Sunday Column: On Easter

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In the little Lutheran Church, along a gravel road out in the middle of a cow pasture families filled the pews, back to front, to celebrate Easter. Children were dressed in new outfits, bonnets and vests, ties and frills. They sat next to grandmothers shushing their excited squeals and helped put money in the offering plate.

I stood next to Pops at the front of the church as he played guitar and I sang a song I’ve been singing since I was a little girl. My best friend was baptizing her new baby that day and she asked for a special song.

I hadn’t sung in this little church since I was ten years old.

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The girl who grew up down the road from me, who went to a country school with me,  who traveled to High School Rodeos and could relate to what it meant to be the middle sister, the blonde girl who grew up and moved away, came home for the holiday and she was sitting in the front row with her two little girls.

Behind them, wrangling three young boys in matching flannel shirts, was one of Husband’s best friends.

And then there were the little neighbor girls, all tall and grown up and beautiful. There was their dad, a little more gray in his hair.

There they all were, really, my community gathered on a spring morning that felt like spring. A spring morning that had the birds singing and the baby calves bucking and kicking, the horses basking in the warmth of it all.

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Easter, the pastor said, is a time to start again. The promise of a new season. A second chance.

A resurrection.

It made sense to me then that we would celebrate a baptism on that day, a baptism of a child that is hope and prayers answered personified.

It made sense that we passed two new baby calves, still wet out of the womb, on the road on the way to the church.

It made sense then that we were granted some sunshine and a place to gather with family and friends we’ve known all of our lives. So many they had to bring out the folding chairs.

So many familiar faces, growing up and growing old and still sticking with this place.

Still coming back to the broken up fields and this old church.

And I remember when I was the girl in the Easter hat, a little girl standing up before the congregation with my hands behind my back and singing out.

I remember what it was like when my legs didn’t touch the floor, but dangled there off of the hard pew, kicking and wiggling with excitement about the fun waiting for me and my cousins when the sermon wrapped up and the clusters of adults lost in conversation and laughter and church basement coffee had broken up and disassembled to their respective homesteads where they would conduct their own Easter traditions.

Ours was the annual Easter Egg Hunt, one that took us across dangerous barbed wire fences, in the dark depths of the old barn and the grain bins, to the top of muddy gumbo hills where the crocuses were working on blooming, and then down again to get stuck in that mud, tear our Easter dresses and count and sort our candy on carpet of our gramma’s tiny living room.

These were our traditions out here, out here by the red barn when we were all together and young, without a care in the world, no worries about time and what we could lose, who we could lose between all the Easter sunrises and sunsets.

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It’s been almost 20 years since our last Veeder Ranch egg hunt, almost 20 years since we continued the tradition a little further south to my aunt and uncle’s farmstead with the white barn and the neat corrals.

And then there was a space there where we found we were, all at the same time, too old and too young for egg hunts.

But time is a funny and magical thing. If you wait long enough it will turn those kids in Easter bonnets into mothers and fathers of children whose legs dangle off church pews in anticipation…and we are the ones who go “shush, child. Shhhh now…”

We turn into the Easter Bunny…

And all old things are new again…

On Easter.

Coming Home: Childhood Easter egg hunts helped us find more than candy
by Jessie Veeder
4-20-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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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

Sunday Column: On the little yellow boat…

April did us a favor and, after bringing us a little spring storm, it warmed up nicely this weekend. 50 degrees uncovered all sorts of treasures for us, mostly mud and things stuck in mud…like dog poop, leftover construction materials and the Christmas tree that made it out the door, but not quite to the garbage pit.

We set out then in that spring air to do some tidying. When the weather warms up I get crazy. I want to do everything that I haven’t been able to do (because of the seven months of snow and subzero temperatures) all in one day.

I want to till up the garden spot. I want to plant grass seeds. I want to finish the garage. I want to ride all eight horses. I want to buy baby chicks from Tractor Supply. I want to roll up my pants and wade in the creek. I want to fix the barn. I want to start our landscaping project. I want to work on my tan. I want to go swimming. I want to make margaritas and grill burgers and have a deck party.

I want to buy a boat…

I think brown dog has the same idea…

Yes, a few days of warm weather will get the plans rolling. And the smell of the thaw, the sound of the water, the blue sky and sun and things uncovered by melting snow had me poking around the place, in search of projects, things I could accomplish.

And in my search I stumbled upon one of the ranch’s most unique relics. Sitting next to the shop covered loosely by a blue tarp and snow turned to ice water is Husband’s yellow boat, the one he brought with us to the ranch when we were first married. The one he built with his dad during the long winter nights when we were all just trying to make it out of high school alive.

The one he took me out in, to go fishing down in Bear Den, a little unknown nook of Lake Sakakawea a few miles from the ranch. The tiny hand-made boat where we sat back to back and trolled the shore, with nothing but sun-seeds, a couple beers and worms in our cooler.

And when the sun started sinking down below those buttes that surrounded the lake, it was that boat that got us stuck. Stuck in mud up to the floorboards of Husband’s little Dodge.

And there we sat. The little pickup connected to the little boat, stuck in the bottom of a badlands canyon, a new husband scratching his head and a wife in flip-flops clawing her way up the steep, cactus ridden banks that held them on a prayer that maybe her cell phone might find enough signal to call Pops to come and rescue them.

Pops, who had no idea where they went in the first place.

Pops, who wasn’t home, but got the message an hour or so later..

“Dad…*scratch scratch*…stuck….*static static*….Bear Den…*crackle crackle*…”

When I think spring I think of that fishing trip with my husband. When I think of that fishing trip, I think of that boat. When I think of that boat I think about mud and dads and how they have so many ways of saving us…

So I wrote this.

Coming Home: Little yellow boat never meant for fishing
(I’m having trouble with my hyperlinks,
please click URL below to read the column)
http://www.inforum.com/event/article/id/431239/
by Jessie Veeder
4-6-14
http://www.inforum.com

Happy thaw out. May this season bring mud and good memories….

We’re ok.

It’s been three months since they rushed dad off of the ranch in an ambulance. Three months since his heart betrayed him.

Three months since we sat with him, night after night, in that hospital room in the big town as this brutal winter froze us over and life’s unexpected struggles brought us to our knees.

Three months since I told him, hang on dad, in a few months it will be spring and we have so many things to do.

And for three months it has just been my husband and I living on this ranch, going back and forth between work and home, one house and the other, checking on things, making sure everything’s fed and things are running right.

See, my parents decided to stick out the winter a little closer to town, to recover and take a breath, avoid the drive on icy roads and call someone to come in and renovate the house, nice and new for when they returned.

For three months I have been sending up a prayer each night thanking God for giving us our dad back. And for three months I’ve been telling myself that we are so blessed, so lucky to all be together in one piece.

And so it’s for all those blessings that I should jump for joy each morning, ready to get up with that beautiful sunrise outside of my window, but I haven’t.

I haven’t risen to shine very bright.

It’s been one of the longest, coldest, hardest winter of my life.

But let me say this, when we moved back to the ranch, almost four years ago now, it was not to get away from the big wide world, it was not to quiet and slow things down or to live inside a fantasy of a “simple country life.”

I grew up out here. I know it’s never been simple. In fact, living thirty miles from town on a gravel road that turns from dust to mud to ice and back again, has the potential to complicate a lot of things.

I knew this. And we came home anyway. We came to work. We came to learn. We came to make a life out here surrounded by a landscape we love and a family that can help us make the most of it.

But something shifted this winter, in the way I see this place, in the way I see this world we chose to surround us. Maybe it was the unexpected call in the middle of the night and the threat, the knowledge, that it all can be taken away in a second.

Maybe it’s our ongoing struggle to have a family and the realization that some people just don’t get what they want, no matter their prayers or their faith in something…

Or maybe it was just the relentless cold piled on top of it all, keeping me from climbing to the tops of the buttes for fear of frost bite, when climbing to the tops of those buttes is what I’ve relied on to heal me up time after time, but in the past three months this world has revealed to me her edge, and in response, it seems I’ve created my own.

And I want to tell myself that when that first crocus pops up under the warm sunshine that edge will soften and I will feel more like myself, but the truth is, I don’t think I need to go back there.

I’m not sure I want that.

Because this place is my refuge, yes. When I was a little girl so green and sheltered, it was here I belonged, here I could grow up sort of innocently unscathed for a few years before being thrown into the real world, and that is what I loved about it and one of the many reasons I returned.

But I’m a grown woman now. I’m at the age where money runs out and babies don’t make it, we don’t get the job and parents get sick…

Running into the trees and singing at the top of my lungs is not going to save me from these things, but those trees can hold me for a minute, help me breathe, help remind me that I can survive these human shaped tragedies.

And that even when this place is cruel, it is simultaneously beautiful…

Human shaped miracles happen too.

I know that. I’ve seen it.

Yesterday mom and dad moved back home, back to the ranch. Mom pulled into the yard and dad was waiting there, shoveling the drive from Monday’s snow storm, ready to grab her bag full of shoes and help her with the groceries.

Husband and I came over to visit, to see their new floors, to talk about furniture arrangement, have a glass of wine and welcome them back.

Back from a lonely winter.

Back from a hard time.

Back on the right side of life’s unexpected twists.

And I know now that we’re not all always going to be ok out here, but we’re ok right now.

Right now, we’re ok.

Sunday Column: Be careful with this place…

I write about this beautiful place. I write about how it grew me up and sent me out and welcomed me back home again. I write about the cows grazing on the sunny side of hills and what it means to me to step outside and smell the first clover of summer as it reaches and stretches to the sky.

I write about it and I photograph it–the red barn and the horses’ fuzzy ears.

The creek and her banks, the horizon and her sunrises and sunsets. The tall grass and flowers.

The buttes and the red road that cuts through it all.

And then I write about the impact the booming oil industry is having on our home, about how the big trucks kick up dust and throw rocks at my windshield on their way to punch holes that extract the fuel that this country relies on for more things than we care to remember when we curse that dust.

I talk about the people it brings with it, those persistent, resilient people with stories to tell, because there are jobs. Countless jobs being created and recreated every day. Jobs that brought us here, my husband and I, back to this ranch to make our lives. We likely wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those jobs.

Neither would my sisters.

Because it used to be much harder out here, you know, to make ends meet.

To make a living.

So there are things that I can manage. Things that go along with looking for ways to make the most out of this land we stand on, like the dust and the traffic and the noise over the hill that wasn’t there yesterday, and maybe won’t be tomorrow. Much of this impact is fleeting.

Much of it is forever.

But I don’t want it to fail.

I read in the papers the words of reporters sent out to tell the story of what’s happening around me. If there are mistakes out here, they will be written down. If there are questions, they will be asked. If there is something to say about how this is ruining a place, making it better, making it harder, making it easier, making us mad or happy or richer or poorer or crazy, the air too dusty, too noisy, too much, not enough, too damn good to be true, not what it was, not like it will ever be again…

It will all be said.

Somedays I don’t know what to make of it.

This is what I have to say about it all today…

Coming Home: We’re not all reckless in oil country
by Jessie Veeder
March 23, 2014
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

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

What’s in an hour…

The sun has started waking us up earlier. A funny little phenomenon called “Daylight Savings Time” made it that way. We moved our clocks back on Saturday night and woke up at 6 am on Sunday, watching the sun come up over Pots and Pans, waiting for some light to help us assess the recent neighbor call regarding a cow (or three or four) out in a pasture by the highway.

I remember when moving the clocks back meant moving the hand on an actual clock. I look around my house and I realize I don’t have an actual clock anywhere. Our clocks blink blue numbers on stove tops and microwaves, on telephones and digital temperature gauges and cellphones, computers and iPads that are smarter than us and don’t even need a human hand to remind them to change. They are programmed to know.

They do the same when we cross the river into Mountain time, switching swiftly and we gain an hour. Switching back and we’ve lost it.

I’ve spent that last few days looking at those clocks, the one on my phone and the one on
the stove I haven’t managed to change yet, and saying ridiculous things like:

“What time is it really?”

“So, it’s 9 o’clock but it’s really 10 ‘o’clock?”

“It’s 6 am but it’s really 7 am?”

“Man, it gets dark early.”

“Man I am tired.”

“Man, I miss that extra hour of light at the end of the day.”

But what’s in an hour anyway? It’s not like the changing of the clocks changes time. There are still 24 hours in these days and the sun still does what it will do up here where the earth is stripping down and getting ready for winter.

Daylight Savings Time, moving the clocks, adjusting the time, is just a human’s way to control things a bit. Moving time forward in the spring months means farmers and ranchers and outdoor enthusiasts get to stay out under that sun, working on the tractor, chasing the cattle, climbing a mountain, until 10 o’clock at night when the sun finally starts to disappear.

Moving the clocks backwards in the fall means we might drive to work in the light and get home in the dark.

It means a 5 pm sunset and a carb-loaded dinner at 6. It means more conversation against the dark of the windows, more time to plan for the things we might get done on the weekends in the light.

It means I went to bed last night at 9 o’clock and said something ridiculous like “It’s really 10.”

But it wasn’t. It was 9.

Because we’ve changed things. (Although I still haven’t changed that stove top clock).

I lay there under the covers in the loft and thought about 24 hours in a day.

10 hours of early-November daylight.

If I closed my eyes now, I thought, I would get 8 good hours of sleep.

I wondered about that hour and what I could do with an 60 minutes.

A 25 hour day? What would it mean?

Would it mean we could all slow down, take a few more minutes for the things we rush through as we move into the next hour?

Five more minutes to linger in bed, to wake each other up with sweet words and kisses, to talk about the day and when we’ll meet back at the house again.

Three more minutes to stir cream into our coffees, take a sip and stand in front of the window and watch the sun creep in. A couple seconds to comment on it, to say, “What a sight, what a world, what a morning…”

Four more minutes in the shower to rinse away the night.

Two more moments in front of the mirror to make my hair lay straight and my cheeks blush right.

An extra moment or two for the dogs so that when I throw them their food I might have been given some time to extend that head pat and ear scratch and stick fetching game.

Six more minutes on my drive to town, listening to the radio, the weather report and the school lunch announcements while trailing a big rig with out cussing or complaint. I have an extra hour after all. What’s six more minutes to me now?

Fifteen more minutes for lunch with a friend, a friend I could call for lunch because I have sixty more minutes now and the work can wait.

Five minutes more for a stranger on the street who asks for directions to a restaurant and then I ask her where she’s from and she makes a joke about the weather and we laugh together, a little less like strangers then.

Then, when I get home, eight more minutes on my walk to the top of the hill, to go a little further if I feel so compelled, or maybe just sit on that rock up there and watch it get darker.

Four extra minutes to spice up the roast for supper or stir and taste the soup.

One more minute to hold on to that welcome home hug.

Three more minutes to eat, for another biscuit, to wind down and visit.

And four more minutes to use to say goodnight. To lay there under the blankets, under the roof, under the stars that appeared and be thankful for the extra time.

So what’s in an hour really? Moments spent breathing and thinking and learning. Words spilling out that you should have said, or should have kept, or that really don’t matter, it’s just talking.

Sips on hot coffee cooling fast.

Steps on your favorite trail.

Frustration at dust while you wipe it away, songs hummed while scrubbing the dishes or washing your hair.

Broken nails, tracked in mud, a decision to wear your best dress tonight.

Laughter and sighing and tapping your fingers on your desk while you wait.

Line-standing, hand-shaking and smooches on best friends’ babies as you pass at the grocery store.

Big plans to build things, to change things, to move. Small plans for dinner or a trip to the zoo.

A phone call, an answer, an “I love you too.”

It’s not much, but the moments are ours to pass.

And those moments, they move on regardless of the clock and the hour in which it’s ticking.

Although not many people have clocks that tick anymore.

I suppose that’s just one of the many thing time can change…

When winter is welcome

October is heading over the horizon and it’s bringing with it all the colors–the golds and reds and browns–of a season that doesn’t stay long enough.

And it’s leaving a trail of frost in its wake.

I see it in the mornings, sparkling and shimmering on the railing of my deck, on the cracked windshield of the pickup, on the leftover leaves and acorns on the trails,

on the stems of the grass and the crust of the dirt.

I am digging out my sweaters again. Funny how it’s only been five months since I packed them away but I can’t seem to remember where they went.

Funny how it’s only been a few weeks since the sun touched my legs and already my skin is fading into its pale winter shade.

I run my hands over the horses’ backs and notice they’re changing too, long scruffy hair growing in to protect them from the promised winter winds.

We are becoming the season it seems.

I’m sipping tea to ward of the little scratch in my throat, the little runny nose that I acquired when the cold came in.

I am North Dakota. Personified in the permanent chilled flush in my cheeks, rolling up the hoses and packing away the cutoff shorts. Swapping cowboy boots for winter boots and my straw hat for one that is knit and covers my ears.

If I were California I would never change. If I were California I would wear summer dresses all year and never be ashamed of my scaly winter skin. I would eat orange popsicles and sip iced tea and put fresh flowers in a vase on my table every week.  I would be sun kissed and golden and I wouldn’t wear socks.

Especially not wool socks.

If I were California I would be beautiful all year.

But I am North Dakota and my flowers have dried up now. And we are beginning our predictably unpredictable decent into winter.

The ice rests lightly on the water in the stock tank.

The air bites and the trees have stripped down to sleep. I am cutting potatoes for soup, boiling water and feeling weighed down but hungry the way only Northerners can feel.

If I were a beast I would hibernate.

If I had wings I would fly toward the sun.

If I were a legend I would find a way to catch the snow in my hands and send it back up.

Back up for another month.

And back down in December when winter is welcome.

Sunday Column: When summer’s over

The hay is baled up and waiting to be moved out of the fields.

he hot sun is starting to turn the leaves on the trees a little bit lighter.

The cattails are bending and swaying in the warm breeze.

The water in the stock damns is getting low and covered in moss.

The tomatoes are ripe.

The school busses are kicking up dust on the back roads.

The days are getting shorter.

Coming Home: Summer can’t last as life goes on
By Jessie Veeder
9/1/13
Fargo Forum
www.inforum.com

 

Summer’s almost over.