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.

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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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…

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.

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…

One…

Two…

Three…

Four.

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.

Summer.

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

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

March 10. First ride of the new spring season.

March 21, my first crocus siting of the season…

April 17: My world starts to blossom

April 22: A spring joy ride…

with my favorite cowboy

April 25: Celebrating the green grass.

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

May 6: Paddlefishing season!

May 10: The wildflowers bloom.

May 14: And the ranch comes to life.

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

June 5: The babies arrive!

June 7: The rain soaked the leaves…

and the badlands…

and the horses…

and the pug.

June 12: A country church along a back road…

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

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

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

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

July 21: The hot sun sets on us.

July 21: Checking the cows.

August 7: We’re home!

August 16: Bullberries in the morning.

August 18: Husband got himself another big catch!

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

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

Enjoy the dog days everyone!

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

Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

how it made the tall grass glisten

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

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

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

It might even rain.

But I had my morning.

I will have my evening.

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