Sunday Column: How ranch people become lake people

Lake Sakakawea Sunset

It’s been hot out there lately. I just pulled my first harvest from the ground in my garden and it got me thinking about the long, hot weekends spent on the ranch when I was a kid.

Back before we had a boat just a couple lawn chairs and a cooler full of pop and juice boxes to lug to the shores of Lake Sakakawea, on days like this my sisters and I would come up with a plan to get a chance to swim in that big lake that was so close to the house (well like 20 mile or so) we could smell them catching fish out there.

At least that ‘s what we’d tell dad in our subtle suggestion that maybe baling hay could wait for the day.

Maybe it was time to hit the lake.

A few weeks ago I met a young girl who said she reads my column in the paper every Sunday. I thanked her for being such a loyal follower and asked her what she would like to read more about.

“Oh, I like the stories about your childhood,” she said.

And so, inspired by her and a recent trip to the lake where we loaded up the coolers, sunflower seeds, summer sausage sandwiches, nephew, sisters, gramma and grampa and headed to the big water on the new pontoon only to hit the water just in time for rain, I decided to write about the simpler days, enjoying the short lived summer on the “beaches” of that big body of water…

Coming Home: When the day’s just right, ranch people become lake people
by Jessie Veeder
7-19-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com 

It’s hard for ranch people to be lake people.

Between trying to keep the cows in the fences, the hay baled and the lawn mowed, there’s not much time left to spend an afternoon with a fishing pole in one hand, a beer in the other and your feet up on the dash of a fancy boat.

But when you live so close to the biggest lake in the state that you swear you can see it from that hill out east if the sky is clear and you tilt your head just right, it’s pretty hard not to work a few lake days into the schedule.

When I was growing up, a chance at a lake day meant the conditions had to line up just right to make my dreams of jumping off a flat rock on the shore into the cold, deep, murky water of Lake Sakakawea.

First, it had to be Saturday or Sunday, and both my parents needed to be home with plans on doing something that was utterly miserable to accomplish in the blazing 90-degree heat.

Which means that, secondly, it had to be either the month of July or August, and said blazing 90-degree heat had to magically fall on a Saturday or Sunday.

Now, we all know how rare it is that those two circumstances converge, but when they did, we girls needed to be on it. We needed to wake up with the scent of the lake in our nostrils, ready to feel things out and set the plan in motion.

Maybe Dad would come in from working on a broken-down baler, all sweaty and fed up in the already hot midmorning sun. Maybe Mom was in her shorts pulling weeds from the walkway, stopping every so often to put her hands on her hips and shield her eyes.

Maybe the bugs were a little bad out there because the wind wasn’t blowing and it wasn’t quite noon, and so I took the opportunity to walk out and pull a few weeds myself, sure to mention what a great day it would be for a little swim in the lake.

And then maybe we caught Dad in the house splashing water on his face at the kitchen sink so I said something about how I heard that the fish were biting up at McKenzie Bay while my little sister was out digging worms in the garden, and pretty soon the seed was planted. Mom started whipping up summer sausage sandwiches, Dad started hunting for the old tackle box on the garage shelf where he left it the previous July, and my sisters and I packed up our favorite beach towels, pulled on our swimsuits, loaded the lawn chairs in the back of the old pickup, grabbed a bag of sunflower seeds and milled around in the driveway waiting impatiently in the hot sun, but not saying a word as our parents made the slow migration toward the vehicle.

Now, back in the youth of our family, there was no budget for things like boats or Jet Skis, so we didn’t have to fuss with that. No. Our biggest concern was avoiding the potholes on the worn highway, leaving the windows open so we could spit seeds and cool down, and, when that big lake appeared before us in the windshield like an oasis nestled in the hot cliffs of the Badlands, it was our mission to find an acceptable “beach” on those rocky, weedy and muddy shores.

Lake Sakakawea

And for us, “beach” meant that the legs of Mom’s lawn chair didn’t sink in to her butt when she sat down, the poky Canadian thistle didn’t reach all the way to shore and that there was at least an acceptable amount of sand and/or flat rocks where we could throw out our beach towels, make our picnic, stick a fishing pole in the ground, eat our sandwiches and watch the fancy boats and Jet Skis drive by before finding a place to wash the heat, work and worry of the summer off in the waves of a lake that belonged to us for the few sweet, relaxing, fly-bitten hours that we, too, transformed into lake people.

Lake Sakakawea  

Sunday Column: The Rules of Fencing

IMG_3349Happy July everyone. My favorite month of the year. I rung it in in family tradition by heading east to my grandparent’s lake cabin in Minnesota to hang with the relatives and do lake things.

And while the rest of the ranch and me were out in Minnesota last weekend frolicking in the water, eating summer sausage sandwiches, lounging in the sun, taking in the fireworks displays, DSCN3428DSCN3433DSCN3420 DSCN3417  DSCN3414

and trying to balance two Veeder girls and a baby bump on a paddle board…

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Husband had to stay home to work and take care of the cows.

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Now, don’t feel too bad. In the summer, with the tall green grass and plenty pasture land, taking care of the cows really just means making sure they don’t get into the neighbors field.

And that’s pretty much it.

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I was feeling guilty a little bit, except that I know the man is fine with the responsibility, especially since his recent purchase…the two-wheeled cow checker–for when you’re pretty sure the cows are in, but just want to zip around to make sure so you probably don’t need to go through all the trouble of getting the horses in and saddling up.

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It’s the perfect tool for a man who has the heart and spirit of a twelve year old…

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And so that’s what Husband did this weekend. He mowed the grass and worked on wiring the garage and finishing the basement and he checked the cows.

And, not surprisingly, a few were out.

So he got them in. With the dog and a dirt bike.

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And then, as it would tend to go, while he went back to check the fences for the undiscoverable holes, he looked behind him to witness one feisty and athletic old bovine, the one he just put back in her place, making a leap back to the other side, like a 1,500 pound mule deer.

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Because sometimes even the best cowboys with the best dogs, the best forms of transportation and the best fences cannot tame a cow convinced that the grass is greener…

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Coming Home: Rules of fencing, the never-ending chore, are never forgotten
by Jessie Veeder
7-5-15
Forum Communications

There are jobs at the ranch that are truly enjoyable at times. Fencing is generally not one of them.

Fencing at the ranch involves wood ticks, nasty brush, a kazillion horse flies, barbed wire, pliers and a lot of bending over.

And if that doesn’t sound pleasing enough, ranchers get a little extra comfort when they pull on their flannel jammies at night knowing that they are never at a loss for work as long as they have barbed wire fences.

Some of my earliest memories as a ranch kid are of hopping in the pickup on a hot July day with my dad to go check fences.

I remember leaning against the stick shift of the old truck as my dad drove slowly down the fence line, stopping every few moments to get out, grab a staple or new fence post and make a repair. I remember eating warm ham sandwiches, sweating and swatting the buzzing bugs that multiplied in the thorny brush patches where the fence was always down, the poke of the barbs and the hum of the Clint Black song coming through the am radio of the old work pickup.

But mostly I remember being hot.

And so as long as I live, I will never forget the 10 (or was it 11) basic rules of fencing the Veeder Ranch, because monumental and never-ending tasks like these leave an impression on a kid.

1) Choose to take your trip in the heat of the day. It’s not a smart option, but the only option for procrastinators who like to have coffee, bacon and eggs, and then another helping while they catch the end of CBS Sunday Morning.

2) Intend to apply a thick mist of Deep Woods OFF to ward off the hawk-sized bugs, and then forget to bring it along as you head miles into the wilderness. Because how else would you be able to really test how much buzzing and biting a human sauna can endure?

3) If you think you may need five to seven steel fence posts to get the job done, be sure to only locate one to take along. Because a man needs a challenge, and figuring out how to re-stretch a half-mile of wire using a rusty plier, reused fencing staples from 1918, a pocket knife and one measly fence post is the type of feat only a real Renaissance/MacGyver-type specimen can handle. Which brings me to the staples …

4) Forget them in the shop.

5) But for the love of Martha, don’t forget the dog. I mean, running for 3 to 4 miles at top speed behind the four-wheeler to a location void of water or an adequate breeze is the perfect death-defying act for a cow dog. Go ahead, just try to leave him behind, but don’t be alarmed when he pops up over the hill and makes a beeline to the tiny bit of shade the midday sun provides off of your small ATV.

And while you’re at it…

6) Forget to bring your good leather gloves. Instead, pull on the pair with the hole where your right pointer finger is located. Because the No. 7 rule of fencing just happens to be …

7) Bleed. You’re not fencing until you’re itchy, poked, stabbed, bruised and bleeding.

8 ) So make sure to bring company. Because if a man cusses in the pasture and there’s no one there to hear it, is he really even angry?

And if you’re cussing anyway, you might as well …

9) Sweat. Sweat out all that water that you forgot to pack. Sweat so you must roll up your sleeves just enough to expose your flesh to the thorns you must reach into to yank up trampled fence.

10) And then bleed again, cuss louder, sweat a little more, turn around to find that your companion has disappeared over the hill to pick wildflowers, decide that only a really smart and athletic cow could maneuver through your fence repairs, head home for lunch with every intention of returning after the meal only to revisit the site the next morning to find those extra plump, extra lazy cows are in the field again.

11) Repeat until the ground freezes.

Peace, Love and Fence Posts,

Jessie

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With so much summer stretching out ahead…

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Smoke from fires in Canada are making our world hazy and hot. It sort of coincides with my mood this week as I mill around waiting for the 4th of July and my annual road trip to Minnesota where I’ll spend a few days with my family at my Grandparent’s lake cabin.

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I have to leave Husband behind because he’s on call…at work…to water my garden…and to all of the animals on this place.

I know we’ll all have a more relaxed vacation knowing someone’s back at the ranch, but some days it seems like we spend more weekends apart than together.

That’s actually probably true, especially in the summer when my schedule is packed with performances.

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It will all cool off and slow down in a matter of months and here we will sit, waiting for the holidays, waiting for a baby…

Summer is so fleeting that I just want to squeeze every ounce of pretty and warm and bright out of it if I can.

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Last night we joined my parents for a supper of grilled steak kabobs and vegetables on their back deck that looks out into the coulee where the crick runs, a place I used to spend every waking summer minute as a kid.

As the sun sunk and my mom and husband worked on finding the bottom of the bottle of red wine, I looked out over that familiar coulee and started counting the fireflies flickering and making their presence known to us.

Of course fireflies exist in a world this green and lovely.

Why not just make it more lovely with tiny dancing stars close enough to touch?

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If there was ever a winter I cannot remember it.

If I was ever cold, the feeling escapes me.

If I ever worried before–about money, about this unborn baby, about my parent’s getting older, my husband on the road or my goals being met–in that moment, I knew nothing of it.

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If I ever knew anything but the tall green grass reaching up over the fence line, the dogs lying lazily in the front yard, the cat catching grasshoppers in the lawn, the garden slowly growing, the wildflowers dotting the prairie, the horses grazing on the hilltop in the home pasture, the laughter coming from the lungs of my mother, the handsome man sitting next to me wearing jeans spotted in grease, a result of what he called “a good day at work,” the little kick in my tummy or those flickering fireflies, I  couldn’t recall it.

Not now. Not at the beginning of July with so much summer stretching out ahead…

Sunday Column: Getting it done in the Wild West…

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Oh my, we had such an amazing weekend here at the ranch. I can’t believe I’m even (barely) awake today as we all come down from the high of friends and family and celebrating it all.

And I intend on telling you all about it, about the beautiful day, the beautiful couple, the food, the adorable ring bearer and flower girl…

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and of course, the dancing,  but first I’m  going to share the column I wrote last week in the hectic whiz and whirl of planning and cleaning and trying to get work done with no internet and no phone in the middle of the wild west.

If I sound a little stressed and frustrated I blame it on the nice cocktail of time crunch, deadlines, road construction, horseflies, heat and hormones…

But don’t worry, we’ve all calmed down a bit now…

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Coming Home: Busy road, slow internet, both inconveniences in the Bakken
by Jessie Veeder
6-21-15
http://www.inforum.com

Pink Road

I pulled my car over on the top of the hill at the approach next to the gate where there’s usually a white pickup with a company logo idling and a man inside checking his phone or writing in a notebook. Usually, I see them there and shake my head in annoyance, wishing they would find another place to park, as if the county road going through the ranch belongs to us only.

Because it seemed like it used to anyway.

But now these once quiet roads have turned into a sort of autobahn, not just for transporting oil, water or random equipment strapped to flatbed trailers, but also the men and women who have places to go.

And while they’re going, they have work to get done.

Because the men behind the wheel on these roads don’t take many breaks, unless it’s to pull over for a phone call or to enter numbers on a laptop plugged into the console of their pickups, a regular mobile office right there on that approach on top of the hill next to the gate.

This is the reality of the weekday workday, not in town but out at the ranch these days. And while the wheels on the portable offices kick up dust on the road above my house, I sit in my back bedroom-turned-office and write about it, report on it, and make phone calls to tell its story.

And then, just as I hit send on one of those timely and important emails, the Internet cuts out.

I don’t panic. This happens a lot. Because no matter how fast we say it has changed out here, things like reliable high-speed Internet 30 miles from town are still a mystical dream of the future.

I’ll just communicate the old-fashioned way and pick up the phone.

But there’s no phone.

And so it’s a Thursday afternoon, I have a deadline, and two of my three links to the civilized world have been taken away.

My third link? Driving an hour in 30 miles of road construction to an office I can access in town, because we’re in the middle of progress, dang it, and progress means a little suffering along the way … and a little ingenuity and resourcefulness.

I thought of those guys in their pickups on that approach on top of the hill next to the gate and I grabbed my laptop, cellphone and notebook, pulled in to where I got a good cellphone signal, tapped into my hotspot and spent a good hour or two getting work done in my own mobile office.

Fast-forward to the weekend when my husband and I attempted to haul a little tractor from the ranch to Williston, N.D., and found ourselves along the highway with a flat tire on the old trailer and an even older spare that didn’t fit. Six phone calls later we landed a contact with a new tire business open past 2 p.m. on Saturdays, drove back to that trailer along the highway, and got it done.

And in between it all I’m arguing with the post office about a pair of my husband’s very important and needs-to-be-here-like-yesterday khaki wedding pants that got lost in the mail. Because it’s a long and winding road to the Wild West. Especially when you’re a pair of khakis coming from New York.

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Sometimes the Wild West just isn’t on my side.

Yes, some things would be undoubtedly easier if we just put this house on wheels and moved it to the suburbs of Minneapolis, where people don’t get flat tires, always have reliable Internet and don’t have to sit in their cars next to cow pastures to get a cellphone signal.

But, oh, the sweet clover smells good these days, even alongside a busy highway changing a flat.

Even without Internet.

Because this is not Minneapolis, even though these roads are no longer ours alone.

But if we stay on course, they will undoubtedly be smoother, the Internet will be faster, and the mobile lives kicking up dust above the house will get a little easier every day.

In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be on a hill somewhere trying to get some work done.

Calf on Road

Look what the rain did…

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I was away most of last week and on into this one, celebrating the release of my new album “Northern Lights” and playing a few concerts around the state.

I have a million things to say about the sold out shows, the little girls who got up on stage to dance with me, the generous crowd and the awesome musicians who backed me, but I have to get out the door to catch another gig.

So I’ll just do what I did when I got home last night before the sun set and let you take in what the rain created while I was out traipsing around.

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I just couldn’t resist a quick walk before bed.

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Can’t you just smell the green grass growing?

I think this is what heaven is like…

Like the rain after a hot day…and a warm day after the rain.

To celebrate my favorite kind of weather, here’s a video of me singing “Raining” at my CD release concert in Fargo on Sunday.

Peace, love and growing things,

Jessie

Spring, wedding and other panic words…

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It’s been a busy spring around the ranch. In exactly one month, my little sister will be getting married out here.

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That’s 30 days people.

We have 30 days to get shit done.

Like finish our basement.

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HA! I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that it just ain’t gonna happen.

And that’s ok.

Because we got other things done. Like fences almost built and old sheds almost done being painted, most of the junk cleaned up…what else do you want from us really?

Because in my experience, the only thing that really gets finished in my life around here is the work done by people we’re paying.

So Pops has hired someone to build him a new barn. That’ll probably be finished in a month. So there’s that.

She should have the wedding in that.

Hell, it’ll be finished! I should live in that.

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Anyway, so that’s what’s been happening around here. A little panic and some work.

And also, it snowed on Sunday. So there was that.

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But it also rained, which was nice, resulting in some neon like grass…I mean, look at my grass!!!

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and more leaves on the trees.

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And wood ticks.

I’ve been picking them off of me like fleas. Yesterday I went for a walk and stripped down to flush at least fifteen.

(You’re welcome for the itchiness you’re going to feel now for the next twenty minutes)

And then there’s this guy.

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Turns out he’s not getting less insane the older he gets.

Nope. Just more insane.

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So I’ve been chasing him around and trying to teach him manners. He’s trying. But the energy. Theres. Just. So. Much. Energy.

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Oh, and the cows are here. They came yesterday. As my favorite Canadian songster, Corb Lund says, “Everything is better with some cows around.” I couldn’t agree more.

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So we’ll be riding and checking things…

As soon as I get the burs out of the manes of all 8 horses.

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Only God and 45 gallons of baby oil can help me now.

Because it’s spring.

If you need me, I’ll be out painting a fence, yelling at a dog, pulling off a tick, watering my lawn or brushing out horse manes.

If you need Little Sister, she’s busy making lists.

If you need Pops, he and Juno will be on his new buggy, looking for holes in the fence.

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And if you need Husband, well, I can only hope he’s in the basement, hammering or wiring something for the love of Bob Villa…

Ugh, I’m exhausted…

Sunday Column: Gardens and Grass and Work Girl…

IMG_5428Things are starting to shape up around here. We spent the weekend with family and friends working on sprucing up the barnyard. We painted out-buildings, built new fences and painted those, pruned some dead trees,

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cleaned up old rusty pieces and parts, painted signs and made more plans for next time.

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It’s funny what a little bloom on the trees and a little paint can do the spirit of the place. This barnyard facelift has been a long time in the making, but tough to get to because when we’re all working full time and getting ready for cattle in the spring, sometimes all we have time for is the basics: fix the fence so the cows don’t get out, make sure we have water. Ride to check on things.

But because Little Sister’s wedding and the 100 year celebration of the ranch is coming up on us quickly, we have a goal to make the place functional as well as presentable to the public. And so that’s what we did.

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In the time in between, back over the hill at our house, my husband has been busy working on building the walls in the basement and I’ve been busy obsessing over our new lawn.

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And making plans, finally, for a garden of my own over here.

It’s coming on time for planting. It was pretty cold the last couple days, but in a week or two I think we’ll be in the safer zone for frost and I can get my hands in the dirt to plant some beans and peas and cucumbers and corn and carrots and onions and tomatoes and anything else I can find room for there.

This garden has been on my list since before we got this house built over here, and each year it seems more important projects sort of push it out of the way. So I head on over to mom and dads and help plant theirs so that I don’t feel as guilty when I raid it come July and August.

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But this year is my year. I mean, we got the grass growing. We got our fence up. We’re getting the barnyard under control. We’re getting our shit together…

And I’m getting my garden dammit.

Coming Home: Green grass inspires the year of the garden
by Jessie Veeder
5-10-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

And in honor of the work getting done around here, I want to share with you another song off of the new album, which will be available to download on CD BABY and at my front door TOMORROW!

“Work” Jessie Veeder, Northern Lights-2015 

 And if you order the signed album at www.jessieveedermusic.com today, I’ll throw in this cool sticker as a token of my appreciation :)

Sticker

Jessie Veeder discusses her Nashville album, “Northern Lights”

Sunday Column: WOODTICKS!

This isn’t a new horror story for you my dear readers, but, well, WOODTICKS!

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I found one crawling up my bathroom wall this morning.

Last week, when I was in the doctor’s office, I reached up to find one on my head.

The blossoms are blossoming, the grass is getting green, the trees are budding and the little bastards are marching out in full force.

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And because all I seem to do lately is pick them off of my pant legs and off my husband’s pants legs, and off my dogs and, apparently, off my walls, I had to write about all the horrifying and encounters I’ve had with them in this week’s column.

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Coming Home: Wood ticks the price for wild paradise
by Jessie Veeder
5-3-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Upon publishing, it was brought to my attention that I shouldn’t take such pests lightly as they carry diseases and some people have been affected by said diseases in terrible ways. My heart goes out to anyone who has suffered from lymes disease or any other debilitating symptoms that ticks and mosquitos can cause. I know this is a possibility and we work to prevent these encounters as much as possible out here at the ranch. Please, use bug spray, always check you and your kids, know the proper way to remove them should they become embedded, and protect your pets with the appropriate medication.

I don’t want anyone getting sick. I just want all the ticks in the world to die because as far as I can tell in my abundant research, they don’t do anything any good.

But if you can’t beat the scary and creepy things in life, I find it’s ok to laugh in its face…so that’s my tactic. Laughing at the things I can’t control and then flushing the little bastards down the toilet…

Peace, love and springtime woes,

Jessie

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Green’s my favorite color

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It was a beautiful day. 70 something and sort of breezy, sunny. The perfect day to go out and collect some wood ticks.

And look for green and on-the-brink-of-blooming things.

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A couple more days of this and we’ll be in full blossom.

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But all the years of searching for spring I know where to look for the earliest flowers and what trees turn green first.

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The tops of hills where the sun is warmest.

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Down under the tall grass where the dirt stays damp.

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By the creek where the trees with the white trunks grow.

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That’s the thing about this place. It has its secrets, it’s little tricks just waiting to be discovered with the seasons.

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Every day looks different here. Every day the sky brings sun or clouds to cast shadows so that if you want to explore something, there’s something new to see.

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But there’s nothing like the waking up season. The door is open to the house tonight and the frogs are singing and croaking in the dam. I would bottle it up if I could and save it for the winter when there’s not much sound but the howling wind.

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Who would believe it now, that it was ever so white and cold?

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I don’t.

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I don’t believe it.

Not when we’re warming up so beautifully around here.

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Not when it’s turning green right before my eyes.

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And green’s my favorite color.

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Sunday Column: Spring Cleaning.

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I spent my work break today pulling woodticks off of Gus.

I’ve never seen so many ticks on a dog in my life. I think there were more ticks than dog actually.

I’m horrified.

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And I’ve even taken preventative measures. Nothing can stop the little bloodsucking bastards around here.

So there’s that.

On my next break I’ll tackle brown dog…there’s more square inch of actual dog, so I’m guessing there’ll be more tick…

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‘Tis the season

And it’s also the season for spring cleaning and raking and fencing and painting and all around maintenance and clean up.

We do this a little bit every spring when the weather warms up, but there’s a sense of urgency this year because Little Sister is getting married out here in like two months.

Yeah, that little sister…tell me we haven’t all grown up…

Anyway, a big party to plan means we’re doing things like pulling weeds in front of the barn where there’s usually a bunch of hay.

No one’s ever pulled weeds out from in front of the barn ever in the history of the world, so that was fun.

Seriously. I have an entire pickup full of dried out six foot tall pigweeds waiting to be disposed of when the wind decides to give it a rest.

Oh, and I bought paint for the little tin tack rooms too. I’m going to match them to the barn. It’s going to be adorable.

Just call me Martha Frickin’ Stewart, Queen of the Barnyard.

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Sometimes all we need is a party around here to get our shit together, and picked up and thrown out. Seriously. We even cleaned the shop a little. Well, at least got rid of some of the Tupperwear bins full of childhood things none of us girls could throw away when we moved out of the house. Because one day I might want to display that old 4-H horse show trophy in my adult home.

Sheesh.

Anwyay. So that’s what’s been on my mind. Weeds and grass and woodticks and weather and weddings and putting this place together.

I have to focus on something or I’m going to have a mental breakdown about the fact that my little sister is grown up enough to get married and own a home…

Wahhh…

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Coming Home: Giving the farm the Martha Stewart Treatment
by Jessie Veeder
4-19-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com