Sunday Column: Goodbye old friend

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We’re quickly coming to the end of another season out here on the ranch.  School has officially started and my friends are posting “first day of school” photos of their kids, some sending their first borns off to kindergarden for the first time.

I’ve been spending time picking peas and beans, cucumbers, carrots and every red tomato I can find out of my garden, fascinated always by how time can transform dirt into food, just like that.

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Fascinated by how time has made it harder for me to bend over and pick those beans every day, made those little flutters in my belly turn to jabs and hiccups…and then, soon, an actual tiny human that breathes this air.

Life and time are twin sisters it seems, conceived at the same moment and moving through the world together hand in hand. And just as time creates and grows life in one breath, it quiets it and takes it away in another.

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And so it goes here on the ranch, the circle of life we’re made so aware of every day among the growing and withering things, reminding us that to everything there is a season.

Last week our faithful ranch dog, Pudge, gave us the gift of living until old age took her away in her sleep.

My husband came home to tell me the news, then went out to the big oak tree where we were married and dug a deep hole in the hard, dry, gumbo packed earth and buried our old friend.

“One day you will hear the sound of time rustling as it slips through your fingers like sand.” Sergei Lukyanenko

Yesterday I was just a kid shaking dirt off the carrots in the garden.

Tomorrow I turn 32.

Today I count the kicks in my belly, make plans to assemble the new crib in the box and miss that old dog…

Coming Home: Goodnight, Pudge, the sweet, tough cattle dog
by Jessie Veeder
8-23-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Lately the coyotes have been howling outside our open windows, slicing the black silence with chilling wails. Inside the garage, our domesticated dogs rise from their beds, lift up their heads and howl back to them, long and dramatic cries, an unnerving message sent between the wild and the tame.

Last weekend, while I was out on the highway heading for home after a late show, my husband opened the windows to the house to let in the night air, turned on the porch light and laid his body out on top of the covers of our bed.

Somewhere between his dozing and me cutting through the dark miles, down the road at my parents’ place the oldest cow dog on the ranch took her last breath, and quietly, one of the most familiar lights on our ranch went out.

We knew it was coming. Pudge, an Australian shepherd with thick, wooly fur, one blue eye and one brown eye, came to us on a hand-me-down after her owners moved to town. Pops, who had lost his previous cattle dog to a snakebite, needed a new animal to help him get cattle out of the brush and to accompany him on rides.

We think she was 4 years old when she came to us. Lately, the topic of her age had come up often. I was in college, or on my way there. Could it be that she was 15? Fifteen and no longer possessing the strength to go for long rides with Pops, but holding on to the spirit of her job by making the walk with him to and from the barn.

That was the last walk they took together it seems.

And now we’ll no longer find her snuggled up in the her spot under the heat lamp in the garage in the winter, in the pickup box in the summer or trying desperately to make her way through the window screen and under the covers of my little sister’s bed during a thunderstorm.

Pudge hated thunderstorms. That might have been the dog’s only flaw.

Because it turns out she was just the right combination of sweet, smart and tough enough to be one of the few cattle dogs on this 100-year-old ranch to get the chance to die of old age.

This place can be hard on the strongest, most cared-for animals who live a life more in tune with their primal instincts than the couch-dwelling suburban pet.

Pudge tried out that life with me once. I took her back to live with me for a little while in college when life was overwhelming me. I’d take her for bundled-up walks on sidewalks and she would sit in the sunshine by the door and watch the cars roll by, comfortable knowing she had a purpose in helping me find my big girl legs again before I brought her back to her ranch where she belonged.

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Before my husband came home to tell me she was gone, I was pulling carrots in my garden and singing to myself, “To everything turn, turn, turn … there is a season, turn, turn, turn … and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

If you can’t see that manifest itself out here, if it doesn’t become known to you as morning turns to night and summer turns to fall and the hair under your husband’s hat turns silver, you’re not paying attention or you don’t want to know.

It all happens so slowly and then so quickly, as if all at once the time has passed and then it’s up.

I listened to those coyotes howl last night and thought about Pudge, who would sit out at night under those stars, just on the edge of the light that flooded into the yard from the garage. When it was time for the people to lay down and pull the covers up, Pops would call to her to come in and she would pretend not to hear him, preferring a cool bed of grass under that sky to her fluffy bed.

And if Pops gave in and left her out there, she would wake him with her barks and wails to that dark sky for hours on end.

Sweet turned wild in the night.

Goodnight, old friend.

Goodnight. 

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Like summer.

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A good rain cloud has settled in over the landscape this morning, giving everything a nice cool down and a much needed drink.

The frogs and tomatoes in my garden will be happy for it. My sprinkler and I have been playing the part of the rain cloud for the past couple weeks, so we’re all happy to see the real thing show up.

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I can’t believe we’re in approaching the middle of August, the month the kids go back to school. The month that turns the green grass and the wheat gold,  the month that reminds us that summer is almost over.

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I’m getting the hint, like I do every summer that seems to stretch out ahead of me like an endless dream of sun soaking, berry picking, garden growing, lake swimming heaven, until I blink and find myself in August.

So every chance I get these days, I take the dogs and my belly and we go out poking around.

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Because I want to absorb this green into my skin. I want to remember the scratch of the grass on my bare legs and the smell of hay being cut in the fields when winter comes to wrap us in a cold blanket.

In the past years of course I would do much more of this on the back of my horse, but this year I have stayed on foot, not wanting to risk a fall. The circumstances too precious.

So I’ve spent this summer on my own to feet.

And next summer two new chubby feet will join the team.

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Last night I had a dream that I was finally holding this baby.

I keep having dreams that she’s here.

Or he’s here.

And in these dreams she grows up fast, from birth to talking and walking in the course of a day and I wonder where that tiny baby went.

I think, “don’t they stay little for longer?”

And then I wake up and find myself in my bed, my belly still full with a tiny, moving, growing human that I dreamed of but haven’t met yet, a new life stretching out in front of me like an endless dream.

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A new life stretching out in front of me…like summer.

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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: Small town summer…

Summer is in full swing up here in North Dakota. School’s out. Wedding’s have begun. Garden’s are in and a full line up of summer fairs and festivals are marked down on the calendar.

Last weekend during a little tour across the state promoting my album, I got the privilege of being a guest of honor at a small town in the middle of the state. I was hired to do a concert with the band there during their Dairy and Ag days celebration,

and in addition, I was asked to be the Grand Marshall of the parade…

I took my job very seriously…

AND to help judge the Little Miss Farmer/Rancher contest.

This was right up my ally, such and honor and pretty much the most adorable thing ever.

So of course I had some things to say about it. I could have written a book on all of the characters, from the kids singing their hearts out in the choir before the band

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to the little toothless princess candidate dressed in a sequins dress with a hoop that flew up and hid her face when she tried to sit down in the chair in front of us judges.

It was the epitome of what it means to be a small town kid in the summer.

It was the epitome of cute and wholesome.

It was what I had to write about for this week’s column:

Coming Home: Longing to be a kid of summer again
by Jessie Veeder
6-14-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

In small towns up and down the Midwest, summer has officially started. I know this not by the date on the calendar, but because in the next few months I’ll run into kids catching and holding calves at the neighbor’s branding down the road, rolling down the road in a tractor helping with harvest, or showing their steer at the county fair for a little extra cash.

I get to witness these kids of summer because my job as a singer takes me to big towns and small towns across the state to witness them dancing in the street after a day spent eating barbecue beef sandwiches, catching candy in the parade and competing in a tractor pull or Little Miss Potato Queen pageant.

And I have to tell you, I kicked off the season right last Friday when I took a trip to Linton to participate in their Dairy and Ag Days festival. I rolled toward the town in the morning, turning off the interstate to admire the fresh crops popping up neatly around manicured farmsteads, big red barns and, my favorite, the black-and-white dairy cows milling behind rail fences.

After months of planning, Linton looked as polished as ever, and so did its littlest residents who were waiting for my arrival that morning, dozens of young girls from kindergarten to second grade, dressed to the nines lined up in the lobby of the local bank, vying for the title of Little Miss Farmer/Rancher.

And be still my heart, because while each contestant was as adorable as the next, this was no beauty pageant. No. This was a competition where each young and utterly adorable contestant is asked about their experience and knowledge of the farm and ranch they live and work on.

I was asked to be one of the judges, to which I enthusiastically agreed, not understanding how completely impossible it would be to choose a winner among little girls who talked reverently about helping their grandmas feed the horses, being responsible for bottle feeding orphaned calves, the make and model of the tractor used on the farm and the one who joked that, if they’re not careful, the heat lamp used in the baby chick pen might result in fried chicken. Then she laughed and laughed.

And I teared up, not just at the absolute cuteness of it all, but because, really, they still make kids like this. Kids who come to town dressed in bolo ties, fluffy floral dresses, their best jeans or, yes, even a sequined gown, ready to proudly declare that they are learning to break their own horse, they can’t wait to learn to drive the tractor, or — my favorite — the tiny, brown-eyed girl who said her preferred chore was helping her dad fix fences.

When I asked her why she liked to fence so much, she frankly replied, as if the answer should be so obvious to us, “Because I love him!”

First place, I say! First place to all of them!

I’m really not cut out for this judging thing.

But after the decisions were made, I headed out to Main Street, where I had the honor of leading the parade of Dairy Prince and Princesses and Little Miss and Mister Farmer and Rancher contestants, American Legion Club members, 4-H club floats, combines, antique tractors and kids pulling smaller kids in wagons.

In a few hours, I stood up on a flatbed trailer in an empty lotand sang my songs to bleachers full of moms, dads, grammas and grampas watching while the kids tested out their best moves on the concrete dance floor in front of me.

I let the band play a song and got down to join them, compelled to be a part of their circle, grab their hands and spin around to the music. Compelled, after a long day in the sun, to laugh and dance with my new friends, in the middle of a small-town street, in the middle of America, where we make our own fun after the work is done.

Compelled to believe with them that anything is possible, just for a moment, compelled to become a kid of summer again.

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And look at that, a whole spread in the Emmons County Record. A day like this is a reminder of why I keep doing what I’m doing.

Thanks Linton, ND!

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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Homemade surprises.

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I spent a good two weeks away from this place. After our vacation with friends spent skiing down mountains in Colorado, I hopped a plane and met my mom in Minneapolis where we shopped at market for clothes and shoes and other fun things for her store.

It was a good hiatus from life that was sort of stressing me out, but it was sure nice to get home to the ranch to see how spring was shaping up.

Turns out it wasn’t really. Just snowing and cold. March went out like a lion, because, if you remember correctly, it came in like a lamb, so that’s what we get.

It took me a few days to get caught up on life around here, and then Easter rolled in and well, there it was, Tuesday afternoon and I had yet to take a look around the place.

Because it’s crocus season.

So after my work was done enough for the afternoon, I took a little walk out to see if I could find any that survived the melty snow.

But before I could even get outside our yard, I ran into these beauties…

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Yup, the elk came for a visit, down across the bottom of Pots and Pans, heading toward the dam right outside our door before they caught wind of me and this beast…

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And while I know the elk live around here, because I see there tracks on my walks, catch the places where they bed down at night or linger on a stray hay bale in the fields, it’s still quite something to see them right in your yard.

I took a breath and held it and watched as they ran away up over the hill, hoping that I didn’t ruin their plans for a drink. Hoping that they might come back later.

Then I took another few steps toward the little hilltops where my sister and I found the first crocuses last year. Searching the ground as I walked, moments later I looked up to find the rest of the herd following suit, another pleasant and quick surprise.

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These animals on this landscape are so imposing. In the mountains they look smaller, dwarfed by the magnificence of the peaks, but here on the rolling hills they are the kings, the largest wild animal you’ll find roaming free. And they take my breath away each time.

I wished there was someone next to me to witness it. And then I was glad it was just me.

I had been missing this place. Life and tasks and deadlines were getting in my way. I stepped outside to see what I could see and nature delivered.

But even after such an unexpected show, I was still thrilled as I always am in early April to see these pretty purple flowers again, reaching through barely thawed ground to promise me summer…

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Before getting rolled over by the gremlin of the farmyard…

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Oh well, to live out here you gotta be hardy. If anything, the crocus teaches us that…

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I’ve traveled all over the place, but home, at the beginning of spring, is still my favorite place full of the best sort of discoveries…

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I can’t be trusted with spring…

Summer arrived here for a minute or two this weekend.

And when summer arrives, I can’t be trusted.

I drink more alcohol because it tastes better on the deck.

I eat grilled brats for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I blow off chores and work to get on the back of a horse.

And, I, uh, well…

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I do shit like this…

Because I lose my mind out here when the weather thaws the ground. There are so many fun things to do and not enough time to do them, so I tool around the place looking for projects that inevitably turn into predicaments…

predicaments like these…(Cue Prince Charming…)

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No worries though. Despite my idea that I should drive, followed by my insistence that I was trying to avoid the mud, and the thought that maybe, after a few minutes of rocking back and forth and flinging mud into the atmosphere, my mouth, face, hair and everything in between, we should, you know, go get the pickup and a rope, Husband and I saved the machine from its muddy, messy grave…by man power (and woman thumb on the throttle) alone.

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Here’s hoping that you had a similarly successful, summery weekend of your own.

Coming Home: Muddy March a sign of bright days ahead
by Jessie Veeder
3-15-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Summer, I miss your face.

And now for a weather report.

It’s -2.

March is coming in like a cold and bitter lamb and it’s making me a cold and bitter woman.

Just freezing.

But even though landscape looks a lot like this these days…

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it’s hard to believe that in a few months it will turn from gray to green right in front of our eyes.

I can just smell the clover now. By June, we’ll be rolling in it.

By May we’ll be thawed out and warmed up.

By April we’ll spot our first wild flower.

But March? March suffers from mood swings. So I decided I’d have my own today.

I decided that while I’m freezing on the outside, at least my daydreams can be warm.

Summer!!!! I miss your face!!!!

Summer Barn

Lake Sakakawea Sunset

North Dakota Badlands

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There. Now you miss summer too.

Isn’t it nice to all be on the same page?

A Winter Walk…

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It has been a true winter wonderland around here lately. Lots of fog and warm temperatures have coated everything in frost.

And then it rained. And froze immediately on the ground, so now this place looks like Ice World on the Super Mario Brothers III game and the animals and me took a slippery stroll through it all, because who could stay inside on days like these?

Not me. And you shouldn’t either.

So welcome to your Wednesday Walk…

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Spring in Winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope. Too sick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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