect form. 
Or how grass seems to turn from brown to green overnight.

How something so soft can emerge from brown thorns.

Or how a bright color can thrill me here at the beginning of spring, before I’ve grown accustomed to the vivid landscape that comes with summer. 

Or how this blue, clear sky was pouring down ice only 24 hours before.

And that we all made it through, softer and alive…

like the crocuses on the hilltops, because it’s what crocuses do.