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.

photo-71

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.

photo-73

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: On the little yellow boat…

April did us a favor and, after bringing us a little spring storm, it warmed up nicely this weekend. 50 degrees uncovered all sorts of treasures for us, mostly mud and things stuck in mud…like dog poop, leftover construction materials and the Christmas tree that made it out the door, but not quite to the garbage pit.

We set out then in that spring air to do some tidying. When the weather warms up I get crazy. I want to do everything that I haven’t been able to do (because of the seven months of snow and subzero temperatures) all in one day.

I want to till up the garden spot. I want to plant grass seeds. I want to finish the garage. I want to ride all eight horses. I want to buy baby chicks from Tractor Supply. I want to roll up my pants and wade in the creek. I want to fix the barn. I want to start our landscaping project. I want to work on my tan. I want to go swimming. I want to make margaritas and grill burgers and have a deck party.

I want to buy a boat…

I think brown dog has the same idea…

Yes, a few days of warm weather will get the plans rolling. And the smell of the thaw, the sound of the water, the blue sky and sun and things uncovered by melting snow had me poking around the place, in search of projects, things I could accomplish.

And in my search I stumbled upon one of the ranch’s most unique relics. Sitting next to the shop covered loosely by a blue tarp and snow turned to ice water is Husband’s yellow boat, the one he brought with us to the ranch when we were first married. The one he built with his dad during the long winter nights when we were all just trying to make it out of high school alive.

The one he took me out in, to go fishing down in Bear Den, a little unknown nook of Lake Sakakawea a few miles from the ranch. The tiny hand-made boat where we sat back to back and trolled the shore, with nothing but sun-seeds, a couple beers and worms in our cooler.

And when the sun started sinking down below those buttes that surrounded the lake, it was that boat that got us stuck. Stuck in mud up to the floorboards of Husband’s little Dodge.

And there we sat. The little pickup connected to the little boat, stuck in the bottom of a badlands canyon, a new husband scratching his head and a wife in flip-flops clawing her way up the steep, cactus ridden banks that held them on a prayer that maybe her cell phone might find enough signal to call Pops to come and rescue them.

Pops, who had no idea where they went in the first place.

Pops, who wasn’t home, but got the message an hour or so later..

“Dad…*scratch scratch*…stuck….*static static*….Bear Den…*crackle crackle*…”

When I think spring I think of that fishing trip with my husband. When I think of that fishing trip, I think of that boat. When I think of that boat I think about mud and dads and how they have so many ways of saving us…

So I wrote this.

Coming Home: Little yellow boat never meant for fishing
(I’m having trouble with my hyperlinks,
please click URL below to read the column)
http://www.inforum.com/event/article/id/431239/
by Jessie Veeder
4-6-14
http://www.inforum.com

Happy thaw out. May this season bring mud and good memories….

When to fly home

I went out on the last day of winter to see if I believed it.

I had been driving for much of the day, having woken up in a hotel room in the middle of North Dakota to find that during my sleep snow had fallen.

It was the last day of winter and, well, you know how winter likes to hold on to the spotlight around here.

I waited a bit then before scraping the windshield of my car and heading back west on a quiet and slick highway, lingering over morning talk shows and hotel room coffee.

The weatherman said it would warm up nicely, the sun would shine and the roads would clear on this, the last day of winter.

150 miles west those roads were shut down and traffic backed up. Too slippery to be safe.

Not spring yet.

Oh no. Not yet.

But we gave it some time then, under the sun, and the fog lifted off of the thawing out lakes. The snow plow came.

White to to slush. The earth warmed up.

And me and my guitar buried under a mountain of groceries made it back home to the buttes on the last day of winter.

And when I arrived I changed out of my good boots and into the ones made for mud and I went out in it, knowing full well that just because it says “Spring” today on the calendar hanging by the cabinets on the wall, doesn’t mean the snow won’t fall tomorrow.

I heard the snow is going to fall again tomorrow.

But today I’m sitting in a patch of sunshine making its way through the windows, bouncing off the treetops, on to the deck and into this house and I’m telling you about yesterday, the last day of winter, when the brown dog and I headed east to my favorite spot to see how the land weathered the bitter cold of the season.

I followed the cow trail behind the house and through the gate, where the petrified bovine hoof prints from last fall magically turned into fresh tracks in the mud of the elk who make their home back here.

Sniff sniff sniff went the nose of my lab as he wove back and forth, back and forth in the hills and trees in front of me, always looking for something.

Squish squish squish went the rubber soles of my boots on the soft ground.

And then there was the wind, everything is second to the sound of it in my ears.

But as we followed our feet up and over the hills and down the trails to the stock dam there was another sound I couldn’t place.

It sounded like crickets or whatever those bugs are that make noise in the water at night. But it was too early for bugs. Too cold for crickets just yet.

I stepped up on the bank of the dam and watched my lab take a chilly spring swim in the water where an iceberg still floated white and frozen in the middle.

I put my hands on my hips and tried to place that unfamiliar music over my dog’s panting and shaking and splashing about.

It could be frogs, if frogs chirped like that, but there are not frogs just yet…or snakes or minnows or other slimy things that disappear when the cold comes…

No…none of those things…

but there are birds…

and well…look at all of them up there in that tree,

perched and fluttering, covering almost every branch.

Are they singing? I think it’s them.

Listen to that!

Relentless in their chirping conversation against the blue sky of the last day of winter and unafraid of the big, clumsy, slobbering canine sniffing them out.

Not phased by his two legged companion squish squish squishing up to the tree, shielding her eyes so she could get a better look at them.

A flock of proud little birds with puffed out chests, wearing tufts on their heads like tiny showgirls in Vegas.

Putting on a show for us on the last day of winter…

And if you would have asked me earlier that morning if winter was over, the fresh snow stuck to the bottom of my boots, my white knuckle grip on the wheel and my breath making puffs into the morning air as I pulled off the highway and stepped out of my car to admire the view, I would have said oh no, it is not over yet.

But under that tree full of songbirds I would have believed in anything…spring and summer and music and joy and tiny little feathered miracles who know, without a doubt, when to fly home.

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

Spring is…

Sometimes the day is so lovely, you just have to go out in it.

Sometimes the moon shows up before the sun goes down and lines up just right in the blue sky hovering peacefully over golden grass.

Grass that was hiding under all that snow, snow that’s melting because it’s 50 degrees ABOVE zero now, so you decide to pull on your muck boots and splash around in it a little, feeling so good you don’t even mind the little hole in the right one that lets the water in to soak your socks.

It doesn’t matter. It’s summer now.

Your feet don’t get cold in the summer.

And you took your camera, because you need to document what a beautiful mess it all is when the thaw comes.

You need to photograph those tiny bubbles.

You need to capture those trees standing nice and tall and straight.

You must preserve the memory of that rushing water cutting its way through the stubborn ice in the shade of the valley.

You have to show everyone, shout it so they can hear you above the babbling streams…

“Spring is springing!”

“Spring is springing!”

“Spring is…”

pooping

Dammit dog!

If it’s peace and tranquility I’m looking for out there…well…

Happy thaw out everyone!

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.

I don’t want to know…

I don’t want to know what tomorrow brings, how it all turns out, how we might, at the end of it all, be rich or poor, lonely or surrounded, fine with it all or disappointed.

I don’t want to know the count of the stars in the sky or if they might fall one day.

I don’t want to know if this is it or if there’s more, because what is more than this?

At the end of the day all I want to know is the way the sun cast shadows and makes the manes on the horses glow like haloes in the pasture outside my window.

I want to know this. I always want to know this…

And the crunch of the leaves beneath my boots.

The smell of the sage.

The red on the berries, a gift of color that stays with us through winter.

The sound of the breeze bending the bare branches and how there’s no such thing as quiet when a heart beats.

No.

I don’t want to know the length of a good life or the minutes in forever or how it could, how it will, end.

I only want to know that golden light, the light that makes angels out of horses, and warms your face under your hat after a day’s work.

I want to know this light as it blots out the stars and makes for us a day.

And in that day and the days that might follow, the things that don’t matter, I don’t want to know.

It makes no difference, except one thing.

The thing that makes all the difference, that thing that holds on as that sun rises and sets.

The thing that I know like the light on your face.

You are loved. You are loved.

Every day you are loved.

I

What’s in an hour…

The sun has started waking us up earlier. A funny little phenomenon called “Daylight Savings Time” made it that way. We moved our clocks back on Saturday night and woke up at 6 am on Sunday, watching the sun come up over Pots and Pans, waiting for some light to help us assess the recent neighbor call regarding a cow (or three or four) out in a pasture by the highway.

I remember when moving the clocks back meant moving the hand on an actual clock. I look around my house and I realize I don’t have an actual clock anywhere. Our clocks blink blue numbers on stove tops and microwaves, on telephones and digital temperature gauges and cellphones, computers and iPads that are smarter than us and don’t even need a human hand to remind them to change. They are programmed to know.

They do the same when we cross the river into Mountain time, switching swiftly and we gain an hour. Switching back and we’ve lost it.

I’ve spent that last few days looking at those clocks, the one on my phone and the one on
the stove I haven’t managed to change yet, and saying ridiculous things like:

“What time is it really?”

“So, it’s 9 o’clock but it’s really 10 ‘o’clock?”

“It’s 6 am but it’s really 7 am?”

“Man, it gets dark early.”

“Man I am tired.”

“Man, I miss that extra hour of light at the end of the day.”

But what’s in an hour anyway? It’s not like the changing of the clocks changes time. There are still 24 hours in these days and the sun still does what it will do up here where the earth is stripping down and getting ready for winter.

Daylight Savings Time, moving the clocks, adjusting the time, is just a human’s way to control things a bit. Moving time forward in the spring months means farmers and ranchers and outdoor enthusiasts get to stay out under that sun, working on the tractor, chasing the cattle, climbing a mountain, until 10 o’clock at night when the sun finally starts to disappear.

Moving the clocks backwards in the fall means we might drive to work in the light and get home in the dark.

It means a 5 pm sunset and a carb-loaded dinner at 6. It means more conversation against the dark of the windows, more time to plan for the things we might get done on the weekends in the light.

It means I went to bed last night at 9 o’clock and said something ridiculous like “It’s really 10.”

But it wasn’t. It was 9.

Because we’ve changed things. (Although I still haven’t changed that stove top clock).

I lay there under the covers in the loft and thought about 24 hours in a day.

10 hours of early-November daylight.

If I closed my eyes now, I thought, I would get 8 good hours of sleep.

I wondered about that hour and what I could do with an 60 minutes.

A 25 hour day? What would it mean?

Would it mean we could all slow down, take a few more minutes for the things we rush through as we move into the next hour?

Five more minutes to linger in bed, to wake each other up with sweet words and kisses, to talk about the day and when we’ll meet back at the house again.

Three more minutes to stir cream into our coffees, take a sip and stand in front of the window and watch the sun creep in. A couple seconds to comment on it, to say, “What a sight, what a world, what a morning…”

Four more minutes in the shower to rinse away the night.

Two more moments in front of the mirror to make my hair lay straight and my cheeks blush right.

An extra moment or two for the dogs so that when I throw them their food I might have been given some time to extend that head pat and ear scratch and stick fetching game.

Six more minutes on my drive to town, listening to the radio, the weather report and the school lunch announcements while trailing a big rig with out cussing or complaint. I have an extra hour after all. What’s six more minutes to me now?

Fifteen more minutes for lunch with a friend, a friend I could call for lunch because I have sixty more minutes now and the work can wait.

Five minutes more for a stranger on the street who asks for directions to a restaurant and then I ask her where she’s from and she makes a joke about the weather and we laugh together, a little less like strangers then.

Then, when I get home, eight more minutes on my walk to the top of the hill, to go a little further if I feel so compelled, or maybe just sit on that rock up there and watch it get darker.

Four extra minutes to spice up the roast for supper or stir and taste the soup.

One more minute to hold on to that welcome home hug.

Three more minutes to eat, for another biscuit, to wind down and visit.

And four more minutes to use to say goodnight. To lay there under the blankets, under the roof, under the stars that appeared and be thankful for the extra time.

So what’s in an hour really? Moments spent breathing and thinking and learning. Words spilling out that you should have said, or should have kept, or that really don’t matter, it’s just talking.

Sips on hot coffee cooling fast.

Steps on your favorite trail.

Frustration at dust while you wipe it away, songs hummed while scrubbing the dishes or washing your hair.

Broken nails, tracked in mud, a decision to wear your best dress tonight.

Laughter and sighing and tapping your fingers on your desk while you wait.

Line-standing, hand-shaking and smooches on best friends’ babies as you pass at the grocery store.

Big plans to build things, to change things, to move. Small plans for dinner or a trip to the zoo.

A phone call, an answer, an “I love you too.”

It’s not much, but the moments are ours to pass.

And those moments, they move on regardless of the clock and the hour in which it’s ticking.

Although not many people have clocks that tick anymore.

I suppose that’s just one of the many thing time can change…

When winter is welcome

October is heading over the horizon and it’s bringing with it all the colors–the golds and reds and browns–of a season that doesn’t stay long enough.

And it’s leaving a trail of frost in its wake.

I see it in the mornings, sparkling and shimmering on the railing of my deck, on the cracked windshield of the pickup, on the leftover leaves and acorns on the trails,

on the stems of the grass and the crust of the dirt.

I am digging out my sweaters again. Funny how it’s only been five months since I packed them away but I can’t seem to remember where they went.

Funny how it’s only been a few weeks since the sun touched my legs and already my skin is fading into its pale winter shade.

I run my hands over the horses’ backs and notice they’re changing too, long scruffy hair growing in to protect them from the promised winter winds.

We are becoming the season it seems.

I’m sipping tea to ward of the little scratch in my throat, the little runny nose that I acquired when the cold came in.

I am North Dakota. Personified in the permanent chilled flush in my cheeks, rolling up the hoses and packing away the cutoff shorts. Swapping cowboy boots for winter boots and my straw hat for one that is knit and covers my ears.

If I were California I would never change. If I were California I would wear summer dresses all year and never be ashamed of my scaly winter skin. I would eat orange popsicles and sip iced tea and put fresh flowers in a vase on my table every week.  I would be sun kissed and golden and I wouldn’t wear socks.

Especially not wool socks.

If I were California I would be beautiful all year.

But I am North Dakota and my flowers have dried up now. And we are beginning our predictably unpredictable decent into winter.

The ice rests lightly on the water in the stock tank.

The air bites and the trees have stripped down to sleep. I am cutting potatoes for soup, boiling water and feeling weighed down but hungry the way only Northerners can feel.

If I were a beast I would hibernate.

If I had wings I would fly toward the sun.

If I were a legend I would find a way to catch the snow in my hands and send it back up.

Back up for another month.

And back down in December when winter is welcome.