It’s hot today at the Veeder Ranch. Not a smoldering heat, but the sun is beating on the scoria road outside my house and quite unexpectedly, the trees are standing relatively still due to the lack of push by the usually relentless wind. Which entices the flies to buzz confidently at my front door and around our horses’ noses, sending them into a some sort of trance, bobbing their heads like a metronome in an attempt to keep the persistent insects away. They head for the hill tops to find a breeze.
The cows also have a ritual, which I’ve only noticed, but haven’t studied (as I don’t claim to be, at the present time, a cow expert. I am however, to my husband’s dismay, hoping to become a pig expert, but we won’t go there today). They gather together in a cluster, maybe near the corner of a pasture, or on a side hill, and at a sporadic pace, switch their wiry tails, slapping each other over backs, on faces, under bellies, forming a sort of jumbled up assembly of “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine.” I imagine them saying to each other on these days, after a long winter of trudging through the snow, “Really? We just can’t catch a break here can we?”.
These instinctual methods for dealing with the mites that come with the short North Dakota summer seem a bit more methodical than my form of extermination, which is cussing mostly, and a flyswatter made available on every table in the house. Oh, and Raid.
But the pastures are green. Like neon green. After a couple days of rains that poured down from the sky like God was
throwing out his bathwater (and God, I imagine, has quite the large tub), the sunshine is working on drying the puddles and putting a nice crust on the gumbo buttes of the badlands and the ruts created in the gravel roads around here.
So I roll up my sleeves and my pants legs and, with my flyswatter in tow, I sprawl out on the porch. Because of course I love the warm sunshine. It is what I have been waiting for since it left us last September. I welcome it to come and brown my skin and entice the sweat-beads on my forehead and chest. I tilt my head upwards, squint my eyes and say “bring it on!” Because, in my sun-worshiping opinion, we don’t get enough of these kinds of days up here. And when we do, unfortunately for the office bound and car bound and truck bound and shovel bound North Dakota employees, they do usually land on a Monday or Wednesday, followed up with a nice rainy weekend, which doesn’t stop the hearty residents from loading up their fishing boats and digging out their Bermuda shorts anyway, because dammit, the summer is short.
I found in my days touring the Great Plains as a musician that there are two things people want to talk about when you tell them you are from North Dakota (as if they didn’t already figure it out as soon as I open my mouth): your accent (say “You Know”) and the weather. And as soon as I got done explaining that yes, I know I have an accent, and that I blame it on my Lutheran Church Lady heritage, and yes, I know I say “Dakoota” funny, and haha, yes, I wish I talked more like you and said “ant” instead of “aunt” and “yes” instead of “yah,” the conversation always turns to weather.
“It’s cold up there isn’t it?”
“Yah, sure is”
“How cold does it get”
“Pretty cold. Sometimes like 30 below zero” *
Yes, we talk about the weather. Ask us and we will proudly declare that it takes a certain type of person to live here.
That the winters keep the riff-raff out. That we hunker down and deal with it.
But we, from the humble stock we sprang, rarely talk about the summers here. Maybe because, in our minds, they are not so dramatic. They don’t incline us to use as many puns and metaphors and exaggerated stories about the neighbors nearly freezing to death in a blizzard or almost dying walking across campus at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks (which is the coldest place on earth I am sure of it), or how the wind could blow the snow in a flurry one thousand miles an hour over roads coated with sheets of ice and North Dakota schools would not think of shutting down. No, North Dakota summers could not possibly be that dramatic.
But I think we are wrong here. The summers here are not to be skipped over on your way to explaining yourself out of why we endure the bitter cold. I believe there is something to be said, I mean, really be said, about the season that was sent here to save us.
Because graciously summer unfurls itself from its cocoon ever so slowly for us, year after year, revealing its colors in soft buds of green on the trees, allowing the sun to shine for just a few more minutes every day, enticing the crocuses to poke through the earth on the sides of hills. It gently whispers to us to open our windows, to let the winter air out of our houses, to let the dirt creep in on the bottom of our shoes, to water our lawns and watch the blades grow, to throw something on the grill. To warm up already!
It eases us into the new, refreshing sensation, like a mother coaxing her child to get his feet wet in the pool, to come in a little further, until he finally, after giddy squeals and nervous shakes, dunks his head under the water.
And although most North Dakotans don’t truly believe it’s summer until it’s half-way over, until we have complained
enough about the rain and the wind and the tornado warnings, it is days like today we jump right in. We say to each other as we walk down the street “What a beautiful day!” “It’s gorgeous out there.” “Finally! The sun!” And we plop down in our gardens, and jump into the chilly lakes, and take our sandwiches to the park, and tend to our flowers. Because days like these allow us to completely and utterly forget about the long, frigid January, the snow we shoveled through to get to our garages and the white out blizzard on the highway we were stuck in during Christmas. We finally get a chance to thaw out enough to suck on a popsicle from the Shwan’s man.
In fact, show us a photo of the previous winter and it would be unrecognizable on a day like today when the sky is so blue and the birds are chirping and the dogs are panting and our children are covered in sunscreen and sweat. Those snow drenched houses were another lifetime. Another world.
Because it is hot today at the ranch and North Dakotans everywhere are turning on sprinklers, nursing their first sunburns, opening their windows and feeling at least a little grateful for the flies.
And that takes a special type of person.
*just a note for those of you looking to take a visit, and don’t know me personally–I do tend to exaggerate, especially when it comes to the weather. 30 below zero has probably never occurred here. I am included in the dramatic bunch.
Happy first day of summer you crazies!