Sunday Column: On summer, and the uninvited…

In the spring of the year we dream of all the possibilities the summer will bring. We prepare for the work that needs to be done and make plans to hit the lake and take long rides to hunt for raspberries.
IMG_0080We clear the deck of snow and ice and wait patiently for an evening warm enough to enjoy a cocktail out under a setting sun where we eye the garden and visualize it’s late summer bounty…

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Yes, in the longest winter of our lives, we dreamed of our garden. Of plump, ripe tomatoes. Of cucumber sandwiches with bacon. Fresh garden carrots, with a little dirt still stuck in the cracks. The snap of a pea pod. The crunch of a bean steamed with butter.

The satisfaction of the taste of our growing things…

This May I helped Pops plant those little seeds in neat rows, the cucumbers in mounds, the tomato plants neatly caged up. We hoed and weeded and watered and watched those little seeds sprout…

We covered them when the frost threatened…

And then we left for Minnesota for a little getaway, hoping that the rains would come and keep things moving along…

Hoping the sun wouldn’t scorch things while we were gone.

Hoping the hail didn’t tear the leaves.

That’s the thing about North Dakota. Growing things have to grow fast, we don’t have much time for stretching toward the sun.

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The weeds know this better than any other living thing I decided I when I went to check on our little plot of dirt when we made it back home.

“Where are the pea plants? Where are the carrot tops?” I exclaimed as husband and I started pulling up little thistle plants and vines that didn’t belong.

“Wow, I something’s wrong! There should be peas here! They should be tall and lush! There should be carrot tops for crying out loud! Keep pulling, keep looking! Get Martha Stewart on the line, we’ve got issues here! A garden emergency!”

Husband just shook his head and calmly pulled and hoed at the things that needed to be pulled and hoed…

I grabbed the hose and sprayed frantically, cussing my black thumb and the idea that we had the guts to abandon a garden for a week at such a crucial time.

Could it be that we won’t have peas this year? Could it be that we won’t get fresh garden carrots or beans on the side of our steak supper?

Could it be the weather?

Could it be too much rain?

Not enough?

Could it be I planted things too deep?

Could it be…none of these things…

No.  It’s  just her.

Dad's Deer

See her there trying to hide behind the patio furniture?

She’s taken over. It’s a buffet and it’s her “all you can eat” secret.

And she’s at Mom and Pops’ every night.

Her favorite dish? Peas.

Dessert? Mom’s geraniums.

And nothing can stop her. Last night I heard her hissing at the dogs.

Step out on the deck and she barely lifts her head, each bite and munch crushing our garden dreams…

A million acres of sweet clover and this girl prefers Pops’ tomatoes.

Funny how, in the middle of the deep freeze of winter, our summer memories skip over mosquito bites, black flies, pig weeds that grow over our heads, barn swallows that make nests in the garage and shit on my car and pretty, bossy, little deer that bite the heads off of petunias.

Ah, every season has its battle. This week it’s all about ours…

Coming Home: Battling the annoying side of nature
by Jessie Veeder
7-20-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Cheers to the best parts of summer and here’s hoping all your house guests have been invited…

My column, Coming Home, appears Sundays in the Fargo Forum and weekly in the Dickinson Press and Grand Forks Herald. 

 

Hazy Skies

There has been a haze in the air for the last couple days. Fires in Canada couldn’t hold their breath any longer and so some puffs escaped our way, lingering in the calm, hot air and reminding me of living in Montana in August.

When the wind doesn’t blow here in North Dakota it’s sort of eerie, like there’s some secret we’re not being told.

This place is full of them, untold secrets. I’ve always thought that.

How the snow ever fell on all this green and gold I never understand come mid-July. How it could look anything like this, my skin anything but brown and warm, my hair fuzzed just a bit from the heat.

How pink flowers spring from the same earth that was frozen seven feet under just months ago…

and the once wooly horses shed their coats and transform into sleek, high-spirited creatures I can’t comprehend because I have decided it’s magic.

And so I can hardly stand to be inside.

There’s plenty to do out there in terms of work, so I wander around a bit, grab a broom and sweep the garage, pick a weed or two and then sort of wander off to a couple hilltops to see how the flowers look from up there. The purple coneflowers out in full force, sprung up overnight among the grass and clover stirrup high.

I was away less than a week and look at all I missed.

How can I be lonesome for a season I’m standing in the middle of? How can I be scared that I might not catch it all? It’s ridiculous to be so anxious about the flowers. It’s ridiculous to be so worried that I might blink and miss the best part of a summer sunset.

When I was a little girl I was convinced there were parts of this ranch that were yet to be discovered and so I was determined to explore every inch. I walked the trail beside the creek bed in the spring, throwing in sticks to see where the cold rushing water would take them. In the summer I took off my boots and walked directly in that water, my bare feet navigating trails to the big beaver dams.

In the fall I would crawl to the tops of the banks and count the colors. In the winter I would bundle up and trudge, trudge, trudge…not to be kept away no matter the weather.

It wasn’t until I grew up and came home, camera pointed out of every window, dangling off my neck on every ride, every walk, that I discovered the gift of this place is the very thing that makes me crazy and sends me walking, searching for the undiscovered places. The most beautiful things.

This place never looks the same. Every day, every shift of light, every turn of season, every passing cloud, every breeze, every snowflake and raindrop changes it completely.

Gray sky, gray grass. Gold sun, gold flowers. White snow, white trees. Rain clouds, sparkling leaves.

It’s nature, but isn’t it interesting? Isn’t it magic how something so many miles up in the universe can change things for us, our mood, or intrigue, or plans for the day.

May the fires in Canada soon become a memory and the ashes turn to the greenest grass.

Because up here, the wind, the wind changes everything.

Among the clover.

I wish you could smell the sweet clover out here this time of year. I step outside and I’m flooded with a wave of memories of all that I used to be, summer after summer growing up out here. It smells like work and evenings spent sliding down hills on cardboard boxes with my cousins. It smells like ingredients for mud pie and playing house in the lilac bushes by the red barn. It smells like bringing lunch to dad in the field above our house, horseflies and heat biting our skin.

It smells like my first car and the windows rolled down, taking back roads with my best friends as passengers, kicking up dust as we tested the limits of teenage-dom.

It smells like my leaving, bittersweet. My last summer as a kid here before it was time to go and grow up already. Be on my own.

And it smells like coming home, take a right on the pink road, stop at the top of the hill and look at it all before heading down and turning into mom and dad’s for a glass of wine and a steak on the deck that looks out toward the garden and up the crick bed where I used to play everyday.

Pink Road

Last week we had family here from Texas, a couple of those cousins who used to help me make mud pies, a couple of aunts and an uncle I adore and then, of course the grandkids. The ranch was buzzing, laughing, full of life like I remembered it when I was growing up and our grandparents were alive and serving us push-up pops from the small from porch of their small brown house.

Funny how the world changes when suddenly there are kids running through the grass, pulling up dandelions, blowing bubbles and making memories on this place like the ones I hold so close to me.

After the Centennial celebration was over we did nothing but sit on the deck and visit, catch up, eat and then run inside to watch the rain pour. We laughed at the kids as they played and fought over toys and I looked at my cousin, the one closest to my age, the girl I used to wish was my twin sister, a mother now, and I thought, well, weren’t we just the same size as her baby A? Weren’t we just five years old running through the clover, itching our mosquito bites, begging for popsicles and just one more hour to play outside.

Now look at us, all grown up and still here on this place.

I was so thankful to be here with them on this place.

Because I know it didn’t come without a cost for our family, keeping it here for us, so future generations can smell the clover and be young and wild out here…

Country Cousins

I know that we did nothing but be born to good people who know the value of the land, not in dollars, but in something that is hard for me to find words for right now.

Pride?

Work?

Home?

A place to belong?

On Monday when the rest of his family loaded up and hit the road, Uncle W, stayed home one more evening. Little Sister came out and we saddled up our horses and headed out east, riding along and listening to the two brothers remember what it was like to be young out here.

Little Uncle W always found hanging back on a roundup, eating on a Juneberry bush.

Young Pops getting bucked off on the road when his little brother popped over the hill on his tricycle.

Milking cows and riding broncs and chasing girls and growing up together, out here on this place.

How many gloves and hats and scarves have been left dangling in these trees, scooped off heads and hands of little cowboys and cowgirls rushing on the backs of horses running through the trees?

How many wild plum pits have been spit at one another?

How many mud pies have been made in this barnyard, topped off with little pieces of sweet clover.

It’s so quiet here this morning as I get ready to head to a show tonight and then on to Minnesota to celebrate the 4th of July. If I had my way we’d all live out here together, my cousins and us, and those kids would be over the hill forever being raised by kids like us, and we would rehash memories and then create new ones.

Every day, out here on this place the way it used to be.

But that wouldn’t work. There’s space out here, but not that much…not enough…

So I’ll take the clover. I’ll breathe it in and I will remember when it itched our bare little legs in the summer while we searched for kittens in the nooks of the red barn.

Then I’ll remember the weekends, weekends like these, when they came to visit us out here along the gravel roads, and how small the kids were and how they were so little, because they’ll grow up too fast you know. Just like we did, out here among the clover.

The golden hour…

IMG_9124Summers don’t last long enough here. But the days are long and so we make up for it by squeezing every last inch of sunlight out of our waking hours.

We have supper at 11 pm. Quick. Whip something up. We need to sleep so we can wake and do it again.

I like every inch of this time of year, but I like the witching hour best, the time right before sunset when everything on earth is bathed in a golden light and the creek bottoms cool and the clover smells fresh and crisp and like every childhood ride I’ve ever taken.

IMG_9099Last night I rushed home from meetings in town to meet up with Husband to push some bulls and a few cows through the gate to the west. I ran inside and switched from my sandals and fancy shirt to boots and jeans and jumped in the old green pickup and on down to the barn. I rearranged the tack room and swept away dust while I waited for him and the horses to come down.

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It would be a quick and easy ride, the cattle right by the gate. We saddled up and admired our animal’s sleek backs. They’re summering well, we said. Fat and sassy, full of gas.

We swung on and out of the barnyard and pushed those cows with their new boyfriends toward the creek. And they went well and so did our two bays and when they were through that gate we decided to keep going ourselves, to check the dam on the other side of the pasture. To just ride a bit and be out in it.

To make sure all the other cows were in between the fence lines.

I wish you could have seen it, the way the green looked neon and the purple flowers popped from the earth in the bask of the 9:30 sun sink. On a different Wednesday evening I might have brought my camera, but I left the house on a deadline and, sometimes it’s nice to just be there without the burden of trying to capture it the way I see it, because sometimes it just isn’t possible.

And sometimes it’s nice to just talk about nothing really and ride along.

IMG_9112Sometimes it’s nice to just say, “What a night! What a night!” and believe it between the two of you.

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We made our way to the dam, spotting a hawk and a coyote and a couple deer along the way. Oh, and some cows. There were cows too.

Good thing there were cows.

And then the sun that was kissing the top of my husband’s hat, filtering through his too-long hair, making him look like a western movie poster, sunk down over the horizon, chilled my skin and turned our stroll into a trot, back across the new spring on the hill, down through the valley where the plums grow in the fall, up along the deep trails, across the flat, to the creek and through the gate we left open.

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Feeling proud of our accomplishments and hungry for our 10 pm supper, we popped up over the hill that would take us to the pink road, past the grain bins and down to the barnyard.

But not before we came upon the cows and their boyfriends, the same ones we just pushed through that gate, munching and strolling exactly where we found them an hour or so before.

“Cows” I exclaimed as if my husband didn’t have eyes.

“Yup,” he replied in typical Husband fashion. And then, “Shoulda probably shut that gate…”

But if there ever was a night to do a chore like that twice, it was that night. Because in the golden hour or in the dark, we would rather be out there than anywhere…

And anyway, tacos taste best at 11 pm.

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Badass 4-H Nerds

Alex & Me. 4-H

I’ve had this photo on my fridge for a few weeks. I found it while going through photo albums in search of something else.

And then this gem falls out of from the pages, unattached and out of it’s place and I thought, well, what a shame that it’s been hidden all these years when it should be on display for me to see each day.

Because, well look at these nerds. Me and my little sister at the county fair, fresh off the ranch where we likely spent the night before washing my old mare, Rindy, in the backyard with Mane and Tail shampoo, a brush and a hose spraying freezing cold water.

I would have put on my shorts and boots and worked to convince Little Sister to hold Rindy’s halter rope while the horse got busy munching on as much lush green grass as she could, without a care about that tiny, fuzzy haired girl in her way.

Little Sister, enthused initially, likely started to get annoyed by the whole deal, the sun a little too hot on her already rosy cheeks, the bees getting dangerously close, so she probably abandoned ship after a couple arguments about it and then I would have been out there finishing the job, picking off the packed on dirt and yellow fly eggs horses get on their legs up in these parts and then standing back, pleased with the work I did and excited to show my horse in the big arena and decorate her up and ride her in the parade because she’s never looked so good, so shiny, her red coat glistening in the sun.

Then I’d take her down to the barnyard and give her a munch of grain, tell her I’d see her in the morning.

It would rain then, soaking the ground nice and good and I would wake up bright and early because likely I didn’t sleep a wink, so nervous about getting that purple ribbon. I would pull on the crisp dark blue Wrangler jeans that I laid out next to my brand new clean white shirt dad picked up for me at Cenex or the western store on Main Street and I would tuck it all in nice and neat and head out to the barn with Pops and Little Sister trailing behind to get my glistening horse and her fancy halter loaded up in the trailer only to find that she had gone ahead and taken advantage of the mud the rain produced, rolling in it nice and good and letting the clay form a thick crust on her back.

I’m thinking this scenerio is the reason for our serious expressions here.

But it looks like we got it worked out, because damn, we look good.

Especially that mare.

Badass we were. Badass 4-H nerds.

I frickin’ love this picture.

Alex & Me. 4-H

The way it should be

This week the cows came home, and so did 70+ degree weather.

When there are cows around in 70+ degree weather it’s next to impossible for people like us to stay inside, or do anything other than find the horses and ride around.

Of course there are things to be done, fences to be fixed, etc. etc. and that’s why we ride. Because on the back of a horse at least you can look like you’re working.

And when the cows are home and it’s 70+ degrees things that might have annoyed you, like opening one gate to let the horses in only to watch them run wide open out the open gate on the other side of the corral, make you cuss for only like five to ten minutes while you rush to wrangle the animals off the green grass on the other side of the fence and back to the barn.

Even the bird that shit on your head and the wood tick(s) stuck behind your ear are taken as a small price to pay for the arrival of summer

Because the wild berries are blossoming and it smells like heaven. 

This is my ride.

The man beside me is telling me things that make me laugh and he’s handsome and he’s getting all the gates and I get to go home with him tonight.  

The calves are adorable.

And the cows are home and it’s 70+ degrees and weekend’s here and life is the way it should be back at the ranch.

The greening up…

 When it decides to green up around here, it sure does a good job.

This time of year is my favorite. I love it so much I don’t mind the ticks.

(Like, I mean, lots of ticks.

Like, I had so many I had to strip off my clothes and put them outside. Like, I won’t tell you how many because you would never sleep again and also, I had one stuck on my butt and that was one of those conversations you don’t really want to have with your husband, but, well, let’s forget I ever mentioned it.

And while we’re at it let’s also forget that I found a tick in my bed last night…)

Annnyywaaayyy… ticks or no ticks, there’s something to be said about being the first one out there to find a patch of sweet peas.

There’s something so new and refreshing about it all, the green grass poking up out of the ground before the weeds and brush take over.

The fresh air before all the bugs wake up.

The smell of rain coming in.

The damp dirt and the birds and all of the sounds and smells of things coming back to life.

I feel like I’m coming back to life.

So I make it a point to go out in it. In the middle of the long, cold winters those are the promises we make to ourselves: If it ever gets above freezing we will not complain about the weather.

We live here and we endure this because this is what we’re promised. We’re promised the greening up. And the process couldn’t possibly be as beautiful, as spiritual and soul reviving if we didn’t fully understand what cold feels like.

Yes. We know cold.

And endless white.

And to know the white is to truly know the green.

And all the life that comes with it…

Sunday Column: On slowing down

photo-79Well, I found a bluebell yesterday.

I was out cleaning the ditches between the two places, doing my part in a community weekend designated to “Picking up the Patch.”

There has been a lot of traffic on that pink road stretching from highway to highway the last few months. Behind our house at night, over the hill and across from the grain bins men and women from all walks of life are traveling to and from that highway to do their part to get the oil out of the ground below this ranch and the ranches beside us.

It’s noisy work, that oil drilling. At night we can hear the creaks and groans of pipe being pulled out of the ground, the blow of a horn, the hum of the trucks driving by, and if the wind is right I might hear those men hollering to one another.

And this traffic leaves residue. Pieces of these men’s lives thrown from the windows of their pickups on purpose or blown from the backs of their pickups on accident.  Everyone is going somewhere. To and from. Some care about this place.

Some don’t.

Some days it’s exhausting.

Some days I don’t notice much.

This noise won’t last forever, but the landscape is forever changed.

And in the spring, it needs cleaning.

So I went out in it, leaving my husband at home building new steps into our house inside our new garage with the fancy new concrete floor.

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We are building out here too. We’re noisy too. We’re making impacts, moving dirt and changing things that can’t be unchanged.

Some days we’re not so quiet ourselves.

Some days we need to remember to clean it all up too. So that’s what I did yesterday. I tried to beautify. I sorted my closets, gloves from neckerchiefs,

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I hauled construction material out of my yard, I swept the dirt from the floors and I used my legs to walk those ditches and pick up cans, watching the trucks slow down as they passed a girl and a dog cleaning up after anonymous faces.

And I was feeling good under that blue sky. It was a warm day. Hardly any wind. I was thinking we could be fishing or riding. Those were my two top choices.

But there were things to be done. The earth is greening up and working on showing us her best side. I wanted to help her along.

So I was feeling good. And then I was feeling bad. Each bottle, each leftover cup from Taco Johns, every wrapper and Copenhagen can a slap of carelessness for this place. I wanted to put my hands on my hips and stomp my foot and scream, “Don’t you care?!”

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But there was no one to scream at. They couldn’t hear me in the cabs of their pickups or behind the wheels of their big rigs. And they likely weren’t the culprits anyway. Most, like my husband at home building us new steps, are probably from here. Some might have places like this of their own. Some might have been out cleaning up their own section of ditches in the last few days. Most of them are doing good enough. Well enough. Just doing their jobs.

And screaming generally doesn’t help a thing.

But doing something about it does. So I filled the bags and step by step I felt a little better about it anyway. That I could at least clean up. That it was a nice day. That there were others out there doing the same thing.

And then I found the bluebell. A sweet, fragile little flower poking out brightly from the greening up grass, all hopeful and brave and beautiful like it knows something that I don’t.

Like thank you.

Like summer comes no matter what.

Like you should work hard like all of these people around you, and then you should look up and look down and look closely here. Slow down and look at me.

Coming Home: Summer a time to honor our childhood
http://www.inforum.com/event/article/id/434977/
by Jessie Veeder
5-18-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Sunday Column: Adventures in boots…

Our stories make us. To sit around the kitchen table, or to stop and chat up a friend on the street, to lean against our shovels, taking a break from work. To grab a beer on a patio somewhere and lean back into our memories with our good friends, or the friends we are making. To tell about the time you got bucked off so hard you couldn’t feel your right arm for days, the one that turns into a memory from your new friend or old friend about her favorite horse that used to eat her hat, stories that lead into other stories, stories that show us parts of one another, they mean something, they say something about the fabric woven in us.

Stories are how we come to know one another. Stories are how we share pieces of our lives with pieces of the rest of the world.

But I have to tell you that when I asked you to share the stories of your favorite boots with me here on the blog, I didn’t expect to be so moved. Each memory or commentary is touching or funny or perfectly heartfelt in it’s own way and I feel like I have the best group of loyal, well-dressed friends out there.

I’m so glad I asked for your stories

So thank you for sharing!

And if you haven’t commented with your own boot story yet (or Facebooked at Facebook.com/veederranch or Tweeted/Instgrammed a photo with #rockybootstories) there’s still time to enter for your chance to win a FREE PAIR OF BOOTS!  I will post the winner on Wednesday!

And now to celebrate spring and our stories and all the kinds of trouble we can get into way out in the country with our best friends in our favorite pair of boots, I present to you a story about childhood, breaking rules and paying the price.

P.S. This is a story about wood ticks and I apologize in advance for that creepy, skin-crawly feeling that will likely result after reading it…

Coming Home: Bending the rules ends in surprise infestation
by Jessie Veeder
5-11-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Keep those stories coming friends! And here’s to many more adventures in those boots!

Sunday Column: To simply live.

A few weeks ago on one of the first warm days of not-quite-spring, Little Sister made her way out to the ranch after school. We didn’t have any plans in particular, except that we both felt like we needed to take advantage of a sunny afternoon and then throw something on the BBQ for grilling.

Maybe we’d clean up the ditches.

Maybe we’d walk to the top of the rock hill in the east pasture.

Maybe we’d search for crocuses.

Maybe we’d catch the horses and take the first ride of the season.

And because that last idea sounded like the best idea, we called up Pops to see if he’d join us. But Pops was likely out on his own spring day walk-about and so, understandably, wasn’t answering calls.

We could have taken a ride by ourselves, just the two of us, but something about it didn’t feel right.

So Little Sister and I meandered, up to the top of Pots and Pans, where we kneeled down to inspect the crocuses, then along the top of that hill and across the fence to the fields where we followed the trail past where once, a million years ago, Little Sister watched me jump off my horse and emerge from the weeds with a concussion and a crooked and broken wrist.

We followed that trail down to where it met the road and we talked about everything and nothing like sisters do. Taxes and deadlines, summer plans and new recipes, our funny nephew, our mutual hatred for wood ticks, traffic and how things have changed around here.

Then we took a left off of that road and walked down to the hay pen where we used to feed cattle in the winter. Where once, when I was little, I watched dad get chased down by a mad momma cow while he was ear-tagging her calf.

It’s funny how all of these places out here hold different obscure memories for all of us. I doubted that Pops remembered that momma-cow incident, but at the time I was sure it was the closest he’d ever come to death.

Because, even as a kid I was aware that this life was fragile. I think growing up on a ranch surrounded by the sometimes cruel realities of nature helps a kid understand these things.

It’s a lesson I am glad to have, but sometimes I wish I could tuck away the worry as easily these days as I did back then.

See, I’ve told my sister, and I’l tell you, that ever since that long, cold week in January spent sitting next to our dad and willing him to live, to take more breaths with us, to keep pumping blood through that heart, I’ve been jumpy and much too aware that at any moment everything could change.

And I’m planning on it wearing off, that worry melting away from me as the sun warms my back and the tips of the long grass. I plan on unclenching my teeth and dropping my shoulders a bit as I remember that we can only know what’s in this moment, and in this moment we’re fine.

My sister talked about the future then and where she might build a house someday and we walked up the hill toward my house, then headed for the trail in the trees that would take us back inside, stopping to take a look at the Blue Buttes and how the sun hit them that evening, turning them purple…

And then we turned around, two sisters standing side by side. Two sisters who cried over the idea of their father’s last day on earth and took turns sitting with him during those long nights in the hospital, me from 10 to 2 am, her from 2 to 6…these two sisters who learned to ride horses by his example saw that dad riding towards them up over the crest of that hill.

His first ride, the one we prayed for, the one I promised him he’d have again if he just held on.

Last weekend I stood next to my dad on a stage behind a guitar and we sang out into a small crowd of dancing people words to songs it seems we’ve known forever, if forever was a promise we ever believed we were given.

But it doesn’t matter now. Because these things we do, the things that unclench our jaw and soften the hard parts of living, I believe they pull us through with their own promises, not to live forever, but to simply and fully live.

Coming Home: Some things in life are uncomplicated 
by Jessie Veeder
5-3-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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