Hanging with the kids

One of my favorite parts of my summer so far has been the couple times I’ve taken youth groups out to hike around in the badlands south of Boomtown. It’s gratifying for so many reasons, the first being that I, along with my partner in crime, Extension Agent Marcia, get to be the kids’ gateway to adventure, which I like to imagine makes us like super heros in hiking shoes.

Ok, that’s a little dramatic. But maybe it makes us at least kinda cool.

Anyway, in a town in the middle of an economic boom that’s making headlines across the globe, sometimes the little people get lost in the shuffle, so I’ve made it part of my mission to help when I can. Life’s been busy lately for so many of us trying to  keep up with the demands of a town stretching and growing by the minute, but if I can help these kids out of the bustling elements for just a few hours I come home feeling like I’ve done something really worth while.

Plus, it’s a really great excuse for me to drop what I’m stressing about and focus on what it’s like to be a kid who just wants to climb to the top of the buttes and ask a million questions about whether or not that cow over there is a buffalo, if ticks can jump, what’s this bug on my ear and, umm, can you help me find the iPod I dropped in the long grass?

So that’s what I did yesterday with Marcia and my friend Megan, my partner in photography crime. We took almost 30 kids between third and sixth grade on a photography expedition

 complete with a scavenger hunt and challenges and cactuses and humidity and yes, a million woodticks, that, according to Google, can not jump.

Now, I’m not great with kids, I will be the first to admit it. I treat them like tiny adults and sometimes I see their little eyes glaze over when I attempt to explain complicated things that, well, kids don’t really care about. But we get along fine. I release them into the wild and tell them to be careful of cactus.

Someone always gets into a cactus.

So off they went, covered in bug spray and that sweaty, dirty film kids get from running around outside in the humidity of summer. We took photos of our feet and photos of the sky, photos of the grass, photos of bugs, photos of our names in the dirt. We took photos of our hands and our friends jumping up in the air, photos of the road and a butterfly and dandelion puffs.

We took photos of our eyeballs, photos of the bus, photos of the buffalo that were really black cows and photos of footprint of a dog that we were certain was something wilder.

And when we were done taking photos by the picnic area, off we went to take photos on the trail, the group splitting up a bit, the boys running ahead and the girls hanging back to take on my challenge of photographing every species of wild flower they could find.

And there were dozens.

They took it seriously.

They were my kind of women.

Unfortunately for them, however, their trusty trail guide forgot her wildflower book at home and her memory is getting foggy in her old age. Needless to say I didn’t feel as wilderness womanly as I would have liked to when I had to reply to their questions with “maybe you should Google it when you get home.”

Well, it was either that or make something up, and, as we all know, I cannot tell a lie.

And, you know, their eyes. They glaze over.

Anyway, among the wildflower explorers was one girl in particular that pulled at my heartstrings and made me consider calling her mother and asking if she would let me keep her daughter. She was small and quiet, dressed in jean shorts and tennis shoes, her brown hair cut in a bob and her eyes wide with wonder, as if the task of finding every species of wildflower on the trail opened up an entirely different world to her.

She took it seriously, but not competitively. I watched her hang in the back of the line, getting down close to a sunflower to document it from all angles. I saw her touch them, examine them, study them and, I think, truly fall in love with them.

She couldn’t get enough. We’d been out in the wild hills of the badlands in the heat of the day for a few hours and this girl had her eyes to the ground. She gasped with delight at the discovery of a new species like the other girls, but she just took a little extra time.

She reminded me of me at that age and how I could have stayed out there forever. Even when the other kids were sort of melting and hungry and thinking it was time to head back, I found her wandering quietly behind the group, examining her world full of flowers.

I’ve been busy lately. I have been pushing myself and worrying about the little things. I have been racing the clock and working to fit things in.

This is what happens when you grow up.

I forgot that I never wanted to grow up in the first place.

Yesterday I was reminded that there is always time to wander.

And that’s why I  hang with the kids.

Out to lunch in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

It’s hard to believe that after a winter that extended long into spring, bringing with it unwelcome snow and sleet and ice, that our world was thirsty for more moisture just a month after the last blizzard.

But the dry crusty earth and the dust in the air in the middle of May was telling us that we were in dire need of some moisture. The earth had some growing to do and the warm sunshine alone wasn’t cutting it.

So, after a Saturday drizzle that turned into a Sunday morning haze, the sky opened up and it poured.

It rained like the dickens, as the old folks around here would say.

And just like that the world turned from brown

to green.

I guess I don’t have to tell you how anxious I was about the types of pretty things that might be sprouting out there. I had been cooped up in the house for the weekend watching it green up from the other side of the windows and Monday found me between the walls of an office. By the time I was set loose from my work on Tuesday, it was still raining, but it didn’t matter.

I had to get out.

Because when the weather changes so drastically, I feel like I’m missing something if I’m not in it, like I’m not in on the secret.

So I closed the computer, left the to-do list on my desk and took my lunch break 15 miles south of Boomtown, to see how Theodore Roosevelt National Park looks in the rain.

I wish I could have taken you with me on that drive.

I wish you could have smelled the cedars waking up, heard the mud slosh under your feet as you climbed the trails and felt the warm rain on your bare skin.

I wish you could have seen this bison scratch his side on a trail marker and laughed with me at how a beast could be so majestic and ridiculous at the same time.

I wish you could have sat at the overlook and remembered the times you climbed up here as a kid as you looked out at the river collecting raindrops.

I wish you could have heard the birds calling.

Smelled the sweet peas.

I wish you could have taken the moment to love the rain. To be a part of it.

I wish I could have taken you to lunch.

Sunday Column: Wildflowers

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

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

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

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

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

Crocuses and how it could keep getting better…

It’s officially crocus season, and that’s good news out here on the edge of the badlands where we’ve all been patiently waiting for them to arrive, as if the blooming of the first flower gives us permission to pack away our sweaters and pull out the short sleeves.

Well, that’s what I did anyway. I made a mountain out of the sweaters shoved in my closet. I pulled them out ceremoniously flinging them to the floor, purging my room of winter before I stood back and seriously contemplated throwing them out the window and lighting a match on the whole damn pile.

But that would have been crazy, and, well, let’s be honest, I’ll need them again in a few short months. Anyway, I didn’t have time for that. Little Sister was coming over and she had plans to soak up the sunshine and I had plans to procrastinate painting the bathroom.

So we grabbed our cameras and the herd of dogs…





and went climbing around, scouring the ground for the purple flower.

Turns out we didn’t have to go far.

When you become familiar with a place in all of it’s seasons, you memorize where the crocuses bloom in the spring, where to go to pick chokecherries and raspberries in the summer, and to always, no matter the season, watch out for cactus.

We know these places because prairie people like us have vivid memories of hunting for crocuses with our grandmother, sisters, mothers or fathers, bending over to pull them from the tangle of brown grass while the warm spring wind picked up the loose hair that escaped from our ponytails.

I’ve been living back at the ranch for three springs and I will be here for the rest of the springs I am given. I will never forget what it felt like to climb to that hilltop and pick the first crocus of the year as I stood with my husband we looked down at our home.

And we were happy to be together, happy for summer to arrive and happy to stand on that hill for a moment that we were sure couldn’t get much better from here.

Then my Little Sister moved to our hometown and now the whole family is together and close and on Monday mornings I can expect a call asking me what I’m doing this weekend. Because my Little Sister plans ahead and I’m glad to be consulted on those plans.

So Saturday’s plans made room for crocus hunting in the warm sunshine next to a girl who used to follow me on my after school walks up the creek to my fort. I used to wish she would leave me alone then. I used to holler at her to stop following me and when we came in the house crying and fighting, our mom would promise us that someday, we would be best friends.

Funny how moms are usually, most likely, pretty much, always exactly right.

Funny how some things change, but I still haven’t mastered the art of convincing Little Sister to help me with my chores…like, oh, you know, painting the bathroom.

Funny how she still doesn’t listen to me.

Funny how the crocuses bloom on the same hill every year and someday we might have a chance to watch our own children run to the top and pick us a purple bloom.

Funny how it could possibly keep getting better.

Summer: A photo recap.

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


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…


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.

Summer heat

When summer sets in out here among the clay buttes and tall grasses it’s like nothing else.

It’s like our world could not be further away from the one we know in the middle of January when the windswept snow drifts outside our door and the cold is so cold it actually hurts.

But in mid July the air swelters. It settles on the top of the water in our stock dams and grows creatures we haven’t seen for months. It pools up under our cowboy hats, drips down the back of our work shirts and moves with us in the slow motion effort we use to make it through the day.

The people and animals of the north were not meant for 90+ degree weather. We see it coming and run for a canopy of trees, find refuge inside the ice cold of a sparkling drink and on the other end of our lawn hoses. We watch our garden grow and wait for the sun to retreat to do the weeding or to check how the radishes are coming along.

We swat horseflies and search in our houses for the summer cutoffs we wear five times a year to sit by the fan and say “Geesh, it’s a hot one.”

Our skin turns from white to red to brown as the wild sunflowers growing in road ditches reach their petals toward the sky.

We know who we are here inside the smells, sounds and sites of a season we wait all year to indulge in. We know what it looks like and what it means.

It means foxtails sweeping and bending in the draws, horseflies biting at our necks, hard cracked earth and tall wild grass that scratches our bare legs.

It means sweaty brows and an alfalfa crop, a sky with no clouds in site and dust hanging in the air kicked up by neighbors and big trucks heading out somewhere.

Summer means rain puddles left in the sun to dry, dragonflies and pink sunsets and a sky twinkling so bright you can’t tell the difference between fireflies and stars.

And we hold this under our skin, the pieces of the hard dirt, the swish of a horse’s tail, the sweet smell of cattle and summer grass and the trails we wore down to dust, we keep this with  us as we move through the season, grow tired of the heat and welcome the cool down.

And come January when the ground is white we will say to one another “Can you believe it was ever green out here?”

Then we will close our eyes and dream of a summer that held heat under our hats and sent it trickling down our backs.

The business of blooming…

I think it’s safe to say summer’s here to stay for a bit. I declare this each year when I spot my favorite flower.

And I caught her last week, the wild tiger lily, reaching her soft vibrant petals to the clear sky.

Thrilled to see her I dropped to my knees and took her picture.

Because if I know anything about beauty this vivid and perfect it’s that it is fleeting.

It doesn’t last forever.

It doesn’t even last all season.

So I’m glad I caught her in her best dress, opened up to the sun, showing off her heart and soul and the reason she was given her name.

When I come back to this world after my death I hope I get the chance to come back as a tiger lily on this hill overlooking the badlands.

To be rooted that way, yet so wild. To be a bulb deep in the earth waiting for the warm sun to beckon my grand entrance.

To be able to wear my best dress every day through rain and wind, sunrise and sunset…

to have no concept of time…

To worry about nothing but the business of blooming.

If I could be a season…

We’ve had a couple beautiful days at the ranch lately.  Things are starting to blossom up around here, making way for the butterflies and bees and bugs. The birds have found their way home and so have the pair of geese that live in the dam outside our new house. I’ve been spending my evenings strolling through the coulees to see if I can break the record I set of 25 wood ticks crawling on my body at once.

It seems I’ve always known just where to find them.

But the wood ticks are pretty much the only black blotch on what is my favorite season. Wood ticks and the burdock weed, but I figure I can take a few heebie jeebies and invasive plants in exchange for wild purple violets,

horses with slick spring coats,

rhubarb and blue skies.

The thing about spring around here is that it moves fairly quickly, so you’ve got to catch it before the bluebells wither up in the heat of the day and those familiar birds fly south.

Against the backdrop of late spring everything seems to come alive, and with the windows open in the house I am invigorated and inspired. Because we wait for this warm sunshine all year and northern prairie people everywhere don’t take one “Goldie Locks” day for granted. No, we busy ourselves with lists of things to do before winter rolls around.

And in the summer around here that can mean chores and projects of course, but  more than anything it means living out in it.

Because man could not build a better space for us to exist in. No roof can compare to the comfort and drama of the rolling clouds that threaten a few warm rain showers and promise a blue sky that always comes back to us. Families seem at ease here in the hills alive and buzzing with the sounds of life and change and growing things.

The wildflowers are a welcome home present that appear overnight, the grass our living, breathing carpet.

In the creek the minnows appear like magic and along the banks sprout blossoms promising fruit.

A prairie spring is a world that cannot be replicated. It is a world that is so far from the drastic howling winds of winter and the brown and sleeping earth, that you would swear you were living on a different planet just two months ago.

In those months I felt like a down coat and wool socks, steaming hot chocolate and melty white marshmallows.

A dumpling in warm soup.

Heavy blankets.

But today I feel like a garden. Like a picnic, a cold drink, a bratwurst on a lawn chair.

A warm breeze.

Bare feet.

The sun soaked queen of the barnyard.

I want to stand on the hills with the horses, facing the wind to keep the flies away, the only concern for the day.

I want to run close to the ground with the pug, smelling the things he smells, allowing my heart to pump hard, my tongue to hang out, my delusions of grace and agility to run rampant.

I want to jump in the dam with the lab when the heat gets too warm on my skin.

I want to taste what the bees taste.

I want to sit in the clouds and cast cool shadows all of it.

I don’t want to live in this season.

I want to be it.

If I could pick a prairie bouquet…

If I could pick for you a bouquet
from the windswept hills of spring,

from under budding oak groves,
and along the babbling creek…

I’d pick you bluebells for your table,

and sweet peas for your mom,

the mist from early mornings,
a meadowlark’s sweet song.

I’d throw in green, green grasses

and the chokecherry’s in bloom
to set upon your nightstand
and bring some springtime to your room.

And to that I’d add some sweet smells
and a horse’s tangled mane,

The dust from tires on gravel,
all the things we cannot tame.

Like the sound of insects buzzing

and a brown dog in the mud,
thorns that poke your fingers,

and dandelion fluff.

Then I’d find you ladyslippers,

a yellow violet hiding out,

prairie smoke and daisies…

all the pretty that’s about.

But I won’t forget the rainstorms
or the rocks that dot the fields,

the wood ticks and the slick mud,
all the things that make this real.

Because if I could pick the prairie,
put this earth into a vase

I’d take the sunshine with the hale storms
but leave the secrets in their place.