In July…

There’s not much I don’t like about July in North Dakota. It’s like 1,000 degrees out today, and I’m still gonna say it.

Because there’s a breeze. There’s always a breeze.

If I could hold on to this month for another I would. I would take the horseflies if it meant another thirty days of thundershowers in the evening…

Wild sunflowers in the road ditches…

Haybales lined up nice and neat in the fields…

Chasing cattle in the cool draws…

and windows open at night.

I’d take the pissed off squirrel chattering in the tree by my head if it meant I could sleep with the cool breeze tickling the curtains for another few days.

It’s kind of a funny way to wake up.

Kind of like I’m sleeping in a tree house.

Which is a pretty perfect place to be in July.

A princess in the garden.

Pops has always kept a garden. He grows things like peas and carrots, radishes and green beans, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and plenty of weeds. Once or twice he grew corn just tall and delicious enough for the horses to find their way from green pastures into the yard for the free buffet.

We no longer plant corn.

Yawning Horse

I love Pops’ garden. I love it as much as the deer love his peas and the moles love his radishes. I love to watch it sprouting from my parents’ deck. I like to watch their cat hunt for mice and big bugs out there. I love breaking off rhubarb stocks, digging around for the first sign of a ripe carrot and the taste of the first fresh garden tomato on a BLT.

A few weeks ago Pops’ garden had a new tiny visitor, a little girl named Addy who flew in all the way from Texas to explore the ranch where her grandpa grew up.

Addy climbed hills and picked flowers,

looked out for Little Man,

 
chased the cat, bossed the dogs,

got a woodtick or two, and probably a few mosquito bites too.

I followed the little darling around because I didn’t want to miss a word that came out of her adorable little mouth.

“Jessie, can I borrow your ring for when my prince comes?” she asked as she made her way out of my bedroom with one of my big bling rings wobbling on her tiny pointer finger.

“Well of course you can Addy. You can have anything you want. Want my wedding ring too? Take it. Want all of my necklaces and my horse and my car and the pug? You might need those too, you know, so you’re prepared when your prince comes.”

I would have given that girl anything she wanted, but Addy didn’t want everything, she just wanted to play. So we did. I showed her around the place, showed her where the tiger lilies grew and where the dogs go for a swim. Addy wanted to swim too, so I found someone to tell her it might not be a good idea.

There was not a chance I was uttering the word “no” to this girl.


So instead I took her to the garden to teach her about growing things and how you’re supposed to step over the pea plants and not necessarily on them.

I watched as she put her hands on her knees and squatted down to get close to the leaves of the strawberry plant, where she declared and made known to the world every bug that crawled on its leaves.

I gave her a taste of rhubarb and watched her cute little face pucker up while she threw the stalk down, declaring it sour before asking for another one.

I followed her following the cat who was hot on the trail of a mouse.

I tried to convince her that pulling weeds might be fun.

She convinced me it was time to go inside.

But before dinner was on the table we were back out there again because Addy said, “Jessie come out here, I think that it’s growing! The garden is growing!”

And so she was right. It was growing. Growing by the minute like this little girl’s wonder and knowledge of the world. So I told her that it might grow faster if we watered it a bit. She grabbed the end of the hose and I headed for the spigot.

“Ready. Set. Go!” Addy yelled in my direction as I pulled the lever up and the water made its way through the hose and to the little girl’s hands squeezing the nozzle.

Addy was watering the garden.

It’s what good princesses do. They tend to the growing things and make the world a little bit greener, the sky a little bit bluer, the birds a little bit chirpier and grown women cry at the utter cuteness of it all…

It turns out, little garden princesses make rainbows too.

At least that what princess Addy did. She made a rainbow with the sun and the water.

“Look Jessie, I’m watering the rainbow!”

“No Addy, you made it! Look at that, you made a rainbow!”

And then I cried a little bit under the protection of my sunglasses so my family observing from the deck could not see that she was melting my heart into a puddle in my chest.

Turns out that making rainbows make princesses thirsty and so Addy needed a drink…




And I cried some more.

Yes, Pops has always kept a garden, but if he never plants another one, it won’t matter. All of the failed attempts at squash, overgrown asparagus and horse-chewed corn on the cob was worth it.

Because it turns out gardens are not made for horses or rabbits or moles or regular people who like home grown tomatoes. No. Gardens are made  for princesses, and finally, one came to visit ours!

It’s summer now…


It’s summer now and the days are long, the sun moving slowly across the sky and hanging at the edge of the earth for stretched out moments, giving us a chance to put our hands on our hips and say “what a perfect night.”

It’s summer now and before dark officially falls we ride to the hill tops and then down through the cool draws where the shade and the grass and the creek bed always keep a cool spot for us.

Because it’s summer now and things are warming up. The leaves are out and so are the wildflowers, stretching and blooming and taking in the fleeting weather.

It’s summer now and the cows are home…

and so is Husband, home before the sun sets. Home to get on a horse and find Pops and ride fence lines.

It’s summer now and the dogs’ tongues hang out while they make their way to the spot of shade on the gravel where the truck is parked. They are panting. They are smiling. They just got in from a swim.

Because it’s summer now and the water where the slick-backed horses drink, twitching and swiping their tails at flies, is warm and rippling behind the oars of the water bugs, the paddle of duck’s feet, the leap of a frog and the dunk of a beaver’s escape.

It’s summer now and we keep the windows open so even when we’re inside we’re not really inside.

We can’t be inside.


Because it’s summer now and there’s work to be done. We say this as we stand leaning up against a fence post, thinking maybe if we finish the chores we could squeeze in time for fishing.

Because it’s summer and we heard they’re biting.

Yes, it’s summer and we should mow the grass before the clouds bring the thunderstorm that will wake us in the early morning hours of the next day. And it’s summer so we will lay there with the windows open listening to it roll and crack, feeling how the electricity makes our hearts thump and the air damp on our skin. Maybe we will sleep again, maybe we’ll rise to stand by the window and watch the lightening strike and wonder where this beautiful and mysterious season comes from.

And why, like the storm, it’s always just passing through.

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?

How seasons change.

We’re right in the middle of a season change, and while it’s technically not winter yet, it kind of feels like it out there. I spend so much of my time documenting my world, watching the leaves fall from the trees and bend under the weight of ice and snow only to come out of hibernation a few months later in all of their green glory.

In North Dakota the four seasons cannot be mistaken. They don’t blend in to one another, they have their own distinct looks, smell and feel, changing everything under the skyT.

And because I am out there in it all year round, taking photographs so as not to miss a thing, today I’d like to share with you how drastically a spinning earth can change our world in this northern state.

Outside my door…


On the branches…


In the grass…


And the thorns…


In the sky…


Outside the barn…



And me.



Happy almost winter everyone. And don’t worry, spring always keeps her promise.

Summer: A photo recap.

September is creeping in on us as summer draws to a close.

Summer.

It’s my favorite season, but this year it has definitely been a challenging one. So I’m sad to see it go. I haven’t enjoyed it the way I should have. I haven’t ridden enough horses, I haven’t taken enough walks. I haven’t basked long enough in the sun or written enough songs about  the way the light floods through these windows in the morning.

So tonight I want to celebrate the moments of summer I was able to catch. We may not have had the chance to spend the time together, but the time she gave me was breathtaking and heartbreaking and awe-inspiring and peaceful and colorful and all the things summer is in my heart.

March 10. First ride of the new spring season.

March 21, my first crocus siting of the season…

April 17: My world starts to blossom

April 22: A spring joy ride…

with my favorite cowboy

April 25: Celebrating the green grass.

May 1: And the sky is a perfect blend of blue and white and fuzzy horse face.

May 6: Paddlefishing season!

May 10: The wildflowers bloom.

May 14: And the ranch comes to life.

June 2: The river calls again and it’s my turn to catch something.

June 5: The babies arrive!

June 7: The rain soaked the leaves…

and the badlands…

and the horses…

and the pug.

June 12: A country church along a back road…

June 17: And then there was the back road itself…

July 2: Summer settles in and we pick our favorite horses

July 7: We turn our faces up toward the hot sun.

July 10: We welcome the friendly bugs and watch our garden grow

July 21: The hot sun sets on us.

July 21: Checking the cows.

August 7: We’re home!

August 16: Bullberries in the morning.

August 18: Husband got himself another big catch!

August 26: And then there’s the dogs again…

Ah, summer, if I could put you in a jar beside my bed you know I would.

Enjoy the dog days everyone!

If you need me, I’ll be out catching salamanders…

My weird and mysterious backyard…

When you live out here it is easy to see the big picture. All you have to do is climb to the nearest hilltop and take in the view.

From way up there you will see the Blue Buttes to the north, the creek bed lined with oak trees below, the rolling grasses and the stock dams under the big blue sky.

I like the view from up there, it puts me in perspective. It takes my breath away when I need something breathtaking and gives me a second wind when I am running low.

But for as much as we can all appreciate a great view from above it all, for me there has always been something magical about life on the ground level of the world.

I’ve written about it before, about taking a step off of the road to cut through the trees. I’ve written about looking down, about honing in on the soft petals of a flower or the way the dry grass glints in the sunlight.

All of those small things that live down there among the pebbles and budding seeds remind me that there is a world still unexplored and mysterious.

And kinda weird and disgusting.  

Fall Spider

I’ll tell you, out here, Husband and I are easily distracted by these sort of things. We spent this weekend cleaning up the construction debris that had accumulated in the yard of our new house. It wasn’t the most thrilling of tasks, throwing weathered pieces of broken siding, particle board and plastic warp into the back of the pickup only to unload it into the dump site and come back for another load, but Husband kept it interesting by hollaring at me to come and look at every creepy, crawly thing he found under the wood pile. He would take my guesses on what we would find as he flipped over big, heavy boards or moved sheeting.

I always guessed worms.

And hoped for something better.

It was like a treasure hunt, especially when we would discover a frog or a salamander.

Not so especially when we tallied up Husband’s spider count.

Husband hates spiders.

But the two of us share an affinity for reptiles and amphibians, both known to have kept lizards, snakes and frogs as pets in our lifetime. So when he yelled out “Jess! Found another salamander over here!” he wasn’t surprised that I was quick to throw down the current piece of junk I was hauling and drop to my knees to inspect the creature.

And then take some pictures.

I can’t imagine what Pops thought when he came into the yard to find me in the middle of our trash piling project pointing my camera into a dirt clump.

He did shake his head a little when I continued to interrupt our conversation with my obnoxious command at the pug to leave the salamanders alone.

My dad was so distracted by my break-up tactic that the man actually relocated the salamander to a safer spot to get me to shut up.

Pops is used to this sort of thing.

Anyway, this is the part where I ponder my fascination with the creatures that lurk and buzz and squirm below our feet. This is the part where I wonder why I’m so enamored with the tiny bodies and skeletal structure of the creatures who share my backyard.

But I don’t have much to say about it except that I know why I look down.

Because when I think all has been discovered, that there is no more adventure in the world, I just have to remind myself to look a little closer, to discover the barn spider and marvel at her web.

When I notice the perfect pattern on the salamander’s slimy back and the way the tiny frog blends in perfectly with the mud I am reminded that there’s always more ways to be in awe.

If I just remember to notice the small things. 

When you take the time to fish…

North Dakota summers don’t last long.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again as I take notice of the days getting a bit shorter, the grass a bit more golden, the heat a little more dry and nights that cool us all down.

Today the kids of my community will be packing up their book bags and climbing on school busses and I will have the feeling I always get as summer winds down as fall waits around the corner.

I will miss my favorite season before my favorite season is even over.

I will wonder where the time’s gone, why my skin isn’t more tan, why the work isn’t finished, why I didn’t pick more wildflowers, why I forgot to plant cucumbers and why my requirements of summer have not been adequately fulfilled.

I think husband was thinking the same thing as last week drew to a close. He’s been spending every waking minute hammering nails, wiring something, tinkering with plumbing, sawing, planning and wondering if we are ever going to eat a meal before 10 pm again…

Because while my requirements for summer include a sun tan, evening walks to hilltops, numerous cocktails on the deck, floating in the lake and popsicles, most of the men in this area only have one summer dream…

Fishing.

And husband was wondering last week if that dream was ever going to come true.

Up the gravel road a ways my friend has her own husband with his own fishing dreams, but it turns out he’s a little more serious about them.

Because he has a boat.

So on hot summer evenings she has found herself sitting alongside her dearly beloved as he trolls through the waters of Lake Sakakawea searching for a monster walleye to bring back to the ranch and fry up for supper.

And while he scours the lake, she quietly hones her own skills, innocently and unexpectedly pulling in nice sized catches off of the back of the vessel.

While her husband theorizes about bait and tackle and the relationship the two choices have on his ability to catch a trophy fish, his wife chooses the prettiest lure, attaches it to her pink fishing pole, drops it in the water and pulls out a giant northern.

And then a walleye.

And then a bass.

And another northern.

And another walleye.

And another bass.

Her husband finds this amusing at first, until the tenth fish begins to inhibit his ability to concentrate on his own catch.

He re-baits his line to match her concoction:  “A purple lure, one minnow and a half a worm.”

He drops his line in the water.

She follows.

He waits.

She yells “Oh, yep! Yep! Got one.”

He grabs the net, she reels in her catch and the cycle continues until the sun sinks down below the horizon and casts sparkling light on the waves of the big lake.

I’m not sure this story would have been told this way had I not seen it for myself this weekend when our friends offered to take us along on one of their epic fishing trips. Husband was glad to oblige and I quickly loaded up our Cheetos and cooler of beer while he dug around the graveyard of lonely and unused fishing tackle to find the poles we last touched on our unsuccessful May catfishing excursion.

We were happy to leave our work behind and glad to have friends willing to take us on out on the water.

I was prepared to lounge in the boat, soak up some sun, drink a few cocktails and probably not catch a thing.

Husband was prepared to do the same.

But three minutes into the fishing excursion, two minutes after we baited our hooks, my friend started her roll.

“Oh yep. Yep. Got one!” she hollered off the end of the boat just as I dropped my line in the water.

And she reeled in a great big northern.

I opened the bag of Cheetos and she caught another.

I took my first drink of beer and she reeled in her third.

We all changed our lures to match her sparkly green one.

And then we put on one minnow and a half of a worm.

And as her husband steered the boat along the banks of his favorite spots he worked to set the hook on his first nibble as his lovely wife reeled in her fourth catch of the day.

My husband got a bite.

She got another fish.

I got a snag.

My friend caught a bass.

Her husband caught a tree, my husband caught some bait…

and my friend caught another walleye.

I cracked another beer and her husband suggested that perhaps she should give it a rest so the rest of us might have a chance.

Oh, somewhere in there I caught a few fish of my own and so did the boys.

But really, despite the jokes about luck and timing and never taking his wife along again, it wasn’t about the fish at all, except I couldn’t help but hold my breath every time my friend dropped her line in the water. Because the excitement that flew out of her lungs with each nibble was bouncing off the buttes and energizing the water surrounding us. All I wanted was for her to catch more fish.

I think we all felt the same way.

Because the season is short and fleeting around here, the sun doesn’t shine forever and the fish don’t always bite. But watching my friend squeal as she reeled in fish after fish gave me something to keep in my pocket for those days when December feels like years.

So I think our neighbors have it figured it–that summer isn’t about the time, but how the time is spent…

And it turns out you just can’t go wrong when you take the time to fish.

 

Morning

The morning is quickly becoming one of my favorite times of the day now that we’ve moved into the new place. I suspected this would be the case after we planned a house with big windows facing toward the hill where the sun makes her grand entrance each morning. I get out of  bed, turn on the coffee pot and stand with my nose pressed to the sliding glass door and take a look at how the day might turn out.

It’s different every morning, sometimes a little dreary, sometimes crisp and calm, sometimes the sky spits out rain and sometimes the sun comes up with a promise of a beautiful day.

I’m blessed to be able to watch it from a few different angles behind my coffee cup. And I’m even more blessed to be able to pull on my jeans and shoes and step out in it if I so choose.

This morning I chose to pay it a visit. Lately I haven’t had time to be anything but be a spectator as the grass grew and dried up, the birds took their morning bath in the dam and the clouds rolled over this house. But I had a moment this morning where I felt there was nothing more important than to be a part of the world outside my window and beyond the road to town.

So I grabbed my camera, my coffee cup and the dogs and took a stroll toward the dam. The lab was thrilled at the chance for a quick dip in the water,

the pug kept busy chasing field mice through the tall grass…

and I worked hard to capture the way the light filtered through the thin skin of the bull berries…

the way it kissed the tips of the wildflowers at the end of their season…

how it made the tall grass glisten

and my world look fresh before the heat of the day.

I am in love with that brief moment where the sun makes my shadow long and tall when I stand with my back toward the light.

Because the wind will blow today. The dust from the trucks will fly.

It might even rain.

But I had my morning.

I will have my evening.

And I’m at peace knowing they will come around again and again outside my windows.

A picture comes to life…

Well, we moved some furniture into the new house this weekend and it is looking like my birthday month will be the month we move into our new home, whether or not the staircase and/or master bedroom, trim work or basement is complete.

I’ve lived in construction zone before, and I’m prepared to do it again. Just imagining us sipping coffee on our deck (which does not exist yet either) and watching the sun come up over the hills we’re nestled in together reminds me that life is a work in progress that is worth the wait.

Sometimes I get a little anxious about it all. I catch myself thinking that other people have it figured out..that other people have houses complete with carpet and painted walls and tiles, a beautiful, finished staircase and money left over to go on a Mediterranean Cruise.

The reality is, some people do. Some people have the vision and the cash to make what they want appear before them without a smudge of tile mortar crusted to their unshaven legs.

We are not those people. We are the people with the vision and the muscle to watch it come to fruition before us slowly, with a little sweat, a lot of muscle and a few tears mixed in.

But despite the hard work, saw dust on my clothes and paint in my hair, I have to say, at this moment where we’re able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, I wouldn’t trade the experience of doing it ourselves for all of the contractors in California.

Because there is something about working alongside your family as they hammer and nail and paint and move heavy things in an effort to see your dream realized. There’s something about hearing thier encouraging comments and seeing their excitement as things come together that makes me grateful to get my hands dirty with them.

And it means everything to be able to stand next to a husband who so desperately wants to make our dreams come true that he works long days and comes home to climb ladders, string wires and nail flooring only to put his hands on his hips and look at me all frazzled, sweaty and cranky and say “dream house, dream girl.”

It means everything to believe him.

It means the most to feel the same way.

So this week my mind’s in a thousand different places–in my music, in my writing, in my work, in the clothes and paperwork I can’t find and the budget we need to stretch to get this done. But I’m going to work hard to stay in the moment and notice the smile on my husband’s face as he checks off his list and gets us one step closer to having coffee together in our new home.

Our view from the kitchen…

Because I want to remember this, as hard as it’s been. I want to remember that when I was sixteen I drew him a picture.

And when I turned twenty-nine he made that picture come to life.

We’ll get the goat and the pigs next year…