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: 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: 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….

Sunday Column: Another Superhero

Snow storm

We’re in the middle of one of those nasty spring storms that blows through North Dakota expectedly, unexpected. After a weekend spent celebrating the marriage of one of our best friends, Husband and I crawled back to the ranch with blood shot eyes and sore muscles from dancing  just in time to flop on the bed and watch the wind blow the snow around.

The roads turned to ice and the brown grass turned white and the geese wondered why the hell they ever came back.

That’s sort of what I was thinking really. Like, maybe I should have just kept drinking and dancing and singing 80′s rock songs at the top of my lungs until this March turns to July and we’re out of the winter woods.

IMG_6198If I were a superhero, that’s what I’d do. I’d just turn up the music and pour some margaritas for the world until there was enough crazy dancing, laughing and ridiculous stories to warm us all up and forget about our winter blues (and all those other worries this place has) forever.

IMG_6275Turns out I’m pretty good at this whole superhero invention thing.

Anyway, I know it’s snowing in other parts of the country and maybe some of you even got to stay home from work or school to wait it out. If you did, I hope there was dancing.

IMG_6135

Me? I got to stand in my muck boots in the basement with the shop vac sucking up what I like to refer to as just another little “septic issue.”

I tell you what, I could sure use that other superhero right about now,  fart gun and all.

Coming Home: Adventures of Sock Boy, Crazy Aunt
by Jessie Veeder
3-30-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Fart Gun

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

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!

Sunday Column: School bus stop ahead

School Bus Stop Ahead

When you grow up alongside a gravel road, there are so many miles between where you are and where you’re going.

Many of those miles in my childhood were spent sitting next to my best friend on a dusty seat in yellow school bus #12.

This week’s column is about a man who spent the majority of his life behind the wheel of that bus, picking up country kids on time and at 7 am from farmyards and small houses along those gravel roads and bringing them safely to school, in the heat of late summer, through plenty of blizzards and then splashing along the melt and mud of spring when school was out.

The kids on George’s bus didn’t mis-behave much. And if we did, he didn’t yell.

He just tapped on the breaks so that those of us who were standing up got a little warning jolt.

That’s all we needed. A little warning jolt.

I guess that’s what George’s recent death was to me. George, a legendary character on this changing landscape, a man who drove bus for my dad and both of my sisters, my cousins and neighbors, the kind of man they don’t make anymore, left us here to navigate these roads and get to school on time without him.

George. What a guy, that George.

Coming Home: Bus driver taught lessons that stick with us as adults
by Jessie Veeder
3-9-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

 

Sunday Column: One, two, cha cha cha…

What do you do when the longest, coldest, most bone chilling, miserable winter you can remember on the North Dakota prairie finally turns into March–a month you previously considered to contain some sort of promise of a thaw –only instead of that whole lamb thing, it slaps you in the frozen face with the not-so-warm-and-fuzzy behavior of twenty below zero?

You put on that leotard,

and you dance.

Coming Home: These North Dakota hips don’t lie
by Jessie Veeder
3-2-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

One. Two. Cha. Cha. Cha.