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.

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.

Feeding Hay

It doesn’t say so on the calendar, but the temperatures and blowing snow make it perfectly clear.

Winter is here.

And because we still have some cows around, this means feeding hay and breaking ice for the animals.

When I was growing up we had cattle every winter. And every evening after my dad came home from his work in town, often after the sun had gone down, I would bundle up in my coveralls and beanie, and sit beside him in the feed pickup as he rolled out bales for the cows.

It was always one of my favorite chores for a lot of reasons. The pickup had heat, so that was one of them. I got to sit bundled up and watch the cows come in from the hills in a nice straight, black line.

When we would feed cake or grain, I got to drive the pickup while Pops shoveled it out the back. He would put it in low and release the clutch and tell me to keep it out of the trees. My nose would barely reach over the steering wheel, but I felt helpful and I liked it.

And I liked the way the hay smelled when it unrolled from the back of the pickup, like it had kept some summer underneath its layers.

There’s something about an everyday chore like this that is sort of comforting. Maybe it’s the knowing that you’re a necessary part of the order of things. Knowing that you’re responsible.

It’s the taking care I think.

These cows are heading to different pastures next week, leaving these prairie pastures to the horses.

So I was glad to get one last feed in with the ladies.

Bon appetit fine gals. I’ll miss taking care of you!

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.

The roundup.

Sometimes we have to bring the cows home.

This is what that looks like…

when it takes a little longer than planned to get them there.

And this is what it looks like in the morning waiting for the rest of the crew to come and help finish the job.






Rounding up. Gathering. Sorting. Working.  Punchin’ ‘

These are all words for moving cows home, although I can’t say we wear out the last very often.

I should start though.  Cow Punchin’ sounds cool and retro and as you know, that’s the image I strive for.

Well, something like that, but anyway…cow punchin’ is my favorite task on the ranch. I like the idea of gathering everything up in a big black mass of bellering and creaking and munching from all across the Veeder Ranch acreage. I like to make a big swoop of the place,  riding alongside the cowboys, loping up to hilltops, opening gates and following behind a nice steady stream of marching cattle on a well worn path.

I like the crisp air and the way my bay horse moves under me, watching and knowing and doing a better job of anticipating a cow’s move than I ever could.

I like the dogs and how they work as our partners in pushing the bovines forward, seeking approval and a little nip at the heels of the slow ones.

I like the way voices carry off into the hills and the conversations and curse words that come up when we’re all out in the world on the backs of horses.

I like how anything can happen and that anything always means a good portion of the herd will head for the thick brush and I will eventually have to go in there, no matter how many hats, mittens and chunks of hair have come to their final resting places among the thorns.

Or how many thorns have come to their final resting place in my legs.

This week was no exception: wool cap in the trees, tree in my hair, thorn in my leg.

Sounds about right.

Sounds just fine.

Because this is what it looks like when the cows come home in the light of day.





And no matter how many years pass, how many trucks hit their breaks on the way by or how many power lines or pipelines or oil wells cut through the once raw land. No matter the fact that some cowboys carry cell phones now and that I might hear one ringing in the trees below me, roundup always throws me back to the long held tradition of cattle ranching and care taking.

Because no matter what, horses and saddles and riders and neighbors and good dogs still work best to get the job done.

And technology can never save a rancher from the occasional necessity of standing in shit all afternoon.

No. In this line of work, some things just will not change.

Cannot change.

And so I tell you my friends,  if there is anything in the world that brings me peace…

it’s the roundup.

Sunday Column: Why I won’t be hosting a garden party.

We’re in the middle of roundup season, and no, I don’t mean weed killing. I mean cow gathering. And when I say the middle, I mean it a couple different ways. Like, we’re in the middle of rounding up cattle.

And we are living in the middle of where we round up cattle.

So I have new neighbors these days, and no they’re not leaning over the white picket fence to say hello, because, as you know, there is no white picket fence.

And they’re not bringing hot dish either. Because last I heard cows were only good for one thing in the kitchen, if you know what I’m saying.

But it turns out neither one of us are really good in the kitchen these days, because we both know winter’s coming and we both want to spend the last few weeks of moderate weather and colorful leaves out and about checking on things.

Like cows.

Because even if they’re just fine really, cows are a good excuse to get on that horse when the basement needs cleaning, the dishes need doing, the laundry is piled up and the dust has turned to dirt on your floor.

Yes, I always choose the ride over a properly cooked dinner at a properly decent hour.

And so that’s the dilemma of the month: late night meals of leftover frozen pizza and cow poop lawn ornaments.

But still, I’m not convinced it gets better than this….

Coming Home: Living with an undomesticated yard
by Jessie Veeder
9/29/13
Fargo Forum
www.inforum.com

Like our singing neighbor to the north, Corb Lund, says: “Everything is better with some cows around.”

Happy Trails!

Jessie

A breath.

Ever had one of those weeks where you have not allowed yourself one moment? Where you’re so scheduled that there’s no room to sleep in just a little bit late, to linger on a phone call with a friend, to take the long way home, to stroll instead of power walk or to take an extra minute on a decision about which cheese you want on your sandwich?

In fact, you’d rather not be given the option of cheese because that’s just another decision you have to deal with and you know it doesn’t matter anyway as you drip mayo all over your computer’s keyboard, a small but messy casualty that comes with your attempt at multi-tasking.

I hate it when I do this to myself. I hate the inevitability that sometimes, everything I have on my plate needs immediate attention in the same five day time frame.

I hate when I have to pencil in “breathe.”

So here’s my breath.

Take it with me with a glass of wine and the crickets and the sky and a big sigh by the man behind the camera.

Because I’m standing on the hill and I can see the weekend from here.

And it’s looking like cool fall breezes blowing, a new to-do list and a couple shots of Baileys in my coffee.

Peace, love and keepin’ it together,

Jessie

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