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

Leotards, fuzzy ponytails and long-winded stories…

Ok, there was a time in my life when I wore nothing but leotards.

There, I said it.

I needed to make this confession today.

Purple leotards with pink tights. Pink leotards with purple tights. Short sleeves, polyester, spandex blends stretched tight over my belly, squishing the baby fat desperate to escape the confines of the fabric out  the seams and topping the whole thing off with leg warmers, velcro shoes and a fuzzy ponytail.

I was a sight to behold, a wild-child, a weird kid who had no explanation really for her choice in every day attire except, I can imagine, simply that today, I wanted to wear my leotard.

And tomorrow, I want to wear it again.

Leotard

Maybe it was because my mom was a dancer and an aerobics instructor and I had seen the woman, long and lean and graceful, rocking her own Jane Fonda attire while she lead a class to the tune of the Flash Dance soundtrack.

Or maybe it was because my big sister was a ballerina. A tiny, delicate ballerina who wore beautiful sparkly tutus and toe shoes and twirled and jumped and leapt elegantly across the stage under the lights.

Or maybe I just liked the free movement spandex provided while I drug my blankie through the grass on my way to the sandbox in my grandmother’s back yard.

I’m not sure, because I was too young at the time of my leotard obsession to hold on to the reasoning so that I might go back in adulthood and analyze it. But I’ll tell you this, even though I was only three or four years old, it was pretty clear I was inheriting none of that grace and elegance thing. But it didn’t matter to me. In my mind I was something. In my mind I was leaping and twirling right alongside my big sister on that big stage. In my mind I was Jane Fonda.

Of course I was also digging in the dirt, popping heads off of dandelions, peddling my trike towards gramma’s, making mud soup, bossing around the neighborhood boys, singing Sunday school songs at the top of my lungs, making up the words as I went along and hunting and tracking ladybugs in the short grass.

All in my trusty leotard.

Can you imagine the looks on my grandparents’ faces when my parents brought their girls over for Easter dinner, their oldest in perfect pastels and frills and the youngest traipsing around the egg hunt looking like Jazzercise personified? That was a cute family picture.

Country CousinsCan you imagine what my parents thought when their three or four year old woke up one day and declared it was time to put on her leotard, obliging, I’m sure, because I put up a fight, or maybe, because they were always free thinking supervisors and probably didn’t see the harm in a day in a spandex. But that day turned into another day and on to the next, and, well, you know the rest…

Anyway, eventually I moved on. Probably to my Wonder Woman costume, but that’s another story. I bring this phase of my life up today only because I was reminded of it by my Texas cousin last week via a Facebook post about her daughter.

It looked like this.

“A insists on wearing her leotard every day now. You went thru this too, right?:)”

A 2

To which I replied something like: “Yes, and I hope this similarity doesn’t worry you…”

Now, my cousin M and I were born a month apart and spent our childhood dressing alike (after my leotard phase) and trying to convince the world we were twins. It made sense to me, I wanted to be just like her, and still do.  She’s beautiful and sweet and funny and always pulled together.

She was a perfect long french braid. I was a fuzzy ponytail with plastic barrettes keeping the flyways at bay.

She was a Christmas dress. I was an oversized holiday themed puffy paint sweatshirt with stirrup pants.

She was flute playing pretty notes. I was a guitar playing some weird song I just made up…

She is a math teacher. I’m a long winded-story…

And we get along perfectly.

Then along came baby A…

Baby A, who’s not really a baby anymore because she insists on riding her pony Pearl all by herself, and yes, Uncle G, she can let the cats out of the barn whenever she wants.

Baby A who sprays herself in the face with a garden hose and thinks it’s a riot so she does it again and again.

Baby A who has her own guitar and uses it to accompany herself as she sings long songs at the top of her lungs about girls riding horses through the trees.

Baby A who’s hair escapes that golden brown ponytail and fuzzes just right.

Baby A who is just stubborn enough to convince her mother every day that she should wear a leotard.

A

I looked at the photo, me here between the buttes of our North Dakota home and my Cousin M under the warm sun of Texas, and I wondered if the miles don’t matter as much as we think they do.

That there are pieces of us in our family that surface and resurface throughout our lives, showing up in our children and their children’s children in a familiar laugh, a crooked smile, a skin tone or a shape of a nose.

Cousins

Looking at Baby A standing so confidently in her plastic high heels and pink leotard miles and miles away but so close to my heart, I can’t help but think that maybe an affinity for leotards just runs purple and pink somewhere in our blood, alongside the place where we keep fuzzy ponytails and long-winded stories…

And to that I say, oh, Baby A, I’m so happy there’s someone else out there who understands…

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: A way to celebrate winter

Despite the hostility I harbor for the recent sub-zero temperatures, I do believe this season comes with gifts, and I’m not talking about the ones that hang out under the tree.

And besides, things are looking up. Today it got up to a balmy -5.

Taking time to enjoy a snow day
by Jessie Veeder
12-8-13
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Sunday Column: Cleaning up the relics

Summer is over. It’s official now. And it’s North Dakota, so next comes 48 hours of glorious, crisp,  beautiful autumn…and then comes winter.

Give or take a few hours there, but you get the idea.

No, we don’t have much time now before the snow falls and buries all the projects we meant to get to when the weather was nice and warm. And so here we are in the first few days of fall and the checklist isn’t as checked as we envisioned.

It happens every year and this year is no exception, especially when we’re in the midst of this old place turning 100.

In 100 years a lot of relics get left behind in the weeds.

We went through the first phase of clean up when we began building our house in what was once the used-up vehicle section of the ranch. The first phase involved moving the old cars up to the top of the hill to await they’re final destination with junk guy.

Turns out in two summers, junk guy only really wanted the cool car with wings.

He’s not coming back for old pickups, augers, lawnmowers, dirt bikes or the three-wheeler.

No, we’ve got to find someone else to do the heavy lifting, and I’m making it my mission.

Because we’re on to the next phase. The clean up phase. The tear down and build up phase. The beautification process.

The next 100 years.

Coming Home: ‘Beautification project’ begins at the ranch
by Jessie Veeder
9/22/13
Fargo Forum

Heroes Proved

I’ve been writing music since I was a little girl. Some of it has escaped the walls that held me at the time, others have been locked up, unfinished, never ready to be played for anyone.

I have ideas. I try to show you. I try to tell it as I see it, or maybe as a stranger might. I try to share a little piece of me and my surroundings with whoever wants to listen.

I don’t always know what it is that I want to say.

Sometimes, if I’m lucky, the song knows better.

When I was in college touring the midwest in my Chevey Lumina, I wrote a song called “Heroes Proved.” It was the middle of winter in Northern North Dakota and I was cold. I was on the road and alone a lot. I missed home,  the smell of the sage and horse hair, black cows and the way the grass bends in the breeze.

I missed the neighbors and how they would come and visit on Sunday and linger over coffee.

And I missed cowboys, the ones I was convinced no longer existed in the world, except the few I left behind,  scattered and  lonely on the quiet scoria road.

I didn’t know if I would ever get back to that place for good.

I didn’t know if that place even existed anymore.

I didn’t know anything.

“Heroes Proved” was my way of asking the world to slow down.  I was desperate for it, but in a completely different way then I am now.

Now that I’m home and never leaving.

Now that I’m home and watching the world drive by–rushing, digging, kicking up dust on the way to meet the bottom line.

At 20 years old I couldn’t see the future. At 20 years old what I was writing felt so personal and disconnected from my peers. At 20 years old I couldn’t have known the progress waiting to barrel down that dusty road toward my family’s ranch, bringing me and the world with it.

“Heroes Proved” hasn’t been on my set list for years. I moved it out of the way to make room for new words and ideas.

I never considered that some of my songs might have become more relevant to me over time.

This is one.

“I think what you notice most when you haven’t been home in a while
is how much the trees have grown around your memories.”

― Mitch AlbomFor One More Day

Sunday Column: Stories ride in on Pops’ Trail 90

Here’s Pops.

He’s in a pink helmet. It’s not his usual get-up, as you know, but we figured he would need it.

See, for the past few weeks he’d been recalling dangerous childhood memories of the time way back in the day when he and his brother owned a ’75 Honda Trail 90 and rode like hell’s fury up and down and around the buttes of this place.

Yup.

There are stories about ramping things, checking cows, running around with the neighbor kids up the road and, well, concussions. There were a few concussions.

Just the other night he confessed that, before he was old enough to be issued an actual drivers license, he and his friend drove that damn bike thirty miles to town and back again to catch a football game or something, he can’t remember.

It didn’t matter anyway, by the time they actually made it (it took a little while you know, driving at top speeds of 35 MPH and flinging themselves in the ditch’s tall grasses every time a neighbor drove by) it was past dark and whatever event they were trying to catch was long over by then.

Those are the stories we get from Pops. They’re good ones.

And the reason we  did what we did.

Coming Home: Stories ride in on Pops’ old motorcycle
by Jessie Veeder
September 15, 2013
Fargo Forum
www.inforum.com 


Happy Trail 90 Pops.

Happy Trails to You.

Thursday Throwback: Gumbo Sliding.

In honor of throwback Thursday and all of the new Veeder Ranch followers, I wanted to share with you one of the first stories I wrote on this blog. For readers new to my shenanigans, it might help you understand what it felt like for me to spend my first summer back on my family’s ranch under the buttes as an adult. For those who have been with me for my long haul of misadventures (Three whole summers now! Thanks for hanging in there and I love you!) this will be a testament to how much I’ve matured since then

…yeah…

Something like that.

Anyway, that first summer I spent in my grandmother’s little brown house was romantic and whimsical and nostalgic. Everything that surrounded me was so familiar–the smell of the clover, the pink dust from the scoria road, the sound of the horses grazing in the pasture outside my bedroom window, the way I can always find a cow pie to step in–yet I felt like I was experiencing it for the first time.

And, because I didn’t have a job lined out, because the plan was to take a breath, I had some time to poke around in the barn and look for new baby kittens, to pick wildflowers, to make mud pies, ride my horse bareback, keep the grass mowed, kick the cows out of the yard, splash in big puddles, and, well, slide down the gumbo hills in the pouring rain.

In my pajamas.

…and tell you all about it.

Every thrilling, agonizing minute.

When I am asked to speak at events I often read this post as a way to introduce the audience to the woman they’re dealing with for the next 15 to 45 minutes. I read it not only to introduce myself and to entertain, but to remind them (and me) that   regardless of the outcome, regardless of how much we’ve learned about keeping our composure, keeping out of trouble and keeping out of the hospital since we turned into adults, sometimes all we need is to allow ourselves the freedom to act on impulse.

And fling our bodies down a muddy hill because, well, we think it could be fun.

So I invite you to take a minute to read about a silly grown woman who lost her head for a moment, but never regretted it.

And more than likely will never do it again…unless there’s lots of tequila involved.When spontaneity strikes, at least put on pants…
From the archives
August 10, 2010

Peace love and ointment,

Jessie

Sunday Column: On horses and what it means to hold on


July is full of so many seasons out here in the middle of America. We have fireworks season, chokecherry season, lake season, running through the sprinkler season, county fair season, street dance season, grilling season, family reunion season and, of course, wedding season.

This month holds so much potential for fun and connecting with community and family that it’s one of the reasons I wait for it all year.

And one of the reasons each day of sweet July is planned, each square on my calendar is filled in with an idea and an event I cannot miss.

This weekend was one of those that has held its spot of anticipation for months. The youngest of the Veeder cousins had a date to get married and so the rest of the cousins were summoned from Western North Dakota, Eastern North Dakota, Southern North Dakota, Washington DC, South Dakota and Texas to give him hugs and cry because he was all grown up.

And so we were all together to celebrate most of the seasons: fireworks season, wedding season, grilling season, lake season, dancing season and family reunion season.

Here we are, all grown up! (We missed you Little Big Sister and your Little Man)

This past week spent with the cousins and family who used to gather in my grandparent’s tiny house tucked in the buttes of the ranch for Easter egg hunts and turkey dinner and carols by the Christmas tree has been the highlight of my summer.

And so I’ll tell you all about it when I sort through the photos.

I promised you last week and I’ll keep my word.

Can you tell we’re related?

Because you have to see these beautiful and talented people. And I have to show you a photo of what we used to look like when we ran around these hills as kids decked out in our fanny packs and neon t-shirts, side ponytails and scraped knees.

You won’t believe that we all turned out to be pretty cool in the end.

It’s true, despite, well…this…

But for now it’s back to the grind and back to life on this ranch, a place that rings with the laughter of my cousins and the adventures we made for ourselves out here when we were glued together by grandparents that left us too soon.

Tonight Husband and I will move some cows from the home pasture out east, because July is also made for ranch work. I will sit on top of a horse I learned to ride under this very hot July sun all those years ago and think about the blessings and lessons this ranch has taught me about horses and family and what it means to hang on tight.

Coming Home: Learning their language, horse whisperer or not
By Jessie Veeder
7/6/13
Fargo Forum
www.inforum.com 

Snow on the backs of horses.

This is what it looks like when you put a house cat out in the snow for the first time in its life.

Coincidently this is also the face that was staring back at her after I peeled her out of my arms like a piece of velcro with really strong legs ..and then again off my head…and then again off of my boots.

We’re in a fight, but don’t feel bad for her, the weather is warming up and I think it’s time she gets acclimated to this wild place.

Yes, tomorrow it will be March and my longing for green grass, crocuses and creek beds overflowing with melted snow will summon me to pull on my muck boots and go exploring for the slightest change in scenery.

It will be March tomorrow, and I feel the chilled surrender that January brings start to break up and separate inside of me, even as I stand under a gray sky that blends into the horizon as if it weren’t a sky at all but a continuation of the snowy landscape…below us, above us…surrounding us.

Flakes fell from that sky yesterday afternoon, big and soft and gentle they drifted down to the icy earth and summoned me from behind my windows to come outside and stick out my tongue.

When the snow falls like this, not sideways or blowing or whipping at our faces, but peaceful and steady and quiet, it’s a small gift. I feel like I’m tucked into the mountains instead of exposed and vulnerable on the prairie. I feel like, even in the final days before March, that someone has shaken the snow globe just the right amount to calm me down and get me out of my head.

When the snow falls like this I go look for the horses. I want to see what those flakes look like as they settle on their warm backs, on their soft muzzles and furry ears. I trudge to the barnyard or to the fields and wait for them to spot me, watching as they move toward that figure in a knit cap and boots to her knees, an irregular dot on a landscape they know by heart.

I know what they want as they stick their noses in my pockets, sniff at my camera and fight for the first spot in line next to me. I know they want a scratch between their ears.

I know they want a bite of grain.

They know I can get it for them.

Our horses in the winter take on a completely different persona. The extra layer of fur they grow to protect them from the weather makes them appear less regal and more approachable.

Softer.

I like to take off my mitten and run my fingers through that wool, rubbing them down to the skin underneath where they keep the smell of clover and the warmth of the afternoon sun. I like to put my face up to their velvet noses and look into those eyes and wonder if they miss the green grass as much as I do.

On this snowy, gray, almost March afternoon the horses are my closest link to an inevitable summer that doesn’t seem so inevitable under this knit hat, under this colorless sky.

I lead them to the grain bin and open the door, shoveling out scoops of grain onto the frozen ground. They argue over whose pile is whose, nipping a bit and moving from spot to spot like a living carrousel. I talk to the them, “whoah boys, easy” and walk away from the herd with an extra scoop for the new bay, his head bobbing and snorting behind me.

In a month or so the ground will thaw and the fur on the back of these animals will let loose and shake off, revealing the slick and silky coat of chestnut, white, deep brown, gold and black underneath. We will brush them off, untangle their manes, check their feet and climb on their backs and those four legs will carry us over the hills and down in the draws and to the fields where we will watch for elk or deer or stray cattle as the sun sinks below the horizon.

I move my hand across the bay’s back, clearing away the snowflakes that have settled in his long hair and I rest my cheek there, breathing in the scent of hay and dust and warmer days.

He’s settled into chewing now, his head low and hovering above the pile of grain I placed before him. He’s calm and steady so I can linger there for a moment and wonder if he tastes summer in the grain the same way I smell it in his skin.

My farewell to winter is long, lingering and ceremonious.

But it has begun. At last, it has begun.