Like rain in August…

It rained this morning. In August that’s a gift around here. Things have stayed green and fresh because of these little showers. So we are happy and so are the cows.

There are things in this life that are just simply good, and a rain in August in Western North Dakota is one of them.

The other is a ride through the pastures with Pops under overcast skies, checking the cows, the grass and the chokecherry crop.

There are a million chokecherries.

And you should see the raspberry bushes.

Aww, I miss summer, even when I’m in the middle of it.

I wonder how that can be? How can I be lonesome for these long days when I’m out in them, doing the things I wish to be doing when the winter drapes it’s cold arms around us and holds on for dear life.

I have done this my entire life, not just with summer, but other things as well. Like I remember distinctly laying on the floor of my grandma’s little house at the ranch, in a sunny spot after an afternoon of playing outside in the barnyard with my cousins, and feeling so content, so where I wanted to be, that I squeezed my eyes tight together and wished to never grow up…wished for time to stop…

How could I know at a such a young age that the way things were in that moment would inevitably change? How could I know enough to be sad about the fact that as it was happening it was also, slowly ending…slipping away from me into another uncertain day?

Yesterday, after my ride with Pops I came home to my Husband sitting in the Bobcat moving dirt around our house, creating a nice slope in the yard where we can plant some grass, build a fence and continue with the whole making our lives out here project.

I took a drive to the gas station and got him some fuel. I came home and helped him move boards out of the way, hauling and stacking and making plans for the next project.

It was Sunday and it was just us out there getting things done and I have always liked it that way, I’ve always liked Sundays, always wished them to be a little longer…

We’ve spent so much of our life here in the last few years planning for the future, the next project, that I am much more in love with the moments after they’ve passed than when I am in them.

And some days I just miss when it was a little simpler…when we lived in my grandmother’s house over the hill and everything was broken and tumbling down, we didn’t have enough space for our things, we had wide eyes and a few less gray hairs and the rest of our lives to look forward to, so let’s just go down to the river and go fishing…

But anyway, our lives stretch out before us every day, staring at us with ideas and procrastination and all of the things we should be doing.

Some days it’s nice to just believe that what we’re doing is what we’re supposed to be doing. And I knew it. I knew that when Pops came over on his 4-wheeler to get his dog (she decided to spend the night with us) that I should follow him down to the corrals and saddle up.

I knew that I should taste the chokecherries, even though I knew they were going to be bitter, not quite ripe for the eating.

I knew that I should get Husband a treat at the gas station, something sugary and cold to drink.

I knew that I should be standing out there in the yard with him taking directions and lifting things I am too wussy to lift.

I knew I probably shouldn’t have pointed out that my belly button was filled with dirt from all the manual labor…and then showed him…

Except I only knew after he told me I should keep that stuff to myself…but who else am I supposed to tell…that shit is funny…

And I knew that days like these, days where we get to choose what we should be doing, days where we get to make progress at building our lives, days where we get to sit on the back of a horse and ride a little further just because there’s time, are things that I’ll miss when the snow falls, my hair turns gray and they are gone from me.

Like rain in August…

I don’t want summer to end.
I don’t want to grow up.
I don’t think Husband will ever admit that he also had dirt in his belly button…

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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Rain and how I imagined it.

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It’s been raining around here the last few days.

I’m listening to it patter outside my open windows now, taming down the dust on the gravel roads and watering my flowers. I could just lay down beside that open door to the deck and close my eyes and breathe, imagining that heaven is a good rain.

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On Monday Pops and I got stuck in a downpour on a little highway a couple hours south of us in the middle of the night. We were coming home from a music gig and we watched the big thunderheads in front of us as they lit up from the inside with lightning. I never heard the thunder, but we could see the electricity. It was a fireworks show and then suddenly we were under it, engulfed and waiting, watching hundreds of little white hailstones ping off the road and the hood of my red car where inside we talked about insurance and hoped that it didn’t get worse… for the farmers whose crop has just recently popped up.

But it did get worse, it covered the ground with white in fact. An ice storm in June for a about a mile or so and whatever little growing thing in its wake was likely injured.

Turns out for us, that storm just meant a good story and an extra half-hour in the car together talking about all the worst weather we’ve seen in our life, turning the radio down so we could hear ourselves hollering over the power of those clouds.

Rain make me feel nostalgic and sort of peacefully lonely. It makes me feel glad that I’m home. It makes me feel quiet and grateful and unfoundedly worried about things getting wet…and glad for the dams that are rising and the creek that is rushing and the horses getting relief from the flies.

And then, just a little bit, just for a moment or two, rain makes me feel like stripping down and flinging my arms up and running out in it, following the streams and rivets the water cuts, splashing and screeching and tilting my face up to the heavens raining down.

Just a little bit, just for a moment or two.

Yesterday I went to town to meet my sisters and take Little Man to a movie about dragons. The sky was churning up a good rain so I figured it would be a good night to sit in the dark theater and watch my nephew’s imagination ignite.

After the popcorn was eaten and the credits rolled, we chased Little Man around the lobby for a bit, indulging his fascination with Spider Man, pretending to be bad guys, injured at the sight of his little hands flinging invisible webs our way.

We made our ruckus and then made our way to the door, squinting at the sight of the rain pouring down well enough and then we said our goodbyes, three sisters who used to live under the same roof and a tiny little Spiderman preparing to scamper off in separate directions under a weeping cloud, three trying not to ruin their shoes, the littlest one very likely intending to do the opposite.

I stood under eaves of the building for a minute with Little Sister to say one last thing and then I told her to look.

Look there at our Big Little Sister, so petite and fashionable…elegant.. holding the hand of her tiny spirited son, running just fast enough so as not to splash and so the little one could keep up. “Look at that,” I said.

Like a photo, those two were so small under that sky, but it wasn’t the smallness that made me pause. It wasn’t that innocence that made my little sister look and hold her breath.

It’s just that they looked so much like one there, gracefully, innocently running away from us, running to get out of the rain, not knowing we were watching, with a mission to get home safe. Hand in hand they created a perfect picture I had no camera for.

My big sister has been a mother for almost four years, this we know, but I didn’t know until yesterday as the two of them ran down the street in the June rain, in our town, that this is the sort of life I imagined for them…

This is the way I always pictured them, hand in hand and trusting, sort of laughing at the simplicity of it all.

Last weekend that big sister and I learned that the youngest of us is getting married to a good man. Next June they will take vows.

Between now and then we will be making plans together, the three of us sisters. The family.

Then she will take his hand and be his.

We are all so happy.

And so I guess that’s what I’m trying to say, about the rain. It’s like a deep breath. It’s like relief and good news and plans for the future..a reflection of how I’ve been feeling lately…

Like throwing my arms up, turning my face to the sky and thanking God for it all…and then it’s unfounded worries that it all might be too good to be true, that we’re all ok. We’re all just fine here under these clouds…

Then it’s glad for the plans, glad for the future and to be able to see the creeks fill up…

But mostly it’s that peaceful nostalgia that makes me want to lay down on the floor next to the open windows and let the rain fall while I breathe a sigh of relief and feel glad we’re all home.

 

 

Sunday Column: Holding on under the sky

Well, what a party! I spent all day yesterday sort of propped up, sipping coffee and eating as much sugar as I could to keep me alive until dinnertime. We couldn’t have asked for a better celebration to honor the good life and the people we share it with.

A yard full of friends and family, good food, good conversation and music ringing into a quiet country night is about as close to heaven as you can come.

Especially when the sky is sunny and full of those nice fluffy clouds just rolling in over a horizon of green trees.

I’m going to get back to that party thing later, because there’s so much to be said about why we need to be hosting more backyard parties in the world, but  today I want to share with you this week’s column.

Because last week North Dakota was all over the news, particularly my home town of Watford City where a Memorial Day tornado touched down and wiped out fifteen campers where families were living while working in this busy and booming town.

9 Injured as Tornado hits Camp near Watford City

It was a scary situation, one that thankfully ended with only one serious injury of which a full recovery is expected. It’s a true miracle considering the size and force of that funnel and the vulnerability of the residents’  housing where the tornado touched down.

So much of what we do out here is entangled with the unpredictability of the sky and when that sky opens up, when the clouds rain and hail and swirl around, we are truly at our most vulnerable as a species who sometimes has a hard time accepting the fact that we can’t control everything in this world.

Last week my hometown was reminded of this hard reality, and then they rolled up their sleeves and got to work doing the things they could do, making change in the ways they know how by helping clean up, raising money for the family’s affected, donating clothes and pots and pans, hosting a spaghetti feed and moving on with life holding one another up.

Sometimes we lose sight of the human experience and what it means to be under this unpredictable sky together. Until that sky falls down around us.

Last week my community was reminded, the same way we were reminded this winter that when it comes to the sky and our beating hearts, there is no rhyme or reason, all we can do is hold on to one another.

Coming Home: Weather challenges us with its predicable unpredictability
by Jessie Veeder
6-1-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com 

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: 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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Spring, up close.

I left the house yesterday looking for signs of spring. The wind and sun had dried up that last late April snow storm pretty well and I wanted to see what was emerging under that warmer sky.

It took some looking, but I’ve learned out here that while the big picture can be quite beautiful,

sometimes it’s the smallest things that are the most intriguing. Like a bud on a tree and how it knows it’s time to emerge from once bare branches, in perfect form. 
Or how grass seems to turn from brown to green overnight.

How something so soft can emerge from brown thorns.

Or how a bright color can thrill me here at the beginning of spring, before I’ve grown accustomed to the vivid landscape that comes with summer. 

Or how this blue, clear sky was pouring down ice only 24 hours before.

And that we all made it through, softer and alive…

like the crocuses on the hilltops, because it’s what crocuses do.

Sunday Column: When the outside comes in…

Well, it snowed.

So there’s that.

I sorta knew this was coming. We watch the weather like hawks around here, so on Friday when it was a calm, almost 70 degrees I called in the troops and we saddled up and headed east to get the kinks out of the horses’ backs, stretch our legs and get our saddle butts back.

It was a glorious few hours spent out under that spring sky, visiting pastures we haven’t seen in a while, counting crocuses and ducks and blades of green grass.

I even saw a couple turtles sunning themselves on a log in the stock dam.

I bet those turtles are pretty pissed right about now.

I bet those ducks are booking their flight back south.

I bet that muskrat that found his way into our garage last week is glad the cat put him out of his misery.

This week in my newspaper column I wrote a piece about all of the creatures that have come to life in this warm weather.

I was one of them. I had emerged. I traded my muck boots for cowboy boots. I put on a short sleeved shirt for crying out loud!

Things were looking up.

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I should have known better. Only in North Dakota would the end of April mean ice pellets slamming up against your window at midnight, turning a perfectly peaceful promise of spring into a snow day.

At least I didn’t go so far as to pack away my winter gear. I have a feeling a few creatures will be knocking on my door today, looking to borrow a sweater…

Coming Home: When the great outdoors venture inside
by Jessie Veeder
4-28-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

With that boy…

It’s Saturday and the wind is howling like 50 miles per hour out there. I just spent a good five hours out in it doing the one thing that makes the most sense in 50 mile an hour wind–cleaning up and hauling construction materials out of the yard.

Half of the earth is in my ear…

The other half? In my eyeballs.

Husband and I are on the down hill slope of this home construction project. Which means, when I look around I only see about another year or seven of work left…which isn’t too bad considering we started this project three years ago with a a pretty clear idea that we will be working on this house for the rest of our lives.

But here I am on a Saturday and I can tell you this: there’s trim in the living room.

And base boards. And outlet covers.

So pretty much we’re fancy now.

Except for the air compressor in the master bedroom.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I’ve started hanging things on the walls. This is a huge step for me.

I haven’t committed to the whole wall-hanging/decorating ritual since I moved into my first apartment in college, so this is a big deal.

For those of you who are new here, I’ll refresh you. Husband and I have been married for seven years.

Six out of those seven years have involved some sort of major home/rental construction renovation project, and saw dust and tools on pretty much every surface of the house for months on end. (Oh, and scary ladder projects…)

So you see where I’m coming from.

Anyway, I don’t know why I felt compelled to sit down at the computer on a perfectly, unbearably windy Saturday at the ranch to tell you this, except that I felt like I wanted to say that, yes, the wind is blowing 50 miles per hour out there and I just stood in it for five hours next to my husband throwing boards and boxes, bent nails and shingle cuttings and pieces of plywood and house wrap and leftover pieces of our work into the back of the old green pickup that guy bought in college when we were broke as hell.

I bent down and stood up seven million times. I hauled pallets and filled buckets with tiny little squares of wood and screws. I told him I’m glad we kept this pickup. I told him that this job sucks as he threw a giant piece of plywood over a pile in the pickup box that was dangerously close to toppling over and then I got in the passenger seat as we drove to unload that dangerous pile, chasing after stray particle boards and escaped pieces of plastic flying in the tornado like winds before we went back to do another load.

And another.

And another.

He told me he wished it was summer so that when he lifted these boards he might find a salamander or two.

Salamanders are like tiny water dragons he said.

You’re a dork, I said.

And then I said I wished it was summer too.

We always wish it was summer around here.

And the job, the chore itself, it sucked. And here I am now inside the house on a Saturday night with a homemade pizza waiting to be put in the oven and a husband worn out and sorta snoring on the easy chair…

The evening is mine now.

I can do anything with it.

And I’m sorta wishing we were still out there throwing boards into the back of that green pickup.

And I don’t know why that is except that I would do anything with that boy.

I have just always wanted to do anything with that boy…

 

Happy Day Earth! Thanks for being our home.

IMG_6720Earth, we love you. We love how you bring flowers after the snow. How you promise them to us, even when you’re still brown and thawing. How you don’t let us down.

IMG_6553Earth, we love you. We love how you keep us, how you hold us, how you call us to lay down in the grass under the warm sun.

Cowgirl Wildflower

And how that warm sun changes you so you look different every day.

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We love your tall trees and your tall grass.

Grass and Sky

We love your mud and dirt for growing things.

Rain on the ButtesYou’re stark and flat and predictable.

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You’re rocky and uneven and scary and beautiful.

Horses in BadlandsWe love your horizons and the way the moon emerges from the edge of it all.

moon above the landscape

And then the sun comes.

Ranch SunriseOh, we love your sun.

IMG_6727 Wild SunflowersSunset

Sunset RideAnd your wind.

IMG_6517 WindWindWindAnd your rain.

Rain on horsesRain on ConeflowersRain on berriesBarnyard RainAnd your snow.

Purple flowers in snow Bird in snow

snow stormFrom all who take from you, live on you and love you and thrive…

Horses on Hill

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one last clover Lake Binnoculars Laying in the grass Big Lake Lab

IMG_6745Happy Day Earth. Thanks for being our home.

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