Sunday Column: On summer, and the uninvited…

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

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

The satisfaction of the taste of our growing things…

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

We covered them when the frost threatened…

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

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

Hoping the hail didn’t tear the leaves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could it be the weather?

Could it be too much rain?

Not enough?

Could it be I planted things too deep?

Could it be…none of these things…

No.  It’s  just her.

Dad's Deer

See her there trying to hide behind the patio furniture?

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

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

Her favorite dish? Peas.

Dessert? Mom’s geraniums.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Badlands Skies.

It’s Friday and it seems I have run out of words for the week, but that’s ok.  I want to show you something that I don’t think I need many words for.

Because I was in the badlands this week, in the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora. After my work was done,  I went out looking for landscape, for beauty and life in those rustic buttes, and found that above the vibrant green of the grass there were these colors in the sky, constantly changing, casting shadows and light that changed the way the world looked every minute.

I couldn’t take my eyes away.


Here’s to a beautiful weekend.

Peace, Love, Sunrise to Sunset,

Jessie

 

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

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.

When a squirrel becomes a turkey…

On Sunday morning I woke up to a sort of screeching, clicking, weird throaty sound coming from outside my open bedroom window.

When something squawks and makes a ruckus up there in the tree tops I assume it’s that damn squirrel.  He’s always gathering acorns and he makes like a really big deal about it, as if he’s the only squirrel who’s working.

I bet his friends think he’s annoying too.

Anyway,  I was groggy, sleeping in a bit after a weekend of singing and late nights. I thought to myself, wow, that squirrel is sounding a little off, like, he’s got laryngitis or something.

Except I wasn’t quite sure about the diagnosis.

Then I wasn’t quite sure it was a squirrel really.

Because it wasn’t.

I stretched and rolled over to take a look and thought, huh, that squirrel has sure grown…into a turkey.

Yup. I guess we have wild turkeys now.  Like a lot of them. They come gobbling down from the coulee in the morning to see what’s shaking by the house.

All fifteen or so.

And they’re brave. Because we have a bobcat type animal, remember? And that bobcat type animal is brave too. She’s brave and like not even close to the size of a turkey. She’s more like the size of a pretty small cat, despite her wild pedigree. But it doesn’t matter, she flings her body at them anyway. Like launches herself, full force, paws up, claws out, teeth showing with no regard for what she might do if she actually latched on to one of those things.

I’d like to see that. The damn cat clinging to the back of a turkey as it screeches and flops to safety in the tree outside my window. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.

Good Lord it can get weird out here sometimes.

Yawning Horse

Anyway, I rolled out of bed to take a look after Husband declared the cat attack. I wanted to see for myself the shenanigans. I wanted to catch a glimpse of these turkeys.

I squinted and shaded my sleepy eyes with my hand and counted…one….two…three…

Six flew and flopped out of my tree…

And one on the roof.

Pooping.

And it’s the same story this morning.

If you need me I’ll be Googling  “stuffing recipes”…

The world is full…

This world is full of wild and thirsty things

skin and bones and muscles
feathers on black wingssoft petals on pink flowers
and stem and branch and leafwaiting on the cool rain
waiting for the greenThis world is full of a sneaking kind of goldyou can find it on horizons
can’t be bought or held or sold and only in the morning
or at the perfect time of night
welcoming a new day
setting up the lightThis world is filled with the most peculiar sounds croaks and sighs and wails
and squeaks coming from the ground and up above a whistle
and from the hills a lonesome cry and I wonder if the calling
is hellos or sad goodbyes This world is full of wonder and moments to be brave and moments to remember
why we’re here and why we came and moments to be thirsty and moments to beholdand moments just to listen to all the life outside our door

A walk.


In honor of spring and the wind and the sun and the green grass poking up around us, I would like to take you along on my favorite trail, the one that leads to the east pasture from our house, up along the buffalo fence, to the top of a rocky cliff and then down again to the stock dam and back toward home.

Next week this walk will be a little bit greener, a little bit warmer and, hopefully, I’ll find some crocuses.

Next week maybe I’ll leave the damn dogs at home so they don’t scare away the wildlife with their slobbering, panting, running, and puking.

I guess that’s what happens when you run at full speed after a duck, ignoring the screams from your owner to come back.

That’s what you get when you try out your instincts after seven months of lounging.

It’s been a long winter.

I would have puked too.

Anyway, I hope the sun is shining wherever you are and you have the chance to explore your favorite spot this weekend.

Now, off we go…

Sorry weird cat, you gotta stay home…

























Take a breath. Take a walk. Take a break. Take some time.

Happy, happy weekend.

The beautiful things.

I have a good life. Not much to complain about when it comes down to it really, except for a weird tail-less cat trying to climb up my leg, not enough hours in the day, unfinished projects and cold toes.

But some days, during a break in the morning news, I cry at the Walgreens commercial.

And the commercial for a web browser that tells the story about a dad sending his daughter off to college. And then they video chat.

And anything with a cute baby or a puppy or a grampa or a soldier coming home.

And lately I cry at the weather report.

Now, don’t get all worried about me yet. I’m not sure I would be diagnosed with any emotional disorder, although Husband has diagnosed me simply “emotional.”

And he’s right.

I spend quite a bit of my life laughing though, so I figure I’m balanced.

But I admit, some days are worse than others. I admit it because I’m human and I know you’re human (unless you’re a dog and humans haven’t discovered your abilities to access the web without thumbs) and we all have days like these.

Days that send me running for the hills.

I’ve learned over the course of my nearly 30 (gasp!) years alive in this breathtaking and heartbreaking place it’s the only thing to do to recover my senses and gain my balance and center myself once more.

I remove my body from the television screen, the radio, the music, the computer and all of those heartbreaking, heartwarming and heart wrenching stories and just try to live in my own for a moment.

It hasn’t been easy to do this lately, between the life-threatening cold temperatures, scheduled meetings and darkness that falls too early in the winter, I’ve had to make a special space in my day for clarity.

It’s why I keep an extra pair of snow boots and a furry hat in my car just in case. You never know when you might have a chance to escape.

I found one yesterday afternoon. I had a few of those teary moments over coffee and the news while I moved through my morning trying to pull it together, get to the office, make it to the meeting, keep up on emails, plan for an event, meet a deadline and live comfortably in pretty work sweaters between four walls.

4:30 came around and I had a meeting at 6.

An hour and a half hours would do it.

I got in my car and pointed it toward a favorite refuge, the only other place in the world beside the ranch where I can look winter in the face and call it truly beautiful.

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park.


I’ve taken you there before on similar weepy days in the  fall when I’m overwhelmed and worried, on summer days when I’m tan and moving to the next adventure, and winter.

I really love it in the winter.

And it never lets me down.

So in 15 minutes I was there, turning off of the highway and following the snow coated road toward the river and the buttes,


stopping to capture how the sun looks above the frozen water and if I might catch the bison grazing somewhere in the snow.

I drove slowly to admire the lighting. I rolled down my window a bit to feel the fresh, 20 degree air and pulled over where the road ends, next to a trail that can take you to the top of it all.

I checked my watch. I had 20 minutes before I needed to turn my car around and head back to my other world. I was in my town coat and dangly earrings.

I switched out my fancy boots for snow boots, covered my hair with a beanie and trudged on up there, slipping and sliding and panting because, well, I just felt like it.

I felt like climbing.

Because this is what winter looks like in the badlands.

This is what it looks like from the top of it all…






all 360 degrees of it, surrounding me and telling me it’s ok to cry.

Especially for the beautiful things.

To be a human in winter.


Mid January in Western North Dakota doesn’t have the best reputation. It’s indecisive. One day it’s a kind, 20 some degrees,


the next a bitter, chilling 20 below.


Then, just when you find peace with your wedgie-inducing long underwear, it decides to warm up  enough to melt the snow. “How nice!” you think to yourself as you get in your car to drive to town. “I think I could get used to this winter thing if it stayed like this…”

But you know better and you should have never taken off those long underwear, because as soon as you get far enough away from home that turning back wouldn’t make much of a difference, the wind picks up and drops the temperature enough to turn that once slushy highway into a long and lethal ice-skating rink where a constant stream of semis and oil tankers are your competition.

And you’re no Nancy Kerrigan.

Ah, shit. I admit, January and I are enemies. I try to stay positive, keep my guitar out and my snow-shoes and neck-warmer handy. I try to do some sledding or walking or make a snow angel or something…


but mostly I wind up in my sweatpants under the John Wayne blanket reading a book about someone near the ocean before I turn out the light for the night and prepare to tackle mid-winter in the morning.

White knuckle driving, the “arms-out, it’s icy out,” sidewalk shuffle, an intimate relationship with Henry, the morning weather man, phone calls to Pops and Momma and Husband and Little Sister and my friend down the road about whether or not to believe the storm report, feet shoved in slippers and then in boots and then in slippers and then under the covers, soup and coffee and tea and some sort of disgusting warmed up cold medicine because everyone’s sick around here….and a constant craving for pastries.

Yup, that’s January.

And although it comes every year, I’m always surprised how this month seems to suck the creative light right out of me and makes me question the practicality of packing up the pug and heading south.

But I’m not leaving.

Well, there’s the Vegas thing in February, but as of today, I’m planning on coming back. Because I’m here for the long haul, and the longest haul of them all just happens to be winter.

I was thinking this last night as I sat behind the wheel of my four-wheel-drive and turned up the volume on some melancholy music, singing along soulfully and feeling frigid and uninspired and hungry for carbohydrates. I put my foot lightly on the brake to navigate a snowy curve, when up ahead, about five mils from home along the side of the road I noticed a large, tall, dark figure moving slowly toward the white ditch.

I slowed down as a few hundred scenarios whipped through my mind as they do when you see something unexpected on a very familiar path…to big to be a deer…

A grizzly bear?

A tall, scary, insane hitchhiker?

Bigfoot?

An alien? Probably an alien.

No.

No.

No.

I pulled a little closer until the length of my headlights revealed the figure: two massive and stunning bull elk moving with ease and confidence across the road toward an oak filled coulee on the edge of the badlands.

I stopped in the middle of the road and looked around. Not much traffic meant I could relax and bask in this mysterious moment for a beat. And apparently those elk felt the same way, not the least bit intimidated by the flare of an oil well behind them casting light on their bodies and transforming them into beautiful silhouettes.

They stood still in that warm glow on a flat, snowy patch of ground and stared at the metal contraption lit up in front of them.

An alien.

I rolled down my window to hear them breathing, to hear their hooves squeak in the crust of the snow. As they moved along the highway I lightly pressed the gas pedal and moved with them, imagining I was on my way to the oak grove on the edge of the badlands, imagining my body was held up by a set of massive, hoof-clad legs.

Imagining my coat was thick and my head was held high and I could run like that.

Imagining I was one of them.

But people were made for houses I suppose. Houses and words and questions and the wisdom and thumbs to make wool caps to protect us from the cold.

And of all the qualities a glorious North Dakota elk possesses, I don’t imagine he can be inspired.

Although perhaps he is the definition of the word standing magnificently on a snowy flat, staring into my soul.

So I’ll take it. I’ll take the ice and the fur lined boots and the hot cup of coffee because being human on a cold January evening means the ability to become breathless and warmed clear through and falling in love, over and over again with our big, wide, white, frozen, wonderful world.

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…