Spring in Winter.

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While the east coast braced themselves for a winter storm that was promising to be so epic they actually gave it a name, North Dakotans were out in shorts and tank tops watching the January snow turn into mud in 50+ degree weather.

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The weather this week has been so gloriously warm that it is starting to freak us all out a little bit. I mean, we’re definitely grateful, and we definitely know that a good ‘ol ND winter cold snap is coming again soon, but it’s a little eerie to have summer-like temperatures in the middle of winter. We feel like maybe we’re being tricked.

We look at each other and say, well, we’re going to pay for this later aren’t we?

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But what the hell. For once, we’re on the warm side of the weather news up here in the tundra, so you can bet we went out and made the most of it.

And by making the most of it, I mean, scraping all of the ice and snow off of our driveway and marveling at the fact that it’s no longer a skating rink/hip-breaking zone…for now anyway. And then opening up the garage doors and sweeping and rearranging and building steps and wiring…

And while Husband was doing all that, I decided to take a 4-wheeler ride up to the fields where I knew I would find the horses.

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I’m still battling the cold of the year, my theory being that all of the germs have thawed out and traveled to my lungs to torture me, so I definitely wasn’t walking anywhere…or sweeping anything…or holding any boards…or helping my dearly beloved do anything useful.

Nope. Too sick.

But not too sick to pull my beanie down over my ears and head for the hills on a motorized vehicle, the dogs and I kicking up mud as we followed the road up to the flat.

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Up here the weather is a freak, so even with the plague, I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to feel some warm sunshine on my shoulders, because I know full well I might not have another chance for a while, memories of last winter’s months long sub-zero deep freeze are still pretty vivid.

And while I’m hoping for more snow before the summer rolls in, it was nice to see the golden grass and feel the warm air for a bit.

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And it was nice to see the boys, content and fat and fuzzy and full of burs up there in the fields munching and chill as they let the same sun warm their backs.

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I mean, they were so relaxed that none of them really attempted to drop-kick Gus out of their way as he sniffed and frolicked around them, getting to know these creatures he’ll be riding with this summer.

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I think maybe these horses feel like they’re on a tropical winter vacation up here in these fields…all you can eat buffet…warm weather…no work to be done for months.

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Ah, winter, if you stayed like this for a while I think we could all manage just fine.

But before you make any real commitments, why don’t you go ahead and send one more freeze to kill off this bug and a big snow to get my sledding hill ready, to fill up the creeks and dams and nourish the wildflowers and grass for spring.

Not that I don’t appreciate the break, but, you know, winter we all have a job to do up here…and you’re laid back attitude is sorta freaking us out…

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We’re not in Cabo anymore…

We’re not in Cabo anymore.

photo 1

Nope.

photo 2We’re home.

Home to the great white and frickin’ frozen north.

You know what that weather report up there doesn’t say? It doesn’t say that the wind is blowing 50 MPH, making the air feel like it’s actually -30.

Which would mean when I got on the plane in Cabo on Tuesday morning and landed in Bismarck, North Dakota on Tuesday night, my body was asked to deal with a nearly 100 degree temperature difference.

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CABO!

NOT Cabo.

I can’t help but feel the shock of the juxtaposition that was the result of a couple plane rides …

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CABO!

NOT Cabo.

But oh, we had a nice trip. We wore vacation hats.

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We got some sun our our pasty white skin. We played beach volleyball and drank ridiculous drinks,

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we swam in the ocean,

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and rang in the new year in a blur of tequila and club music.

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And while we were doing those things, the wind was whipping in a cold front up north, as it tends to do in January.

But you know what they do in January in Cabo? They ride horses in shorts and bare feet on the beach.

Yup.

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CABO HORSES.

NOT Cabo horses.

Dammit, it’s cold here. No more vacation hats for us.

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Beach Couple

Arctic Tundra Couple

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White Sandy Shoreline  

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Just a white line

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Cabo Husband.

Freezing Husband.

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Cabo couple

Umm,  no…
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Cabo Cactus

Not a Cabo Cactus 

IMG_403380 degrees and sunny sisters

30 below zero and windy sisters

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Vacation feet.  

Not on vacation anymore feet

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Warm weather pet

Jessie and Dogs

A more snuggly version

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A beachy drink

coffee

A blizzard-y drink

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A walk on the beach

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Ah, son of a beettchh…

And that’s it. No, we’re not in Cabo anymore boys and girls…

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But we’re not beach people really.

We’re pale and pasty northerners with a large collection of wool socks. And we’re home.

And no matter what the sky is doing in Mexico, or Jamaica, or Sunny California,  it’s always good to be here.

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Colder.

IMG_9959It’s cold.

10 degrees and it looks like that’s where it’s gonna stay. All day. The rest of the week.

I wanna snuggle up in a big ‘ol pile with this kitten and all my blankets.

IMG_9944It’s funny how fast the seasons shift around here. I’ve lived here long enough to expect it, but just a few days ago it was sunny and mild and the hilltops were gold and we were walking around saying, “What a beautiful fall we’ve been having!” “Aren’t we lucky!”

IMG_1218And then, overnight…

IMG_0155Below zero temperatures. Icy roads, people trying to remember where they put their favorite scarf. Hat. Mittens.

IMG_0160I hauled the giant tub of winter gear upstairs to sort through. Ordered a new pair of snow boots.  

Took the dogs for a walk.

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Turned around after five minutes and went back inside.

Shit. It’s cold.

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I’m not ready for this.

The dam is froze up. Ranchers are breaking ice and feeding hay.

IMG_9961I am making plans for soup for dinner every night for the next six months.

I even went to craft club and attempted to make mittens out of an old sweater.

I hadn’t used a sewing machine since I nearly failed Home Ec. in the 8th grade. This time it didn’t go much better.

I required assistance. A lot of assistance. And the mittens, well, one is done. Sorta. I might need to call Martha Stewart…and pour a drink…

Winter

But these are the things people out here do in the winter. They have hobbies. Or create new ones that will help them pass the time in the dark and cold that settles in here around 5 pm and lingers until the morning. And some might pour a little bourbon in a glass, you know, to thaw out a bit…

If the cold and the white on the plains were as inspiring to as many people as the waves in the ocean hitting the shore, or the tall pines of the mountains reaching toward the sky, we would have thousands of poets and painters here telling the story of a frozen world.

Old shack in winter

But the cold settling in on the plains is a beauty recognized by the characters out here who  can’t help but marvel at extremes. They appreciate what cold does to the body and the soul, makes it slow down, recharge, toughen up and soften up at the same time.

We take pride in the taking care of things, the animals, the driveway, one another.

We laugh at things like frozen eyeballs, snot-sicles and relocated southerners who think 20 degrees is as cold as it gets.

It is cold. But it will get colder.

My Lord, will it get colder.

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It Came In With The Night
Go find your mittens
so your fingers don’t freeze
slip on your big boots
pull your socks to your knees

Dig out your best scarf
wrap it round yourself tight
the snow has arrived here

it came in with the night.

I’ll put the roast in the oven
and heat the milk on the stove
they’ll be right here waiting
when you come in from the cold

Knocking ice from the branches
and stringing Christmas tree lights
yes the snow has arrived dear

it came in with the night.

So squeeze on your knit cap
over wild wooly hair
watch your breath float and drift
in the crisp morning air

Break the ice for the cattle
put the saddles away
yes the snow has arrived here

and I think it might stay.

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How it goes with trees

IMG_7603 There’s miles and miles of trees out here behind our houses. Just trees, yes, but trees in these parts are hard to come by.

This season is about all run out as we find ourselves at the end of October. The leaves are brown, the wind has taken most of them, swirled them around, tossed them up and let them fall.

But yesterday there were a few stragglers, a few trees that held out to stand out above the crowd. So I went out looking for them.

IMG_7604IMG_7608 IMG_7610 IMG_7612 IMG_7615 IMG_7619 IMG_7621 IMG_7624 IMG_7628 IMG_7634 IMG_7639 IMG_7642 IMG_7645 IMG_7647 IMG_7649 IMG_7654 IMG_7656It’s funny how the colors seem brighter when we know they’re fleeting. In these same spaces today, with the wind and the gray skies, most of these leaves I admired yesterday have now hit the ground.

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IMG_7665I knew it would happen. That’s the thing about this place. The trees, they are the reason it looks different here every day. 
IMG_7675 IMG_7677The trees and that sky.
IMG_7680So except for that sky, it will be brown now, until it turns white.

And it will be white until it turns brown again.

Then it will be brown until it turns green.

Green until gold…and so on and so on because that’s how it goes with trees…

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Wild, restless things…

It has been the kind of autumn weather sent from somewhere good. 65 degrees and sunny. No wind. The leaves are changing quietly and, if it weren’t for the magical mosquitos that somehow made it through a few overnight freezes, the animals would be as content as they can be.

I can hardly stand staying inside. I can’t. I sit at my desk and work and then get up and take out the garbage. I wander to see if maybe there are things that need picking up out there. I pet the cats just a little longer. Throw the stick for the dog. I just got in from checking the mailbox. And how the leaves are changing. And procrastinating life behind my desk.

Yesterday I called Husband and tried to make a plan to hit the hills when he got home. He thought that would be a good idea. He thought maybe he should be home at a decent hour. It was like 4:00 when I called him.

Three and a half long hours later he arrived…just enough time for me to walk down to the barnyard. Zig zag back to the house again, taking pictures of everything along the way. Taste a few of the biggest plums. Pet the cat. Pet the dog. Mosy back in the house to think about supper and decide I will decide later. Then out on the deck to lay face down in the sun and read a book while I wait and maybe, uh, I don’t know….fall asleep face down until the sensation of a missing limb wakes me up…

My armmmm…..myyy arrmmm fell asslleeepp…

Anyway, finally I heard the clunk, clunk of his boots on the steps and I grabbed my cap and camera and stood like a nerd without a life by the counter and proceeded to make approximately 23 suggestions on what we could do right at that moment, before the sun went down…

Take a walk, shoot at a target, check the game cams, take a 4-wheeler ride, catch the horses really quick if that’s even possible, take a drive, take a run, do pretty much anything but work, climb Pots and Pans and wait for the sunset and let me take photos of him …pick more plums…or chokecherries…or what’s left of the flowers…

In the end taking a ride on the 4-wheeler to the east pasture to check on the game cams won out and I was out the door on the back of that machine before the man could even find his hat.

I will tell you, I would always rather be on a horse, but there is nothing like sitting close to a man with your arms around his waist, under the quickly setting sun, moving through the coulees, talking and watching and just being out and about.

“Isn’t this quite the day?” I would say.

“Sure is,” he would reply as we rolled along, slowly, before stopping so I could take a photo and he could put his binoculars up to his face to see what he could see there on the skyline.

Turns out that the wild things were just as restless as I was that evening and we were in their witching hour, surrounded.

Husband killed the engine of the machine and I followed him on foot, up to the top of the hill where he would quietly hand me the binoculars so I could see up close what I was watching from afar…

A big muley buck making his way out of the trees to the north, and a white tail waiting on the other side. And then, in the corner of our pasture, a herd of elk milled around, the cows bunched up while the lead bull worked himself up trying to fend off his young competitors.

“You hear them bugling?” he asked and handed me the binoculars.

“Yeah,” I whispered, taking a look and handing them back.

And then he would turn back and watch the bucks, making a comment on their size and behavior before handing me the binoculars again.

And that’s what we did then, until the sun dropped below the horizon and we could no longer make out the animals as anything but shadows. We watched the other creatures end the day while we ended ours and it was nice.

Then we turned around and marched back toward our wheels, and I listened as he made plans for his hunt this fall and we didn’t even notice those damn mosquitos.

Yes, we’ve had the kind of autumn days that are made of all things good. And just as the leaves change, so our lives change quietly, from season to season. But I’d like to suppose, no matter how that time ticks, you will always find the two of us out there, when the weather’s good, together, with the other wild, restless things…

 

 

On bighorn sheep and humans…

Oh my gosh you guys, look at this. 
It’s a baby bighorn sheep. He’s trying to get down to his momma.

And then look here, here’s the herd of nannies and babies I spotted a few weeks ago on a little drive through the badlands on my home turf.

The bighorns are badlands residents that I don’t get to see too often. In fact, this sighting was only my second in all the years I’ve lived and roamed around here.

So I was pretty excited to find a whole clan of mommas hanging out on a cliff in the badlands, posing for me.

These badlands that we live on the edge of are full of surprises, changing every day, every few minutes even, with the shift of light and weather.

Change is a big topic out here in these boomtowns exploding with growth above the shale formation where we’re busy extracting millions of barrels of oil.

Somedays are harder than others to get around, to make plans to accept that there are things that simply will never be the same. And this is both for the worse and for the better and that can be a hard thing to explain to people wanting to hear that it’s all black and white.

If I’ve learned anything from living back at the ranch it is that this world is full of blending colors…

Somedays I don’t feel like talking about it. Somedays I do.

But that day I was taking a drive outside of town, scoping out a spot for an oil truck  photoshoot.

A shiny oil truck in the middle of the badlands.

Not my usual subject and sort of a funny juxtaposition of industry and beauty…

I was kicking up dust on a gravel road, me and about a dozen other pickups, along the Little Missouri River, when I got a glimpse of this little family…

And so I slowed down and watched them eating on the yellow clover, twitching their tails at the bugs and content and unconcerned with the world outside the fence moving and changing so quickly around them.

I stepped out of my car to get a closer look. A trucker stopped with his camera.

And then a car. And another pickup.

Working people behind out of state license plates taking a marvel, taking a second to admire these mommas.

The guests came and went but I stayed for a bit longer, like a visitor at a zoo, studying their behavior, admiring how they move so easily up and down the cliffs. How they were made for this place.

I think I was made for this place. Most days I do. I was made to defend it and scuff my boots on it. I was made to witness it in all of its changes.

In its struggles.

In its best moments.

I was made to tell its story if I can. To ask questions and make sure I take notice of things that are just so spectacular. Things that we might miss if we drive too fast.

Sometimes I think we’re all driving too fast.

Maybe in another life I’ll be something like a  bighorn sheep momma, with just a few simple tasks, eating and moving and keeping us all alive….

Then again, maybe that’s all we’re really trying to do here…as humans…

Hazy Skies

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so I can hardly stand to be inside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the clover.

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

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

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

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

Pink Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

Country Cousins

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

Pride?

Work?

Home?

A place to belong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Badlands Skies.

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

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

I couldn’t take my eyes away.


Here’s to a beautiful weekend.

Peace, Love, Sunrise to Sunset,

Jessie