Sunday Column: I’ll be an old woman

I’ve been thinking about growing up lately, about my age and what it means to be an adult, to be a grown woman. To be established in my skin.

Maybe it’s the changing of a season, another summer coming upon us and the noticeable way my plans have changed from frolicking around the hills on the bare back of my sorrel horse to fulfilling obligations and responsibilities, meeting deadlines and penciling in time for the fun.

Maybe it’s the new silver scattered in my hairline, the silver I just sat in a chair for hours to have covered, to camouflage the passage of time as it’s made a splattering of an appearance for the world to see.

It could be those things and then it could be how it feels to watch my big sister raise an almost four-year old, my little sister finish her Master’s degree and my parents make plans for a new chapter in their lives.

Or it could be tax season and the oh, so grown-up responsibility and that cringeworthy check I’m plopping in the mail for the government today.

Maybe. Maybe it could be that.

When I was a little girl no one told be about these things. About what it’s like to wake up one day and realize that the growing up part isn’t like a music montage in a Disney movie.

No one told me the adult version of myself might forget about the ten-year old girl who used to wonder out loud when a person turns from a kid with energy to burn into a tired adult who would rather sit on the porch and drink coffee. No one told the ten-year-old version of myself that one day, I too would find myself a little too tired at the end of the day to build forts in the trees and stay out until dark or suppertime, whichever came first.

No one explained to me that one day that supper would be my responsibility and it’s importance would eclipse my waning desire to lean logs up against fallen trees.

I wouldn’t have believed them anyway.

But all that doesn’t matter now. I’ve made it this far and between the work and the worry I decided I needed to make some promises to myself.

About getting older.

About the kind of woman I want to be.

The kind who doesn’t bother with things like gray hair and doesn’t get worked up about mud on the floor.

The kind that saddles her own horse and breathes in the spring air, declaring the beauty of the season change while searching for crocuses.

The kind that doesn’t mind the passage of time. Who wears the lines on her face and her weathered hands with grace, a badge of a life well lived under the big blue sky of home.

Making these sort of declarations is freeing. To know how I want to turn out, to see myself there in my garden below the house, to know with as much certainty as that ten-year-old girl I used to be that I want to be the kind of old woman who doesn’t just live here on this place, but becomes a fixture, like the old fence posts holding stretched wire across the landscape–expected, subtle, weathered, wise.

Useful.

Beautiful.

Coming Home: When I grow up, I want to…
by Jessie Veeder
4-13-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Catch me at the
North Dakota Bloggers & Writers Workshop
Monday, April 14, 2014
Fargo, ND

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.

Let loose…

The world’s full of mustangs
and stray cats
and untamed
men lighting smokes and making promises to you

You show them the fences
the spots that need mending
and the holes in the trees
in case you need to break through

Let loose.

Let loose.

You’re tangled and unbraided
just like the mane
of that pony who taught you
about getting up again

And bones they might break
but words have a way of
screaming out secrets
only that pony ever knew

Let loose.

Let loose.

Let loose the horses girl
Let go of the reigns
It’s no use being lost this way
though I know you love to roam…
Let that horse bring you home

You forgot
All those things you said you’d do
When you’re lost
and no one’s coming for you…

Let loose.

Let loose.

Let loose the horses girl
Let go of the reigns
It’s no use being lost this way
though I know you love to roam…

Let that horse bring you home.

The day he lived.

10 days ago my dad lived.

My dad, with his beautifully raspy voice, his strong, callused hands, his passion for this landscape and the creatures that exist here. My dad who loves unconditionally and laughs with a promise that things will be ok.  My dad who’s given the shirt off his back, the boots from his feet and all his heart to those he loves or those who need him.

Our dad who knows things. Takes care of things.

Takes care of us.

The weather report warned us that the early January thaw was about to turn treacherous, sending snow blowing across slushy roads, turning them to ice and dropping the temperatures to dangerous lows. But it was warm that early Friday morning when Pops struggled to find the phone to make a call that would save his life.

That evening as Husband drove us home in that mild winter air I was uneasy. There was no reason for it really. We had just finished a nice dinner with my family, celebrating my mom and little sister’s birthday. We laughed. We ordered steak. We watched Little Man move from lap to lap around the table. And then we all said goodnight and happy birthday.

But on the road that night as the tires hummed along the highway I looked up at the stars with a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach and asked my husband if he ever feels lonesome for something. Something he can’t describe.

He said he thought so. He said he understood.  Then we pulled into the drive, trudged up the steps and tucked ourselves in safe and unaware that in a few short hours, at 2 a.m. the phone would ring in the darkness, threatening to change the comfortable and blessed life we take for granted.

The hours that followed are indescribable, a nightmare that threatened to paralyze me and send me gasping for air at the sound of my father’s voice asking for help and the sight of him lying helpless on the floor. But deep down under the fear that percolated and boiled up in my throat was an untried and reassuring belief that this was only an obstacle and not the end.

The stars spun in the warm January night and under those stars our neighbors responded to the call, loading up in the fire-trucks and an ambulance, asking their God for strength to make the miles in time to help a suffering friend laying too far from town, too far from help.

And so how do you thank that God for second chances? My dad looked up at me from the floor of the home where he raised three girls and loved one woman, the walls that absorbed the sound of a family’s laughter and arguments, the notes of his guitar, the smells of supper warming on the stove and a life well lived and he told me he was dying.

I held his hand, looked him in the eye and without a waver, without a tear, I said no. No, you are not.

But he was. I didn’t believe it then. I didn’t know it then, but he was.

That big strong heart of his, the one that taught us – showed us – compassion and patience, bravery and tenderness, was torn and leaking and poisoning his body.

And with each passing minute, each hour it took to load him in the ambulance, to get him to town, to test, to poke and prod and diagnose and medicate, to plead with the nurses and doctor, to fight to make him comfortable, to hold his hand and ask him where it hurt, where is it…what is it…what can we do…do something…help him…the odds fell quickly and silently away from his favor.

“Dissection of the Aorta,” the doctor said. “We’re calling an airplane. There’s no time to talk now…”

My mother’s hand went to her mouth. My sisters gasped. The temperature dropped outside where the wind blew chilled rain across the plains and I ran out there to stand in it, to come to grips with the idea that we might go on living in this world without my dad.

But I could not accept it. This wasn’t our story.

I pushed down the fear and walked back inside where we hugged him goodbye for now.

“See you in the big town,” I said.

“Are you sure you want to drive those roads? The weather’s getting bad,” he told us. “I’ll be ok, really. You don’t have to come all that way.”

Just like dad to worry about us.

Silent and shaken we crawled in the pickup, 180 miles of daunting highway stretching before us under the darkening and freezing winter skies.

And up in those skies they flew him, my dad, on the wings of the plane and some merciful angels, to get to where he was going in time to be saved.

Who am I to give words to the feeling of moving through those miles in the dark, uncertain and silent, mind wandering to a future you can only will and pray for. Who am I to tell you how my stomach knotted with each ring of the phone, what it was like to watch my mother and sisters suffer with worry? Who am I to describe the relief we felt when we got word he made it to the hospital where staff and surgeon were waiting to perform one of the most difficult procedures of their careers?

How can I tell you what those hours were like, waiting with my family while my father was in another room with his chest cut open, his big, strong heart exposed and open to the uncertain world?

How can I describe what it meant to us that you drove all those miles behind us in the storm, neighbor, to sit with us and ease the silence while we waited hours for news of his life as the earth froze over?

What words do I use to thank the doctor who walked into that waiting room with news that he saved him? The nurses who cared for him? The family and friends who sent prayers and positive thoughts into the universe, begging for mercy for a man we still need with us here, while all around the world people with much better odds of living were being taken up into those spinning stars.

Ten days ago my dad lived. The earth froze solid while he slept. 60 below zero the weatherman said and we were frozen too with fear of the unknown. We touched his hand while he slept and told him we loved him.

Two days after that he breathed on his own and the air warmed up enough to let the snow fall. In the dark of the night we took turns sitting with him in that room in that city full of lights and unfamiliar noises as he healed, passing one another’s footprints in the snow on our way back and forth from the hotel to his bedside.

Twelve hours later he was walking down the hall of that hospital aware of his mortality, grateful for his saviors, both unseen and on this earth, and planning his escape back to the ranch where there is so much more work to be done, more people to love and more life to be lived.

“I almost died,” he said as the drugs wore off and he came back to us.

“But you didn’t dad. I told you you wouldn’t,” I said.

“You know why I didn’t?”

“Why?”

“Because I’m a son-of-a-bitch.”

Maybe not a son-of-a-bitch, but the strongest man I know.  How comforting that his sense of humor was so quick to reappear.

And with each passing day that laughter eased our worries, the temperature warmed and the earth thawed out as we all learned to breathe again.

Our dad is a miracle. Doctors and nurses got word of his survival and recovery and stopped by to see him, to tell him he’s an anomaly.

I could tell you the odds. I knew them all along, but it doesn’t matter now. He was meant to stay with us.

Because ten days ago, in a world that worked to freeze up, crush us and break our hearts, my dad’s heart, big and strong and open, against all odds in a world that can be cruel and forgiving all at the same time, kept beating.

Ten days ago he lived.

 

Happy New Year Life is Beautiful

Happy 2014 everyone. Looks like we made it another year, despite my overconsumption of champagne and cream based party dips over the past several weeks.

We rang in the New Year with style and class as always here at our humble abode under homemade party hats constructed out of Red Solo cups, because these are the things we resort to when there’s not a New Years headband to be found for miles.

photo-56

And we’re crafty, you know.

That’s my cousin on the left. And now he’s gonna kill me.

Or something like that…

Anyway, yesterday when the smoke had cleared from the unsuccessful egg bake I attempted to make for my guests, Husband and I shuffled around the house, ate leftover dip and pasta and reminisced a bit about the year we left behind us.

We both came to the conclusion that it went too fast. So fast, that most of our memories are a blur.

But there are some favorites we could agree on, fun little tidbits of 2013 that will hang on with us forever.

Like making a bon fire and attempting to curl on the stock dam and sled down the big hill outside our house with all the friends we could convince to come and visit us,

the long trip to Montana to sing under the mountains,

my cousin’s wedding that brought all the relatives together,

the arrival of the cabin on the spot the old house used to sit,

the construction of the deck and celebrating turning 30 under the stars.

It was the year of the wild berries and impossible hornets,

Pops’ Trail 90, a Disney Extravaganza, the slow destruction of my windshield and the pug’s motivation

and what feels like a million words written and a thousand songs sung.

It was the year of Juno,

a big March snow storm,

so much rain we never got out of the mud,

the coldest December of my life, a master bathroom project that threatened to end me and some of the best horses we’ve ever had on this place.

It was the year we didn’t quite get what we wanted but tried our damnedest anyway.

It was a good year, one, as always, spent behind the camera.

Because life is beautiful.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November 

December

Thanks for all the love friends. Here’s to good friends, good wine, good tunes and good times in 2014!

Feeding Hay

It doesn’t say so on the calendar, but the temperatures and blowing snow make it perfectly clear.

Winter is here.

And because we still have some cows around, this means feeding hay and breaking ice for the animals.

When I was growing up we had cattle every winter. And every evening after my dad came home from his work in town, often after the sun had gone down, I would bundle up in my coveralls and beanie, and sit beside him in the feed pickup as he rolled out bales for the cows.

It was always one of my favorite chores for a lot of reasons. The pickup had heat, so that was one of them. I got to sit bundled up and watch the cows come in from the hills in a nice straight, black line.

When we would feed cake or grain, I got to drive the pickup while Pops shoveled it out the back. He would put it in low and release the clutch and tell me to keep it out of the trees. My nose would barely reach over the steering wheel, but I felt helpful and I liked it.

And I liked the way the hay smelled when it unrolled from the back of the pickup, like it had kept some summer underneath its layers.

There’s something about an everyday chore like this that is sort of comforting. Maybe it’s the knowing that you’re a necessary part of the order of things. Knowing that you’re responsible.

It’s the taking care I think.

These cows are heading to different pastures next week, leaving these prairie pastures to the horses.

So I was glad to get one last feed in with the ladies.

Bon appetit fine gals. I’ll miss taking care of you!

Sunday Column: A way to celebrate winter

Despite the hostility I harbor for the recent sub-zero temperatures, I do believe this season comes with gifts, and I’m not talking about the ones that hang out under the tree.

And besides, things are looking up. Today it got up to a balmy -5.

Taking time to enjoy a snow day
by Jessie Veeder
12-8-13
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Icicle Eyeballs

The temperature gauge on my pickup this morning said this.

-20

That’s negative twenty.

Twenty below zero.

Sub, sub, zero.

Two digits below zero.

And that was without the windchill factor.

photo-48

Do you know what -20 feels like if you include the windchill?

Well it sure as hell doesn’t feel like Tuesday. You know, way back when I was in Florida.

You know what the temperature is in Florida today?

Shit.

How’s a person expected to survive that sort of shift in the atmosphere?

I woke up one day to 75 and sunny, got on a plane without socks and landed in a blizzardy tundra with 30 mile-per-hour gusts of blowing snow that dropped the temperature to a nice even -15 or so.

Sockless.

That’s nearly a 100 degree temperature drop in a mere 8 hours.

Do you know what 100 degrees colder than 75 and sunny feels like?

It feels like blood freezing in your veins.

It feels like icicle eyeballs.

It feels like razor sharp nipples.

It feels like burning cold skin.

It feels like every swear word you can form on your lips in the five seconds before your mouth freezes shut.

It makes you question your place in life, the level of sanity you possess to have become a person who choses to live in a place that spends a solid two to three weeks a year trying to freeze your internal organs.

No one’s lungs are freezing in Florida. I’m just saying…

Oh, I know, we’re a hardy lot of people up here. We’re sort of proud of that. We eat a lot of meat and potatoes. We put big dumplings in our soup. We roll out noodles and smother them with heavy sauces.

We deep fat fry shit.

We’ve got meat on our bones.

But there aren’t enough noodles in the world, not enough gravy, no ass big enough to protect a person from a weatherman warning that today, today friends, it’s only going to be -20, but you know what, it’s gonna feel like -45.

photo-50

Henry, I love ya, but shut it.

Just. Shut. It.

Because at some point on the devil’s side of 0 degrees, it just doesn’t matter.

Pug in glasses

No.

So don’t bother with such a specific warning Henry. Just tell us to wear seven sweaters under our giant, full-body jackets that drag on the ground.

And then laugh because we all know that seven sweaters and a giant jacket ain’t helping anyone out here.

We’re all just idiots.

Freezing cold idiots.

Popsicle people walking around wearing seven sweaters while our eyelids freeze to our eyeballs when really, we should all just move to Florida.

-20.

Shit I’m cold.

Cold

The Roof (or why I’m in search of 20 giant trampolines.)

garage

You know Husband’s building a garage? Yeah? I’ve mentioned that right?

It’s a massive project. For the past month or so, each weekend the men in my life are up there crawling around, nailing things to other things, coming in for a beer, a Diet Coke or a sandwich or something. Every weekend I’ve been making enough soup or casserole to feed them at the end of a long cold day spent way up there, too far from the ground and too close to the sky in my opinion.

And every weekend it’s been kinda shitty weather. You know, because we wait to do these sorts of projects until it is certain to dump snow or ice on us at any moment.

Why would a person build a garage in the summer when the weather is warm and a guy could get a little sun on that white belly? That would be too practical.

No. We wait until winter when it’s kinda chilly and kinda icy and terrifyingly dangerous to be lifting rafters up 22 feet and then dangling from them like damn monkeys.

So every weekend I tell them to be careful. I plead with them to watch their step. I contemplate the cost of fashioning them all with full-body helmets. I wonder how many mattresses I would have to buy to cover the area around the entire circumference of the garage with the thought that if they’re plummeting 22 feet to their immanent death and there’s a nice pillow top waiting for them at the bottom, perhaps they’ll only break a leg and not their necks.

Maybe I should invest in giant trampolines.

Anyway, point is, I hate this project. It’s dangerous and it’s making me crazy.

Now I know life is dangerous, I have terrible depth perception. Just the other day I whacked myself in the lip with the phone in an attempt to answer it. Once, I bent over to pick something up and I nearly knocked myself out on the kitchen table.

Needless to say, I do not go on the roof of that garage.

No, I stay inside and sweep or make cookies or paint or stain something. Sometimes I go outside to pick up nails or boards or things that could get buried in the snow or possibly impale my dearly beloved on his inevitable trip off the roof.

For the past few weekends my sweet mother-in-law has been coming over to to keep me company and to organize the mess that is her carpenter son and his wife who seems to have an aversion to the vacuum cleaner (unless it’s a special occasion).

So on Sunday I worked on putting rock up on a wall in our kitchen, a project that has been in limbo for a good six months or so. And while I was mixing mortar, climbing up and down the little ladder and making up new cuss-word combinations, my mother-in-law was downstairs organizing tools in our basement workshop.

There’s a special place in heaven for this woman, I tell you what. And when this house project is finished, when the damn tiling and painting and sanding is complete and the basement is transformed from a workshop into a livable space, I’m going to pour my mother-in-law a strong margarita and then I’m going to pour one for myself and we are going to drink it while I make an appointment for a manicurist and then another appointment for a therapist.

Because last Sunday when I was upstairs trying to get giant rocks to stick to the damn wall, my mother-in-law was in the basement putting away the paintbrushes when she looked up to see her oldest son, my husband, plummet from the sky, past the window and to the hard, frozen ground.

She dropped her paintbrush, clutched her chest and ran up the stairs past me in a frenzy, saying something about how “the guys came off the roof…I mean, they fell. He fell off the roof,” as she flung open the door and ran outside to assess the situation.

And I followed her in a panic, calculating the amount of damage a fall from 22 feet could inflict in the 3 seconds it took to get my body outside to find my father-in-law, standing up but dazed and bleeding a bit from his eyebrow where his now-missing-glasses dug into his face.

And then there was my husband, slow blinking, covered in snow, but standing upright, thank God, standing upright, moving his eyes from the giant frozen hump of dirt that broke his fall up to the demolished scaffolding ten or twelve feet in the air where they were standing just seconds ago before it gave out, sending them slamming hard and quick into the ground while, T, my brother-in-law, stood helpless below them.

It wasn’t a 22 foot fall. Ok. Just about half of that.

I stood in front of my husband and looked him in the eyes, probably doing the most annoying thing a person can do to someone who just experienced major head-to-ground impact. I repeated, “Are you ok? What happened? Are you ok? Oh my gawd!” about thirty-seven times before his slow blinks got a little faster and he could begin to answer me.

“Guess we didn’t put enough screws in,” he said as his brother brushed the snow off his back and my mother-in-law searched for her husband’s glasses.

“Shit,” I said.

“Yeah, shit,” he said.

“Come inside now for a minute,” his mother said.

But these boys, they don’t listen. And, with a few house building projects under his belt, this isn’t my father-in-law’s first plummet from a roof.

So they ignored the women’s pleas of “Taking a break. Having a sandwich. Assessing the head-injury situation” and they put up a new piece of scaffolding, this time with a proper amount of screws, and continued on with the damn shingling project, barely skipping a beat while the women in their lives stood with hands on hips trying to catch our breath and slow our palpitating hearts.

And now I’m researching what kind of money I can get for my right kidney. Because I’m going to sell it so I can hire professionals with harnesses and body armor to finish this damn garage.

It’s either that or giant trampolines.

If you need me, I’ll be in my office Googling “Tequila IV”

 

Sunday Column: What it means to be my sister…

 

There are many best parts of living back at the ranch.

The familiarity of it all, the nostalgia of the things that surrounded me as a kid growing up wild.

Watching the sunrise out the big windows in the morning and the deer come out from the trees to water in the dam.

Endless trails, endless unexpected adventures.

Endless expected adventures.

And endless ways to test my patience, my capabilities, my creativity and my muscles.

But the best is simple.

The best is that I’m surrounded by all of these things…the big blue sky, the old oak trees, the bullberries, the tall grass, the big red barn, the cattle and the horses in the hills.

I’m surrounded by these things that I love, but I love them even more because I’m also surrounded by family.

And family, above all of it, is our greatest gift.

Coming Home: “Miss Veeder” once more with sister back in town
by Jessie Veeder
11/17/13
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com