When to fly home

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not spring yet.

Oh no. Not yet.

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

White to to slush. The earth warmed up.

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

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

I heard the snow is going to fall again tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No…none of those things…

but there are birds…

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

perched and fluttering, covering almost every branch.

Are they singing? I think it’s them.

Listen to that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Column: A season comes home again…

The sun sets on an old day

I hit the road to see a friend

Some days I need to leave this place

so I can come home again

Coming Home: Winter blues washed away by spring melt
by Jessie Veeder
3/16/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Spring is…

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

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

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

It doesn’t matter. It’s summer now.

Your feet don’t get cold in the summer.

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

You need to photograph those tiny bubbles.

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

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

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

“Spring is springing!”

“Spring is springing!”

“Spring is…”

pooping

Dammit dog!

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

Happy thaw out everyone!

Love and snow fall…

We woke up this Valentines Day to find a nice fresh coat of fluffy snow, a little sun and some sparkle in the air.

I was happy to see it, because for about three months it’s literally been too cold to snow.

Yes.

Too. Cold. To. Snow.

That’s a thing here.

Which means I’ve been cooped up a bit, and so has my camera. Things like cameras and fingers don’t work too well when it’s too cold to snow.

But those clouds and that sun seemed to be working this morning (I mean it was like 10 degrees above zero) so I went out in it.

A gift to myself for a day covered in love.

Love and sparkly snow on the tips of berry covered branches…

On the noses of dogs…

Ok, all over the faces of dogs…

On the tips of the grass…

On the backs of horses…

In barnyards…

and all of the things made more beautiful with a little light…

and a little frosting.

Happy Valentines Day Friends. Spread a little love today.

Let loose…

The world’s full of mustangs
and stray cats
and untamed
men lighting smokes and making promises to you

You show them the fences
the spots that need mending
and the holes in the trees
in case you need to break through

Let loose.

Let loose.

You’re tangled and unbraided
just like the mane
of that pony who taught you
about getting up again

And bones they might break
but words have a way of
screaming out secrets
only that pony ever knew

Let loose.

Let loose.

Let loose the horses girl
Let go of the reigns
It’s no use being lost this way
though I know you love to roam…
Let that horse bring you home

You forgot
All those things you said you’d do
When you’re lost
and no one’s coming for you…

Let loose.

Let loose.

Let loose the horses girl
Let go of the reigns
It’s no use being lost this way
though I know you love to roam…

Let that horse bring you home.

Happy New Year Life is Beautiful

Happy 2014 everyone. Looks like we made it another year, despite my overconsumption of champagne and cream based party dips over the past several weeks.

We rang in the New Year with style and class as always here at our humble abode under homemade party hats constructed out of Red Solo cups, because these are the things we resort to when there’s not a New Years headband to be found for miles.

photo-56

And we’re crafty, you know.

That’s my cousin on the left. And now he’s gonna kill me.

Or something like that…

Anyway, yesterday when the smoke had cleared from the unsuccessful egg bake I attempted to make for my guests, Husband and I shuffled around the house, ate leftover dip and pasta and reminisced a bit about the year we left behind us.

We both came to the conclusion that it went too fast. So fast, that most of our memories are a blur.

But there are some favorites we could agree on, fun little tidbits of 2013 that will hang on with us forever.

Like making a bon fire and attempting to curl on the stock dam and sled down the big hill outside our house with all the friends we could convince to come and visit us,

the long trip to Montana to sing under the mountains,

my cousin’s wedding that brought all the relatives together,

the arrival of the cabin on the spot the old house used to sit,

the construction of the deck and celebrating turning 30 under the stars.

It was the year of the wild berries and impossible hornets,

Pops’ Trail 90, a Disney Extravaganza, the slow destruction of my windshield and the pug’s motivation

and what feels like a million words written and a thousand songs sung.

It was the year of Juno,

a big March snow storm,

so much rain we never got out of the mud,

the coldest December of my life, a master bathroom project that threatened to end me and some of the best horses we’ve ever had on this place.

It was the year we didn’t quite get what we wanted but tried our damnedest anyway.

It was a good year, one, as always, spent behind the camera.

Because life is beautiful.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November 

December

Thanks for all the love friends. Here’s to good friends, good wine, good tunes and good times in 2014!

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!

I don’t want to know…

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

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

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

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

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

And the crunch of the leaves beneath my boots.

The smell of the sage.

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

It makes no difference, except one thing.

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

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

You are loved. You are loved.

Every day you are loved.

I

The making of a dog.

Remember this little girl?

OMMMGEEEE she was so fluffaaaayyy I could diiieee!!!

Yes, that was Juno, The Littlest Cow Dog last winter when we brought her home to the ranch in Pops’ pickup. I held her the whole thirty-some miles while she drooled all over my arm and shook with fear or anticipation or nervousness or whatever it is that goes through a little puppy’s head when she’s taken away from her momma.

We had high hopes for that puppy that day. Our old cow dog, Pudge, limpy, gimpy, faithful, storm fearing, fur tangled, sweet as sugar, gramma Pudge is getting a little too arthritic to make it on long rides or up into the pickup box by herself. She has retired to sleeping on her soft pillow under the heat lamp and occasionally accompanying us to the barn or down the road to get the mail. It’s tough to admit that any day now Pudge will take her last 4-wheeler ride, but it’s clear looking into those sweet ancient eyes that it’s the truth. And without Pudge the Veeder Ranch would be left cow-dog-less.

Because, contrary to the pug’s delusions he doesn’t quite fit the bill.

And so we found Juno. Part border collie. Part blue heeler. Part angel and part acrobatic, magical boot sniffer-outer and chewer-upper. (Seriously. It doesn’t matter how you put those boots on the shelf, she’s gonna get them and she’s gonna eat them).

When Juno found herself on her new ranch she was a bundle of energy, fur and timid playfulness. Everyone fell in love.

My mom wanted her to sleep in the house.

I wanted her to sleep at my house.

And Chug the Pug wanted to move to mom and dad’s house.

pug and puppy copy

Even Pudge, who had been getting up slower and slower every day found a new swig of youthfulness that she occasionally employs to chase her new garage-mate around the yard.

Funny what a wave of youth and fluff and plain cuteness can bring to an old place.

But Juno was meant to be more than a cute companion. That’s the thing here. Cow dogs have many important responsibilities, and when you’ve got a pup on your hands who’s only interest seems to be digging holes, spilling the food dish and chewing the fingers out of your best leather gloves, a large part of you wonders what you’ve got on your hands here (besides fingerless gloves).

Yes, cow dogs have a punch list and Juno, cute as she was, wasn’t an exception. She needed to grow up to be:

Gentle with children but rough on varmints who might wander into the yard.

Sweet and obedient but brave enough to convince a 2,000 pound bull to get his ass out of the brush.

Vocal and adventurous,  but only with the cattle.

Athletic and smart and sensitive to commands.

Quick

Fierce and loyal and friendly with a work ethic and an eager to please attitude.

Instinctual. As in: know what to do even without being told…and while we’re at it..

Bur and tick repellent

Not too much to ask right? Not too much pressure from an eager to please baby who hasn’t even seen her second winter…

But here’s the thing, a good dog is an invaluable asset around here. I joke about the expectations, but if they emerge, if they are even remotely met out here on the days when it’s just  a cowboy against 100 head of cattle heading in the wrong direction, that cowboy won’t trade that dog for a mansion in the mountains.

And so we’ve been watching that pup closely, wondering how she might emerge from puppyhood. Will she be too timid? She’s a sweet little thing. Will she ever want to jump in the back of the pickup on her own? Will she come back when called? Will she be intimidated by the ornery cows? Will she come along on a ride? Will she become more than a pet?

Will she be what we hoped she would be?

Well, take a look here friends. It’s Juno.

And there she is way out there alongside of Pops and his horse, bopping and jumping and trotting through the long grass on our way to move some cows.

Take a look at how she’s grown up, that little sweetie.

Then take your coat off, take a seat and let Pops pour you a fresh cup of coffee because if you’ve stopped over you’re gonna hear it.

And it’s gonna be a while.

Because he’s proud.

Like Trail-90 proud.

Like grandkid proud.

“Can I tell you about my dog?” he’ll ask.

And before you can answer he’ll tell you how last night she would have taken that bull all the way home on her own if he would have let her.

He’ll tell you she’ll little but she got instinct.

He’ll tell you she’s sweet but she’s tough enough.

He’ll tell you how she’s so smart she comes back with one ask of one command and this morning he thinks he might have actually heard her say a word, like “hello” or “hi there” or something that sounded like a greeting, and, well, he’s not quite sure but she just might be bur repellent too…

And then he’ll tell you he’s pleased and that she just might be…could possibly be…if he doesn’t screw it all up…

 

The Best Cow Dog He’s Ever Had in His Whole Entire Life!!!!

Ever.

Don’t worry. I won’t tell Pudge.

Or the Pug.

Oh Juno, you’re doin’ good girl!