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

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!

The evolution of a season.

It’s another rainy, windy afternoon at the ranch. It seems like once the sky decided to open up it just can’t stop. It feels like March when the sky wouldn’t stop snowing. It feels like this spring has been finicky and harsh and extreme and it has enjoyed every minute it has kept me waiting.

Waiting for the snow to stop.

Waiting for the sun to shine.

Waiting for the rain to come.

Waiting for it to stop raining.

Waiting on the sun to shine.

I know there will be a time this summer where the dust will blow again and we will pray for a bit of relief from the heat and the dry, but where I come from there is not a balance.

There is only extreme.

Extremely cold.

Extremely windy.

Wind

Extremely hot.

Extremely green.

Extremely wet.

Extremely dry.

Extremely perfectly beautiful.

Some days I feel like the weather. These days especially. The windows have been streaked with rain for a few weeks and I have been suffering from a weird sort of lingering head cold that refuses to break up and leave like the damn rain.

I’ve been working hard to ignore it, to say the rain will clear and I will feel better, but today I submitted. I stayed home under a blanket to watch it fall.

I’ll feel better tomorrow.

Head cold or no head cold, it seems I’m always so affected by the seasons and how they change, like the weather and my mood hold hands to greet the day accordingly.

Which makes me wonder how annoyingly bright-sided I’d be if I lived in the sunny, 70 degree climate of southern California.

It sounds nice right now, the sun.

But I think the constant change of seasons help me and what my husband refers to as my “restless spirit.” He says it’s hard for me to sit in one place. It’s hard for me to be comfortable in routine.

He says it’s good for me to have all this space to wander out here.

Maybe he’s right and maybe it’s hard to understand how a girl can be so rooted and so restless.

But it’s no worry to me really. I know where I belong out here, changing with the weather.

Evolving with the season.









Sunday Column: Wildflowers

Happy Sunday. It’s a beautiful one here at the ranch. It’s raining, the trees are turning green right before our eyes, the flowers are blooming and I have my nose to the ground, inspecting, documenting and making sure I don’t miss a single bloom.

Wildflower season is my absolute favorite time of year, an obsession that started with a 4-H project and has continued throughout my life.

This week’s column attempts to explains that fascination a bit.

Coming Home: My love of wildflowers started young
By Jessie Veeder Scofield
Fargo Forum
Sunday, May 19, 2013

Lord, when I die, bring me back as a wildflower on the North Dakota Prairie. 

A summer list…


Summer is looming and North Dakotans everywhere are tuning up their tillers and mowers, digging out lawn chairs, filling coolers, firing up grills, fixing fences, plotting out garden space, cutting up watermelon and making plans to take advantage of our favorite season as we monitor the growth of green grass and the buds on the trees…

Yes, summer is coming and summer is short. We all know it. We know only have three whole sunshiny months to cram in as many sunshiny activities as possible. It’s a frantic thought, but a fun frantic thought, one that includes fishing, lake swimming, fireworks, deck sitting, margaritas, fresh garden tomatoes and getting some chores done while working on our tans.

And I know I’m not the only one who has a summer list floating around in my head, one that has been discussed all winter as a sort of spirit lifting promise to myself:

“This summer we’ll work on getting the boat fixed.”

“This summer I’ll wear that dress.”

“This summer I’ll be in shape. Like Jillian Michaels shape. Might even start on that marathon thing I’ve been talking about. What? I haven’t mentioned the marathon?”

“This summer I’m planting pumpkins.”

“This summer I think I’ll get a few pigs. Yeah. No big deal. Bacon. You like bacon right? Yeah. I think I’ll raise some bacon this summer.”

“This summer we’ll get the deck built and the garage up and the fences fixed and the barn redone and the old garage tore down and the junk pile cleaned up…”

Wait…that’s not where I wanted this to go.

No. No. North Dakotans get the month of  May to do the dreaming, and that’s really my point here. We get May to make plans. And while the leaves on the trees work on budding, the wildflowers make their way out of the dirt,  the sun works on warming the horses’ backs and the wind takes away their wooly coats we buy brats to cook on the grill, grab a beer, pull our short shorts out of the back of the closet and blind the world with our pale legs while we say “gosh, it’s so nice out. It’s so beautiful. Summer’s coming, I mean, look at that, it’s already 55 degrees!”

And we sit like that, in a sort of beer and sun induced summer illusion where woodticks don’t exist, and neither does that fencing project, every day is 70 + degrees, we don’t have a tiling project and we have all the time in the world to plan our fishing trip.

And refine our summer list.

So here’s mine:

1) Wear colors. Every color. On my toenails. On my fingernails. Around my neck. On my head. Enough with the black. It’s summer. Wear orange or something.

2) And while I’m at it I’m gonna wear my swimming suit, my whole collection accumulated over years of the sort of wishful thinking you experience while sitting on the couch with a bag of chips in the middle of a blizzard thumbing through the Victoria’s Secret catalog . Because really, I don’t get to wear them too often, you know, with all the snow and that whole delusional thing. But screw it,  I think I’ll wear the shit out of them this summer: while I’m digging in the garden, chasing cows, searching for wildflowers, feeding those pigs, cutting up limes for my margarita and reading my magazines on the deck…shit…

3) We’ve got to build that deck.

But once that deck is built, I have plans to:

4) Make dinner a picnic.  If the sun is shining and the wind isn’t threatening to blow away my burgers, I am going to eat my meals outside under the big blue sky.

Campsite Grilling

Because everyone knows food tastes better this way. And so do margaritas.

5) Did I mention margaritas? Yeah. Margaritas.

6) Oh, and we have kayaks. Remember? They’re just sitting in that old garage we need to tear down. This summer I’m using those kayaks. I don’t care if it’s on the dam outside our house, I’m kayaking. I am.

7) But if I happen to make it to a lake with that kayak, I am not wading in like a wussy. I am going to jump in with enthusiasm, screaming at the top of my lungs.  This summer  I will do this every time I’m given the chance.

Pug's version of swimming

8) I will also keep a fresh bouquet of wildflowers on my table at all times. Currently in season: The crocus

9) And  I will sleep with my bedroom windows open so I can fall asleep to the croaking of the frogs

10) And I will sweat. It will be hot and I will sweat and I won’t apologize for it. Because sweating is better than freezing. At least if you ask me. Little Sister might disagree.

So yes, I will welcome the sweat as I’m

11) Riding my favorite bay horse through pastures of sweet clover

12) Helping Pops and Husband dig post holes

13) Climbing to the hill tops to catch thunderheads rolling through a pink sunset

14) Following a deer trail through the thick trees to a juneberry, chokecherry or raspberry bush

15) Planting corn and peas and tomatoes and cucumbers and carrots and beans and radishes and pumpkins, watering them, weeding them, picking them and serving them up fresh and delicious with a margarita on my deck in my bright orange swimming suit after a long day of kayaking under the big, blue, beautiful summer sky we’ve all been dreaming of.

So what’s on your summer list?

Sunday Column: When the right words fail us.

IMG_6694
It’s a beautiful weekend. The sky is blue, the wind has chilled out and the crocuses are in full bloom.

Words don’t do justice to the way 70 degrees feels after a long winter. And as a woman always searching for the right language, this week’s column is about how, when it comes to beauty, our words sometimes fails us.

Enjoy whatever sun you can find today!

Coming Home: Finding right words not always easy
By Jessie Veeder
May 5, 2012
Fargo Forum