Sunday Column: ‘Tis the season

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It’s been a great, but long week here for this big bellied momma out here at the ranch. Hunting season, coupled with the fact that my doctors said I could birth this child any minute, has set this place off in a new sort of buzz.

Each year about this time my dad’s brother flies in from Texas, bringing with him a son-in-law or two to show them around this place. We look forward to having him here all year and spend the time around the supper table talking, eating venison stew and coaxing stories out of the brothers and our neighbor up the road about the shenanigans they used to get into as wild boys growing up out here.

As my belly grows by the second (like literally, I think it grows by the second) I couldn’t help but notice how our family has grown. Last night mom and dad hosted a fish fry supper for thirteen as my uncle brought with him both of his son-in-laws and his nephew to join my brother-in-law over, big sister, little sister and her new husband and the rest of the ranch gathered in the house to eat and wonder when the heck I might pop.

I looks like pretty dang soon.

Belly B&W


Husband spent a good portion of the afternoon loading up his pickup with our baby-go gear and trying to figure out how the hell to get the carseat in…and then out…of the backseat.

I heard him talking on the phone to his mom saying something like “There’s a manual fifty-seven pages long about how to install the damn thing, but not one word on how to get the thing out.”
And who knew we would have to sit together and read the directions and diagram on the diaper genie. But that’s what we’ve been doing. That and taking calls from relatives and friends on my condition, wondering if we should just go to the big town already (we have a three hour drive) and wait it out there and put everyone at ease for the love of GAWD!
I don’t know.
All I know is I should probably pack the camouflage onesie Husband asked about, because he just informed me he plans on wearing camo on the way home from the hospital and he would like it if he and the baby matched…
Priorities I tell you.
Anyway, here’s the column from last weekend I forgot to post in my struggle to stay upright in the final countdown.
Peace, Love and Baby Gear,
Jessie and the bump
Belly 2

Coming Home: Hunting holiday season means time
spent with loved ones
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

‘Tis the season.

Yes, we’re already one week into celebrating a North Dakota official holiday. The chill is settling in the air, and men and women are pulling on neon orange knit caps over their unruly hair, growing sweet beards (well, the men anyway), stocking up on whiskey and pulling out the cards for poker night.

Yes, the official deer rifle season opening day arrived, reminding me that this once was a valid reason for an excused absence from country school.

Turns out, that doesn’t carry in the working world, but I tell you, there were plenty of North Dakotans out there that day who opted to dress head to toe in camouflage and hunker down just under the skyline instead of going to work.

Meanwhile, the ranch has done its annual transition from horse and cattle operation to hunting camp. Every refrigerator on the place is stocked with Budweiser. Every cupboard is supplied with whiskey. The camouflage hats are tossed on chairs, boots piled in entryways, rifles polished and sighted in, and the calendar filled with scheduled visits from family members who make walking these hills with their sons, sons-in-law, granddaughters, nieces, nephews, wives, husbands or brothers a tradition year after year.

Because out here on this ranch, hunting season is less about the big kill and more about the time spent taking a break to appreciate this wild place with the people you most like to be around.

It’s always been that way.

Because contrary to the magazine and movie portrayal of ranch life, it’s not all riding your best horse into the sunset night after night. There are beautiful moments, yes, but they usually occur after you’ve acquired a fair amount of poop on your boots and slung a good string of cuss words into the air after racing that sun home from a job in town to catch the cows in the fields or a fence broken down.

Keeping a place like this up and running is 17 full-time jobs it seems, something that I didn’t realize growing up sitting next to my dad in the feed pickup rolling out a bale of hay for a line of black cows well after dark on a winter night.

Coming home from one full-time job to start another was likely not a rancher’s dream, but keeping the place up and running was worth every after-dark hour. I understand it a bit more now that we’re charged with the same task moving this place into its next 100 years.

I understand it now, helping my husband and dad make new plans for the corrals over supper served past dark or pushing back a trip to the lake in the summer because the cows got out or hay needs to be put up.

But then there is hunting season. The calves are shipped out, the cows are settled in, the weather is in between hot and bitter, and there’s a window, an oasis of time, to spend harvesting the land in a different way, to sit in silence on a side hill with one mission: To be still. To look. To listen. To be a part of the natural order of this landscape.

And all that time you’ve spent riding through the trees after a bull that won’t stay in, all the cows trailed along fence lines and trips to check water in the dams have you familiar with where the bucks bed down at night or where they rub the velvet off of their horns.

So you carve out the time to sit in the rising sun, watching the day break next to someone handpicked to share the experience with you.

Some of the best days of my life have been sitting in the glow of the sunset next to my dad, my husband or my uncle looking closely, blending in and holding still in a moment.

And if the opportunity presents itself to take an animal, it’s just more fodder for the memories, and more meat in our freezer for the long winter. But at the end of the day, for us, it’s about being together in a familiar place, in our own special sort of holiday.

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Sunday Column: Raising a new generation in a familiar place

Best Friends 2

This is a photo of my best friend (the tiny little blonde thing) and me sitting on her dad’s lap when we were just babies.

This was likely taken in my parents’ little trailer where they first lived on the ranch when they got married.

I think we still have that rocking chair.

I spent my entire childhood with that little blonde girl who lived up the hill along the highway on the place where her dad was raised. We had plenty of adventures and we were lucky to have each other out here growing up in the middle of nowhere. I guarantee having her in my life went a long ways in the ‘happy childhood memories’ department.

Best Friends

We used to plan on how we would grow up, have some adventures and move back to our ranches and be neighbors forever.

Who would have thought that the best laid plans of ten year old girls would wind up coming together twenty years later.

It’s a story that doesn’t get told much out here in Western North Dakota where the focus is on Boomtown and oil and all the trouble and sacrifice and nervousness it creates.

There is that. Some of that.

And then there is the fact that I would never be here, on my family’s 100 year old ranch, living down the road from my childhood best friend who was out helping our dads work cattle last Friday just like the old days, one or two of her four kids in tow, if it wasn’t for an economy that could support us building houses and making lives and carrying on traditions out here on our family farms.

When I graduated from high school in 2001, the porch lights along the gravel roads that connected us to town, were going out one by one.

Now they are turning on by the dozens, fourth and fifth generations getting a chance to be involved in the family business, or, like many of our friends, taking advantage of the opportunity to return home to a place they were raised and raise their own children.

Take this picture for example. This is a photo of my husband and some of his closest friends at our senior prom fourteen years ago (gasp!).


At a time when our hometown and home state were dealing with outmigration and we were told to get out of here, go get an education, move to Minneapolis or Chicago and start a life, make something of yourself, it’s interesting to note that of the six young men in this photo, all six of them have moved back to western North Dakota to raise their families.

Three of them are back on family ranches and one of them is in a beautiful house outside of our hometown raising three boys.

These guys, for all the wild shit they survived in their teenage years, grew up to own successful businesses, build houses and hold and be promoted in professional jobs. One of them is even a teacher and a coach. And between them all they are raising (or will be raising, if you count our little one coming along) fourteen kids out here in Western North Dakota…a place that seemed to once be on the verge of extinction.

Now, when I look around at events happening in town, basketball games, figure skating shows, dances on Main Street, I see about a hundred more stories of hometown kids coming back to make a life in a familiar place that is growing and busting at the seams.

A place they help make better by volunteering to coach 2nd grade football or, like my best friend up the road, help run the gymnastics program. Because their memories of this place motivate them to make sure they’re making good memories for their own children.

A few weekends ago I went up to have supper at my best friend’s beautiful house up the road. She invited some of our other friends to join us, and they all brought their kids and we ate meatballs and gravy and it occurred to me how unique of a situation we’ve found ourselves in…knowing each other’s history, loving each other from the time of fanny packs and biker shorts, and getting the opportunity to raise our own children together.

So that’s what this week’s column is about. Generations having the opportunity to build lives out here.

Who would have thought?

Coming Home: Newfound hope means we’re raising kids with our old classmates
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

On top of the hill across from the golf course, my hometown is busy building a brand-new, beautiful high school.

Plans have been in the works for a few years as our student population continues to grow, forcing classes to be held in portable rooms even after a recent elementary school renovation. 

Even during these times of lower oil prices.

It’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The kindergarten class this year registered well into a hundred students, and in a matter of six or so years, we have not only exploded in population from 1,200 residents to closer to 10,000, but we’ve turned from an aging community into a young one.

Last weekend, my best friend — the neighbor girl who used to meet at the top of the hill so we could ride our bikes along the centerline of the highway — called us to come over for supper. A few years ago she and her husband, my classmate, built a beautiful house on her family’s ranch, fulfilling the plans we made when we were kids jumping from hay bale to hay bale to “grow up, get jobs and be neighbors forever.”

So I grabbed a bottle of wine (because someone should be drinking this wine) and headed up the hill to her house where she’s raising four kids, the youngest a son who will be only six months older than our baby on the way.

Lord help us all if this baby is a boy, too.

Anyway, that night we gathered for meatballs and gravy to catch up with a house full of friends. I looked around the kitchen, listened to the guys talk sports and bounce new babies and realized that every single one of those five grown men grew up together. And there were more of them, quite a few more of them, who couldn’t make it to the party.

And while it’s not a surprise (more than half of the classmates who attended our 10-year high school reunion had either moved back home or were making plans to move), it was fun to take a look around and think about the next chapter in our lives as friends in a town they told us no one could come home to.

But look how wrong we can be about predicting the future. One of my husband’s best friends — the one who lived right down the block and was in on more than a few paint ball and principal office shenanigans with him — held his newborn son at the table. That friend was my locker buddy, and his dad was locker buddies with my dad, and it just occurred to me that the baby boy he was bouncing could very likely be locker buddies with our baby, too.

(Would it be more or less trouble if our baby is a girl?)

And there are quite a few stories like this in my hometown these days, not just among our small class of 40 or so, but among other classes here as well. Best friends from childhood raising families alongside one another, taking turns driving kids to football or gymnastics, meeting up to barbecue, to sit and visit with a sort of ease and familiarity that comes with knowing one another when we wore our pants too baggy and drove too fast.

Who would have known? When I left home almost 15 years ago, the porch lights on the farmhouses were going out one by one. This landscape was so much darker without any real hope of new and younger hands to flip the switch back on.

And nothing was going to make it any different except a change in the makeup of this place that would make it so we wouldn’t have to struggle the way our parents did.

Around the supper table that evening there wasn’t a person raised here who didn’t respect and love it in their own way. But just because we’re connected by the land doesn’t necessarily mean that we would naturally remain connected to one another.

Except in this case it is enough, to find this place worthy of returning to and planting new seeds, a new generation raised in a familiar, changing and unpredictable place.

Sunday Column: Being human


Winter showed up again this weekend. It was to be expected.


We watched the snow blow sideways across the sky and into the black trees.

I hunkered down on the loveseat next to my husband under the furry blanket and we watched “Legends of the Fall.” And then, as I do every time we watch our favorite movie, I got depressed about the plight of man. It was sort of fitting though, because it’s been on my mind for the last few weeks, the sort of struggle we face here, how even when we do our best, sometimes it isn’t good enough. Sometimes no matter how we wish and hope and pray and work, it just doesn’t work out the way we had imagined. We’ve all been there. Husband and I have been spending time talking about this lately, about people’s stories, about the news of the world and our community and how it’s hard to get facts straight these days, how it’s hard to distinguish opinions from the truth and how sometimes it’s a struggle to find any positive perspectives.


I worry that we’re getting disconnected from reality.

I worry that we stare at our cell phones and our television screens and we live our lives through photos and commentary instead of observing and wondering and speaking for ourselves.

I worry not enough people in this great country get their hands truly dirty or understand what it really takes to put food in our mouths.

I worry that we’re not spending enough time talking to each other and too much time talking at one another.

And then I worry that we’re not listening.

I worry that we’re getting harder instead of stronger…

IMG_0210 These are things I say over lasagna at our kitchen counter with the news turned low on the television and a long winter night stretching out before us.


And then Husband reminds me that we are animals, animals who were somehow born with the ability to love and the ability to hate…and this gift of language and reason and religion and philosophy complicates and pulls at our simple instinct to survive.


The coyotes who howl outside my window at night and get a little too close to the house in the morning. these animals don’t know good or evil. They know danger. They know motherly instinct. They know what they need to know to survive. What a gift and what a burden it is some days to be human. To feel somehow responsible to these coyotes and to the landscape, to the cattle who feed there and to the people we know…and those we never will.


When I was a young girl, growing up and starting to realize that life wasn’t always a frolic in the oak trees, that most days your responsibilities were going to weigh on you, and that was what it meant to grow up, I remember wishing that I was one of those cows standing out in our pasture munching on green grass and knowing nothing different. Knowing no deadlines, or dirty dishes piled up, or the dull ache of your mistakes or the pain of losing someone.

I just wanted to be a cow. Well, maybe a cow in California where the weather never dropped below 70 degrees and sunny. Or a snapping turtle sunning himself on the rock in the beaver dam out back, the one who lived for a hundred years, and spent the winter sleeping.


Or the house cat sitting on mom’s lap concerned with nothing but getting a scratch behind the ears.


Because I knew it then, as I know it now. Some days the business of being human is overwhelming, and being that muley doe coming in for a drink at the dam at the end of a week-long January thaw looks about as close to peace as you’ve ever seen while living life in your human skin…


Coming Home: Promises made as we look toward spring
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

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Sunday Column: Full car, empty tank…

Rear View Road

In my life, by my own unscientific, not so mathematic, sort of a wild and exaggerated calculation, I estimate that I have driven approximately 7,538,390 miles.

But it’s probably more.

I mean, living 30 miles (give or take) from the nearest town and having acquired my drivers license and a 1982 Sorta Pink Ford LTD I liked to call Rosie when I was only 14, I’ve had ample opportunity to put plenty of road behind me in twenty or so years…

killdeer road

Take that and add the five years I spent touring up and down the country singing for my supper and you think you could call me an expert…in maps, in traffic laws, in emergency preparedness, in flat tires and rear-enders, turn signals and every gas station from here to Ada, Oklahoma.

And I am. I am an expert in some of those things. Like emergency preparedness.

Just take a look in my car right now. I have everything you’d ever need if you were ever stranded…at a party…or a bonfire.

road 2A can of Big Sexy Hairspray. Sunflower seeds. A guitar stand. Blankets. Magazines. An extra pair of Toms slip ons. A beach towel. Wrapped Christmas presents I still need to deliver to my best friend and her kids in Bismarck. Thirty-seven half drunk water bottles and one sorta-full Snapple. Can cozies. A partridge in a pear tree.

Oh, and the backpack my mother-in-law packed for me in case of an apocalypse. There’s that to go along with the winter gear.

I’ve got piles of it.

snowy road

Yes, I’m a true North Dakotan, so in case the summer kegger doesn’t spontaneously occur, I’m covered for winter too.

So I should have known better…

Coming Home: Car stocked up for any situation, except running out of gas
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

Hears to full tanks and full hearts.

Happy Trails.


Sunday Column: Our songs.


It’s a nostalgic time of year. The Christmas tree is up and families are making plans to get together. I’m working on cleaning up the kitchen after a cookie decorating party that almost didn’t happen if it weren’t for Betty Crocker and my mother.

And I’m thinking about the music as we move into the new year.

Songs that were written as my dad recovered. Songs that were written on the backs of horses in the spring, during a rain storm with the windows open in our house and the morning after a late night playing with the band.
Songs about settling into a lifetime love. Songs about promises and shoveling dirt and making it all work when I was sure it couldn’t possibly happen.
Songs about the world getting smaller.
Songs about home.
After the new year I will take another trip to Nashville, and then maybe another, and then plans will be made to get these songs out into the world. The work has just begun on this project. I have taken my music across the country before, but there was something sort of surreal about packing new and unheard words with me, carrying them up over the clouds and putting them down, recreating them in a place where music seems to ring from the windows of every building, when the music I make was taken from these hills and small town streets.
It’s always been this way. This place has been inspiring me since I wrote poems about the frogs I would catch in the crick below the house.
And as got older I wondered if maybe I should try something a little more catchy. A little simpler. Maybe a song about drinking beer while dangling my feet off the back of a pickup bed.
The subject matter seems to be popular these days.
And it’s not like I’ve never drank a beer while sitting on a tailgate. But isn’t there more to say about that? About the person sitting next to us? About the ground we’re drinking on?
About what it feels like to be 18 and then 21 and then 31 and so scared and so free at the same time?
Isn’t there a place for a song about the hot sticky calm before a rain that brings the men in from the fields?
I think so. I want to listen to those songs. And so I try to write them.
When I got home from my first trip to Nashville the music around me became apparent again, somehow just ringing louder in my ears. Maybe being away for a minute is a little inspiring in itself. Seeing Music City reminded me of what a weird and challenging little life I’ve set up for myself living out here as far away from any coast or city center as I can get,  making my way as a singer and writer in such a practical environment, where a real job makes so much more sense.

Except don’t we need songs out here too? Songs about us? Isn’t that old country church that closed its doors years ago worth commemorating? Isn’t the story of the man in the bar who looked at me and lamented the loss of his high school love worth telling?
Isn’t this place just the right combination of romantic and heart wrenching, hopeful and unforgiving? What about the lines created on the faces of our grandparents earned through a life of work and worry, that in this day in age, we’d know nothing about if we weren’t told?

I’ve always just wanted to tell it.

Coming Home: Singing about home from a recording studio on Music City
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

Holidays: How they hold us and haunt us


Last weekend marked the end of deer rifle season here in North Dakota. My uncle from Texas arrived in the middle of the week with his son-in-law and nephew, Pops took some time off, Husband willed Saturday to come quicker and the entire Veeder Ranch turned into a hunting camp, just like it does every year at this time.

Boots dripping with melted snow were strewn in my parent’s entryway, a combination of camouflage, hunter-orange, fleece, wool and leather piled up on the chairs. Men were up and out with the sun sitting on hilltops and sneaking through draws.

When our Texas Uncle comes to the ranch it’s like an extended holiday around here. We all sort of hang up our evening plans and get together around mom’s table while Pops fries up fish or beef or, if there was some success that day, venison.

Ever since I was a little girl, and as long as I’ve lived in this place, this is the way it’s been.

Most years I go out with them on the hunt at least once. Because there’s something about being out with the boys who grew up here, my dad and his brother, together walking the draws they know so well, sitting quietly on the hilltops taking in the familiar view of their childhood, doing what they’ve always done, that’s always been comforting to me.


Since we almost lost dad early this year, each tradition spent since his recovery has been regarded as a gift and a little more precious than it was before.

I seem to be seeing the world more that way lately.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches I imagine it’s timely to be so grateful for second chances, for family, for walking behind my husband on a warm early winter evening, keeping quiet while he carries his bow, turns around and smiles, waving me along.

It’s never been difficult for me to be grateful for these things.


But never in my life have I seen the world and the people in it as fragile as I see them these days.

Never have I been more aware of time and what it means for us.

And as much as I’m grateful for all of the things that fill this life of ours, during the holidays especially, I become the most aware of what we don’t have.

And who or what others are mourning.

Because what we don’t have, who we are missing, sits like a silent ache in the quiet corners of our houses.

IMG_9778Yesterday I sat down to make a Christmas Card and for the first time in my life I felt sort of silly about the whole thing.

“Who the hell wants a picture of just the two of us?” I said out loud to my husband looking over my shoulder. “Christmas Cards are for people with kids, and grandkids, so their families can see how cute they are. How much they’ve grown. We just keep getting older. This feels pathetic.”

It wasn’t sadness coming out of my mouth, but frustration. Frustration that the life I was in was perfectly good and that I should be perfectly grateful, but I couldn’t will myself to be those things at the moment, not even in the name of the holiday spirit.

All I could muster up was annoyance and a sort of anger that other people have family photos taken for the occasion, snuggling into one another on a blanket or in front of a fireplace, birth announcements for Christmas cards, big extended family shots with grandkids on Santa’s lap, and all I could scrounge up from our archives was a photo of us sitting on a cooler at a music festival drinking beer.

It was a moment of pure envy. Pure poor me. It was ugly. (Others have lost more. Others have less to lose. Others suffer more than we can comprehend.)

And it sort of scared me.

Because I love that photo of us sitting on a cooler at a music festival drinking beer.

I love that we have a life full of those sorts of photo opportunities. I am proud that despite all of our losses we are still trying, but most of all, we’re still living a fun life, striving for fulfillment. Holding on to one another. Laughing.

We have other dreams, dreams that don’t fill the empty void of a family we feel as incomplete, but dreams nonetheless.

We’re ok really. Most days we’re just fine.

But how do you portray this when picking out a Christmas card? The templates available to us are smattered with children frolicking in the snow, “Joy to the World” in big bold letters across their footprints.

Staring at the photo of my husband and me, in our early 30s, sun kissed and smiling despite seven years of trying and failing at creating one of those Christmas Card Template families, all I could see were our friends and family, the ones who know of our struggles, opening the card and shaking their heads.

“Poor Jessie and Chad,” they would think to themselves.

“Joy to the World” didn’t feel appropriate then.

And neither did anything with the words “Merry” or “Bright.”

But it was all bullshit. Justified bullshit, but bullshit still, and I knew it.

So did my husband.

He said, “You’re sending these to people who love us. My grandma. Your grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Our friends. They love to get mail. They will love to have a photo of us and I like this one.”

“I like this one too,” I said and carried on.

Christmas card 2

If I learned anything this year it’s that we don’t know what the hell is going to happen. I’ve been walking through 2014 with that sucked so close to my chest that some days I can’t breathe.

But as the year progressed, as summer came shining down on our shoulders, when my little sister got engaged, as I watched my nephew turn 4, working on growing up into a cool little person, I watched my dad get better, stronger, more himself, the worry release from my mom’s face, I realized that not knowing how this is all going to turn isn’t all scary.

But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s sad. And always it makes the holidays a little bit shaky for us. Because being so damn grateful and so damn frustrated and so damn happy and so damn worried at the same time is confusing and emotional, especially when it comes to cutting down and decorating Christmas trees and making sugar cookies alone together in this house.

Yes, traditions can hold us together as much as they can haunt us.


I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here. That some of us celebrate as much as we mourn during this time of year. I say some of us. But maybe it’s all of us. And that’s ok.

I imagine my dad and his brother walking across these pastures where they were raised, and I doubt they take many steps before they think about their father and how he taught them to shoot their first rifle, how he was with them when they got their first big buck, two grown men, two grandfathers, just missing their dad.

I look at my husband looking back at me, waving me along the trail out there on our own hunt, I feel him standing behind me in the kitchen, I watch him cutting down another tree to stand in our house for the season and I know we can do it. We can be sad and we can be happy. Scared and hopeful as hell.

And we can sit together on that cooler under the hot summer sun, a little tipsy from one too many, smiling eyes under sunglasses in the face of a good and unpredictable life and we can be so frustrated and so thankful and so much of all of the heartache and happiness that sits in our bones under that skin that makes up the arms we have around each other and we can put it on our Christmas card, and despite all that we think we don’t have that we should, we can write “Joy to the World” if we want to.

But I don’t think I want to.

This year, I think I’ll just pick “Peace.”


Sunday Column: The longest season

It’s been snowing all weekend.


Actually, it’s been snowing all week.

Yesterday, after a night out singing with the band until 4 am I was a pathetic pile of “I’m too old for this…”

and, thankfully, the weather cooperated with my lack of sleep. On and off white-out flurries outside my window coincided nicely with the opening and closing of my eye lids.

snow 2

At one point I mustered up enough energy to look at myself in the mirror and actually scared myself.

“Wow,” I said to MYSELF from our bathroom upstairs. “I’m a mess.”

To which my husband replied a little too quickly and a little too loudly from his perch at the kitchen table downstairs, “Yup.”

“Shut it,” I said said as I found my way back to the fuzzy blanket on the couch with my kitten.


And that was about the extent of our conversations that day, up until I woke up from my late afternoon nap and wondered out loud what he was going to cook me for supper.

But he was putting together a gun or something on the kitchen counter, (classic hunting season scene) so I decided on macaroni and cheese and thought maybe tomorrow I would try life again.

So I went to bed.


And today I woke up to more winter.

And so it begins.

But thankfully we saw it coming. We heard about that pesky Polar Vortex, but we could smell it in the air, see it in the wooly fur on the backs of the horses and the crust of ice on the stock dam in the mornings long before the weatherman came up with the clever graphics.

So I called up Pops and the two of us went on the last ride before the snow flew while Husband was out sitting in a blind working on filling his bow tag and our freezer with venison.



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And that’s what this week’s column is all about. It’s about noticing the signs of a changing world. It’s about the animals and how they move around us, the coyotes running wild outside our door, the deer in the rut, the horses carrying us into a new season, and this bald eagle that perched out in front of the windows of our house, posing just long enough so we could all see him before spreading his wings and flying away.


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IMG_9932Coming Home: Change of seasons hits inside and out
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

It’s about the minutes we spend just being aware enough to exist out here and appreciate it for what it is.

Gold turning to gray. Sun going down turning a blue sky black and our breath to puffs of smoke.

Fall turning quickly into the longest season.

IMG_0165I write a weekly column for North Dakota newspapers. Look for “Coming Home” Sundays in the Fargo Forum, and weekly in the Dickinson Press, Grand Forks Herald and Bismarck Tribune. Want my column in your newspaper? Let me know and I’ll help you make it happen!


IMG_9959It’s cold.

10 degrees and it looks like that’s where it’s gonna stay. All day. The rest of the week.

I wanna snuggle up in a big ‘ol pile with this kitten and all my blankets.

IMG_9944It’s funny how fast the seasons shift around here. I’ve lived here long enough to expect it, but just a few days ago it was sunny and mild and the hilltops were gold and we were walking around saying, “What a beautiful fall we’ve been having!” “Aren’t we lucky!”

IMG_1218And then, overnight…

IMG_0155Below zero temperatures. Icy roads, people trying to remember where they put their favorite scarf. Hat. Mittens.

IMG_0160I hauled the giant tub of winter gear upstairs to sort through. Ordered a new pair of snow boots.  

Took the dogs for a walk.


Turned around after five minutes and went back inside.

Shit. It’s cold.


I’m not ready for this.

The dam is froze up. Ranchers are breaking ice and feeding hay.

IMG_9961I am making plans for soup for dinner every night for the next six months.

I even went to craft club and attempted to make mittens out of an old sweater.

I hadn’t used a sewing machine since I nearly failed Home Ec. in the 8th grade. This time it didn’t go much better.

I required assistance. A lot of assistance. And the mittens, well, one is done. Sorta. I might need to call Martha Stewart…and pour a drink…


But these are the things people out here do in the winter. They have hobbies. Or create new ones that will help them pass the time in the dark and cold that settles in here around 5 pm and lingers until the morning. And some might pour a little bourbon in a glass, you know, to thaw out a bit…

If the cold and the white on the plains were as inspiring to as many people as the waves in the ocean hitting the shore, or the tall pines of the mountains reaching toward the sky, we would have thousands of poets and painters here telling the story of a frozen world.

Old shack in winter

But the cold settling in on the plains is a beauty recognized by the characters out here who  can’t help but marvel at extremes. They appreciate what cold does to the body and the soul, makes it slow down, recharge, toughen up and soften up at the same time.

We take pride in the taking care of things, the animals, the driveway, one another.

We laugh at things like frozen eyeballs, snot-sicles and relocated southerners who think 20 degrees is as cold as it gets.

It is cold. But it will get colder.

My Lord, will it get colder.


It Came In With The Night
Go find your mittens
so your fingers don’t freeze
slip on your big boots
pull your socks to your knees

Dig out your best scarf
wrap it round yourself tight
the snow has arrived here

it came in with the night.

I’ll put the roast in the oven
and heat the milk on the stove
they’ll be right here waiting
when you come in from the cold

Knocking ice from the branches
and stringing Christmas tree lights
yes the snow has arrived dear

it came in with the night.

So squeeze on your knit cap
over wild wooly hair
watch your breath float and drift
in the crisp morning air

Break the ice for the cattle
put the saddles away
yes the snow has arrived here

and I think it might stay.


Sunday Column: Mouse catcher, cow chaser, heart breaker…

Well, it’s all about the pets these days around the ranch. Just in time for the snow to fall we have a couple more furry friends to help keep us hunkered down and warm.

I tell ya, between keeping the tiny kitten inside, alive and well fed and working to prevent the puppy from destroying my boot collection and all of the rugs in the house, it turns out Big Brown Dog, the easy one, the established member of the family, just wasn’t having the takeover.

Seemed like he needed to create a way to be noticed…

So last week he went out for a run around the ranch, checking things out, making sure there weren’t any giant sticks or random animal bones he missed dragging into the yard. He needed to get away you know. The damn puppy was driving him crazy with his crying and jumping, and nipping at his nose.

He’s too old for this.

So he took a hike to clear his mind. He needed his space. He needed to follow his nose…

Dog in Night

Turns out his nose led him straight into some sort of trouble, because Big Brown Dog showed up back home after dark with one of his top canines poking through his lip.

And a scrape on his foot.

And on his face.

“What the hell did you get into you poor, sweet animal?” I asked him as I kneeled down by his bed in the garage.

He just looked at me with those sad brown eyes and said nothing, because no matter how I wish they could, they can’t talk.

I called Husband out and he scratched his head, and the dog’s head, and we wondered together there looking at him what sort of adventure didn’t quite turn out as our dog had planned…

So the next morning I hoisted the stiff, sore, pathetic, sweet 110 pound dog into the back of my car (front feet first, then the back end) and we drove to the vet where they fussed over him, put him under, did a few X-rays, put the lip back in place, stitched up the hole, pumped him full of meds, prescribed enough pills to sedate an elephant, and $430 later they sent us on our way.

But not before he took the world’s longest pee outside the clinic…I mean, it was like 45 minutes…at least three patients came and went before he was done…

And then I loaded him up (front feet first and then the back end) into the car and back to the ranch where he struggled up the steps to his spot by my side of the bed and slept the bad memories away.

Poor Hondo. Always a lover…never a fighter…

8 years ago, a month after Husband and I were married, we took a trip to a farm about 70 miles from the ranch and my new Husband picked out Hondo from a litter of squirrelly, wiggly, chubby, adorable brown pups. He picked the one that seemed the most even tempered. He picked the darkest chocolate one he could find. He picked the biggest. He picked the best.

I paid $200 for that dog. He was Husband’s birthday present. He was going to be his bird dog. His hunting dog. He was the third member of our family and he’s been quite the companion, the steady link, the wagging tail when we got home.

Hondo the lab as a puppy...awwwww

Hondo the puppy…awwwww

And he’s gonna be just fine. Right now he’s under the heat lamp on his bed next to the new puppy who is likely trying his damnedest to get the big guy to play with him.

I know from experience the softie will warm up to the pup, just have to let him heal up…and let the pup grow up.

And then the two of them will be off getting into their own kind of trouble out here together.


I wrote this week’s column before Hondo went off and got himself buggered up, but he proved my point anyway. That these animals out here are part of the fabric of this place. Growing up out here as a kid, these dogs and horses and goats and cats and lizards we were charged with learning from and taking care of were what made the place magical.

But beyond their magic they served a purpose. They had a job to do.

Hondo’s job these days might be less bird-hunting and more companion, but the new members we’re growing up and introducing will have their place soon…

Mouse catcher.


Cow chaser.

IMG_8972Heart breaker.

Rain on a Dog's Nose Coming Home: Learning many lessons from animals
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

But for the next few days the big brown dog and I have a date in the morning for three pills stuffed in summer sausage and another in the evening before bed.

IMG_8905 IMG_8942 IMG_3328

Sunday Column: Other people’s stories…


This is my life here, crammed into this little room I’m calling my office for now. This is where I work to tell stories.

This is where I edit photos of the neighbors and strangers who have hired me to take their portraits.

This is where I write music, and these last few days, this is where I’ve been recording it to send on to the studio in preparation for another album.

Yup. Here I am, surrounded by cords and screens, cameras and props, notebooks and piles of paperwork, a puppy in the corner terrorizing the random hiking shoes I dropped off in here and a cat climbing up the leg of the sweatpants I haven’t changed out of yet today..

This has been my story these days. Writing things down, capturing moments in this room.

Tomorrow I will release a music video to the song “Boomtown,” a ballad, an ode, I wrote to the people coming and going and working to make lives here in the place where I grew up. I hope you click on over and check it out on 

Facebook header

Tomorrow is also election day, voting day, as you know.  There are some big and controversial measures on my state’s ballot this go ’round.

Some are pretty personal to me.

And so I’ve been thinking about our stories more than ever these last few months. I’ve been thinking about how powerful and sometimes terrifying it can be to tell them.

And then I’ve been thinking about how incredibly important it is to talk, to talk to talk this all out so that we might understand each other. Because these days I feel so much gets lost in translation, in the argument, in the polarization that has become politics.

So that’s what Boomtown’s about, little snapshots of other people’s lives, a reminder that we’re all flawed and worried and desperate, so damn hopeful sometimes and really, not that much different…

So I suppose it’s fitting that I release it on election day, a little reminder, a little snapshot of our tiny corner of America, a look into the eyes of people out there just doing their best…

Coming Home: Seeking stories behind the snapshots of life
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications


See you tomorrow in Boomtown!