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.
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.
Coming Home: Hunting holiday season means time
spent with loved ones
by Jessie Veeder
‘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.
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.