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

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!

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

 

An accent, an accident and a coffee related incident…

And now, I humbly present to you:

Yesterday’s Revelations:

Ahem..

I accidentally slept in too late and then proceeded to have a fight with my coffee Keurig. I’ve never had a coffee Keurig until I opened one for Christmas. Generally in this house it’s old fashioned Folgers Black through the pot. Yesterday morning I put in one of those little pods and proceeded to frantically flail my arms and dish towel around as I watched water spew from all corners of the foreign little machine, proving that sometimes you need coffee before you can even make coffee. 

Revelation #1. We can’t have nice things. I can’t handle nice things.

Yesterday while I was checking out at a convenience store in town, the clerk told me she liked my accent. Then she asked me where I was from.

“Here,” I said.

That was my fourth word to her.

Revelation #2: My Northern accent is so strong that Northerners themselves think I’m from a different country. I’m not sure what to do with this…except maybe hang out with more southerners…

Texas

On my way home from town I pulled into our approach, hit an icy patch on the road, spun out, fish-tailed and went in the ditch. In my own yard. 

Revelation #3: I’m the type of person who hits an icy patch on the road, spins out, fish tails and goes in the ditch. In my own yard.

On a trip to check on the place I spent a good three to five minutes trying to convince Big Brown Dog to make the jump up into the back of the pickup before resorting to lifting his feet up on the tailgate then hoisting his rear-end as he flailed his back legs and I grunted, scooched and reassured the 105 pound animal that we could do this.

Revelation #4: Even the best dogs get old (and I need to start lifting weights).

When I let the pug sleep in my room he inevitably winds up in my closet sleeping on a sweater. Or a pair of my good pants. Or inside my packed suitcase. 

Revelation #5: I should really start putting my clothes away.

Pug on Ugg

And then last night I dreamed about mustaches, like there was a chart on the wall of my doctor’s office with photos and descriptions of the top ten acceptable upper lip hair formations and I was studying this carefully and taking it seriously and I don’t know what all this means–my inability to press “brew” on a new-fangled coffee machine without disastrous results, my thick northern drawl, tendency to get into weird driving predicaments and, you know, the dog situation–except that I just thought I should take notes…especially about that mustache thing…

photo-51

You’re welcome friends.

You. Are. Welcome.

Computer

 

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.

Winter’s a s**thead and then I had a flashback…

Somewhere in Montana…

Well we made it back from our road trip, dropped our bags at the bottom of the stairs in our cozy and messy house and proceeded to be welcomed by a slap across the face we have come to know as reality.

Work piled up in our inboxes.

Bills in the mail.

Closet unfurled from last week’s haphazard packing debacle.

Garbage strewn across yard from an unwelcome raccoon (or pug or lab) shaped scavenger.

And winter. Winter being a shithead. 

Pug in snow

“Septic tank’s frozen again.”

These are the messages I get when I’m in town trying to be civilized.

Great.

“Heading to the big town to pick up a snake and a pressure washer and (something else that I didn’t catch because I was thinking about where I might shower that night) because if you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself around here…”

You know I know this better than anyone.

Great, now I’m having a flashback…

Phew, that was exhausting…

Anyway…last month when the arctic air whipped the trees around this place it shot the temperature down to -60 and apparently that’s too cold for a successful potty drain, so we called someone to come out and save us, and, well, I guess Husband learned something. Because last night I arrived home in the dark and he was out there in sub-zero temperatures unplugging whatever was plugged.

And he was successful. Thank God he was successful. I had to pee.

Husband is my hero.

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My wall-building, chandelier-hanging, power-tool-toting, tile-placing, ladder-climing,  potty pumping hero.

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God I miss summer.

Sunday Column: What it means to be a cowgirl

The wind is blowing so hard out here it woke us out of a dead sleep early this morning and detached some of the new shingles on the roof of the garage, undoing in one second some of the hard work Husband laid down last weekend when the weather was a little less tornado-ey and a bit more melty.

You never know what you’re going to get out here. If I’ve learned anything this winter I’ve learned that. 

So we’re spending the day inside making shelves, making plans, making progress and making egg in a hole.

Ever had it? It’s gourmet.

Later today after I get tired of handing my dear husband things like nail guns, screwdrivers,   sandpaper and the thing he just asked me to find that I will never find because I have no idea what it is, I will go hide in my room and play some cowboy music and try to get  prepared for our trip to Elko on Tuesday. 

This trip to another region of cowboy country has gotten me thinking about my roots and where I may have picked up on the idea that I want to stick around here and ride horses for the rest of my life.

In fact, lately I’ve been in touch with a woman from New York who is working on “The Cowgirl Project,” a documentary and movement that explores what it means to be a cowgirl. She’s going to meet me in Elko next week and we’re going to talk about it a bit more, but to prepare she called me up and asked me for my initial thoughts on the topic.

Visit www.barbaranewmancreative.com for more information

At the time I was riding in the back of my Big Sister’s car as she drove our dad around town, a sort of outing we’d been scheduling that week to get him out into the world as he recovers. Lately I’ve found all of the women in my life have had to ‘Cowboy Up,’ so to speak, to tap into the best and strongest parts of ourselves to move through the scariest moment of our lives and come out better–more compassionate, more understanding and more capable–on the other end.

But I have to be honest, I’ve never thought to define the word “cowgirl.” And so when I was asked to do just that, I sort of started rambling. I mean, I have plenty of thoughts on what it means to be a cowboy, but really, when I get right down to it, some of the best cowboys I know are women.

And they don’t all wear hats and chaps and ride a strawberry roan. 

No. In fact one of the best cowgirls I’ve known, the one who showed me at a young age the kind of woman I could turn out to be if I stuck here with the cattle and the buttes and a roast in the oven, was my grandmother.

And when I think of her I think of an old free feed cap and hands that can soothe a baby and fix a fence.

When I think of her I think strong, not just in muscle but in spirit.

When I think of her I think of homemade rag dolls,  popsicles on the porch, rainwater catching in the barrel below the house and digging up potatoes in the garden out back.

When I think of her I think overalls in the winter and her voice yelling “Come Boss! Come Boss!” as my grandpa threw out grain for the cattle.

When I think of her I think of family and holidays surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles in a tiny kitchen on the prairie, homemade buns and the jello salad she always forgot in the refrigerator. 

When I think of her I think of that old sorrel horse, the one I rode when she was gone. The one that taught me how to fall off and get back up again.

Coming Home: How I define a cowgirl
by Jessie Veeder
1/26/14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

There are plenty more like her out there, some of who’ve never sat thier ass in a saddle, but if asked to get ‘on up there  would give it her best shot, with confidence, grace and good humor.

And when you got home there would be a roast in the oven and maybe a jello salad somewhere in the back of the fridge.

And I don’t know what it all means except that as long as their are women out there who know how to “cowboy up,”–in between sidewalks or on the wide open trail–I think we’re all going to be ok.

If you need me I’ll be in my room singing about it.

Sunday Column: The Happiest Place on Earth

Well, Christmas is coming and I’m coming down from a fabulous weekend spent performing winter songs across the state.

Turns out I’m also coming down with the Christmas plague and it’s currently compromising the voice I so desperately need to work during this holiday season.

Because asking me not to talk is like asking me not to breathe.

Anyway, that’s a story for tomorrow. Today, I want to catch you up on what I learned on another trip I took with the nieces and the in-laws to a tropical, magical land known as Disney World a few weeks back.

There were princesses and Mickey shaped ice-cream bars,

castles and spinning tea cups, roller coasters and stuffed animals, a big ‘ol tree house,

a few even bigger whales,

giant strollers running into my ankles, It’s a Small World After All and maybe not enough tequila.

And those are just some of the highlights. Because we did it all.

Since these three little princesses came into this world, this auntie has always imagined what it would be like to watch their eyes light up in the Happiest Place on Earth. Judging from the plethora of pink and purple paraphernalia and the never-ending collection of Disney DVDs I had a hunch the place might kinda be their thing.

And anyway, I have memories from a trip my family took to Disney Land in an RV, picking up relatives along the way. I was five years old and the magic of it all had yet to wear thin, and so there is still magic in the memories.

I wanted that magic for my nieces.

So we talked about it last Christmas, my mother and sister-in-law made plans and eleven months later we were all on a plane leaving the great white north for sunny Florida.

And it was fabulous and frantic and exhausting and unexpected and just great fun for lots of reasons.

Turns out though, that the best parts are never expected, and I think that’s the same in Disney as it is in life.

Coming Home:
Happiest Place on Earth doesn’t always mean Disney
by Jessie Veeder
12/15/13
Fargo Forum

Peace, Love and cough syrup.

Jessie

In 100 years.

Today I’m roaming around the house, cleaning and packing and paying bills, getting ready to head out on a family trip to Disney World.

A destination dubbed “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

Outside my window, on the other side of the hill, bulldozers and blades are scraping off snow, native and non-native grasses and cutting into the nearly frozen earth, pushing and flattening and re-imagining the corner of pasture across from the grain bins to make way for what the oil industry is now calling a “Super Pad.”

I knew this was coming.

We’ve talked about it and negotiated it a little, giving it the nod of approval because having three or four pumping units together on the same pad pulling oil from several directions under our ranch and our neighbors’ will mean less roads and less surface damage to the rest of our place and the homesteads that surround us.

The less impact the better has been our motto.

If it’s possible, we fight for it.

I know now for the next several months I will be listening to the sound of progress. I will hear my dogs bark at the sound of machinery they think might be coming down our road, but is really just passing by or pushing dirt. I will watch the landscape transform a bit and then the horizon will follow…oil derrick up, reaching to the sky, then another, and another.

Oil derrick down, then a pumping unit, then another, then another.

And there they will be for thirty or some years, pumping, pulling, coaxing oil from the ground, each passing year becoming a more familiar fixture on this old place.

This weekend my uncle was at the ranch for deer hunting season. As he was getting ready to head back to Texas, Pops brought out a couple folders that contained stories about the history of this ranch in anticipation of our upcoming 100 year celebration.

In 1915 my great grampa Eddie staked his claim on this place. He got married and headed off to war. When he arrived back in Bear Den Township he proved up his claim, planting some trees, flax and wheat, building a barn and putting up fences.

Over the course of his lifetime he would watch his crops grow, his wife die and his children  make their own mark on the land he laid claim to. He would meet a couple grandchildren and serve them his famous buns, tell them jokes and scruff their hair before leaving them all behind in death to do what they will with the place.

With the red barn and his old house.

I sat on that couch and looked at the old photographs.

100 years might as well have been forever.

We are not made the same these days are we? Do we have the same grit and guts that it took to survive in tar paper shacks through blizzards and prairie fires and forty below?

I listen to the sound of the bulldozers up the hill and know that in the next thirty years I’ll be a witness to more changes to this landscape than my parents and my parents’ parents ever saw in their lifetime.

I have mixed feelings about being that sort of witness.

Great Grandpa Eddie went half-way around the world to fight, to be free to break up this earth to feed his own family.

I doubt he ever took a trip to Florida.

And so I can’t help but feel a bit undone and displaced today, that instead of watching over that dirt I’m preparing for a trip to a fantasy land, leaving this little plot of earth to change forever as I fly away for a bit…