Sunday Column: Moving dirt and making plans.

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So oil prices have dropped.

For most that means cheaper gas and a little breath of relief.

For us out here in a community resting on top of that oil, with men and women whose livelihoods depend on getting it out of the ground and selling it for profit, well, it certainly has us scanning the headlines.

I’m sure you’ve read the headlines yourself. There’s plenty of speculation on how this market might move, but no real answers. Journalists want to know how it makes us all feel out here. Might we have planned too much? Might we have bitten off more than we could ever chew? Are we being laid off and let down and given the run around? Are we panicked? Lost? Worried? Hopeful? Making new plans?

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Everyone’s answer is a bit different, but I might add that regardless of oil prices, I don’t think out here we’ve spent a day without wondering: what the hell is happening here and what are we to do about it all?

High prices/low prices, it seems it’s all the same.

We just keep moving dirt and making plans…

Coming Home: Despite uncertainty, next step is same
2-8-15
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Pumping Unit on Horizon-RTC

Jessie Veeder-“Boomtown”-Official Music Video

And now for the video!

The premier of the music video for my song “Boomtown” happens today! I hope it give your a glimpse into the some of the stories hanging around Boomtown. I am so happy and excited to have this out in the world.

Thanks to Nolan with Quantum Productions and to those willing to share their stories with us that day.

Please pass it along!

Sunday Column: Other people’s stories…

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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 www.youtube.com/jessieveedermusic. 

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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
11-2-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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See you tomorrow in Boomtown!

Sunday Column: My sister, the coach…

And now I give you one of the most embarrassing photos of myself on file.

IMG_20141006_0001Here I am. Twelve years old. Fresh into my seventh grade year, first year out of country school. First year in a real sport. Trying my hand at volleyball, but apparently not trying my hand at ironing my wrinkled shorts that are pulled up way beyond my bellybutton, barely able to contain the size Large shirt I was given.

Where are my arms?

I don’t know.

Where are my braces?

Coming next year.

Where was my talent for sending a ball over the net, at least once or twice a game?

Non existent.

But you can’t blame me for trying. Growing up is all about finding out what you like and what you’re good at, and unfortunately, sometimes, they don’t go hand in hand.

For example, I liked wearing leotards…

Why? Wwwwhhhhhyyyyy?

Why? Wwwwhhhhhyyyyy?

But I was no good at dancing.

You know who was?

That little California Raisin doing jazz hands to the left of me.

Yup, Big Sister was made to dance, as you can tell….

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Thirty-some years later and she looks exactly the same…think she even still has those pants… could probably fit into them…

My spandex leotards, as you can see from the photographic evidence provided, didn’t stand a chance on me the first go ’round.

Yeah, the right sister is the dancer.

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Because it turns out me, my long, gangly, noodle arms, lack of coordination or control over those limbs, my fear of floor-burning my entire body and my nonexistent competitive nature didn’t magically combine to create a phenomenal athlete.

But rest assured the athleticism in our family didn’t start and end with those jazz shoes. Because along came Little Sister.

There she is down there on my right, strangling our momma dog in a mischievous love embrace, hair wild, planning her next move…

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And her next move was to get straight A’s, make sure everyone is being nice to everyone else, practice dribbling and shooting the basketball on the only slab of concrete on the entire ranch, make varsity and head to state basketball…then do it all over again during volleyball season.

IMG_20141006_0004Always working, always making plans that one.

Anyway, this year Little Sister, all grown up now, is at the beginning of her first year as a guidance counselor in our hometown’s elementary school and at the end of her first season as a junior high volleyball coach.

So last week Big Sister, Mom and I headed to the school, bought some popcorn at the concessions and went to watch her work and cheer on her team of Wolves.

And then I had a flashback…

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*cringe*

Anyway, it was quite a proud moment for us and one we hadn’t seen on that woman since her days of hitting free throws and playing mean defense in high school.

We watch Big Sister put on dance recitals and my family comes to my concerts, but we haven’t had a chance to be spectators in Little Sister’s work life for years.

And she was good at it. So positive and encouraging. So adorable and official with her clipboard under her arm. I couldn’t help but think, watching those skinny seventh grade girls hit the ball back and forth over the net, that if I were them, I would have loved her as my coach…

We were so proud.

So that’s what I said here in my column this week. I wrote about why it matters in our town now, the town that’s bursting at the seams…why it matters that someone like Little Sister would find her calling here, chose to come back home with a big wide world out there ripe for the picking. The same big wide world that seems to be making their way here too, with their hopes and their plans and their volleyball playing children…

Coming Home: Little sis shaping kids’ future one volleyball game at a time
by Jessie Veeder
10-5 -14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Coming Home, my weekly columns, appear in newspapers across the state, including the Fargo Forum, Bismarck Tribune, Dickinson Press and Grand Forks Herald.

Sunday Column: A song about you

I spend my life telling stories. Most days it’s my own, but much of the time I’m looking for inspiration in others, whether it’s from behind the lens of my camera, my guitar or my computer screen, it’s the people out here who have things to say.

Things to teach us about the human condition.

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In this part of the country there are so many stories moving in and out of this place at a rapid pace. Each day in my booming community, something changes, a new house goes up, a new road is built, a restaurant opens its doors. It’s hard to keep up. Everything’s moving so fast.

A few years ago, when we were still living in the little old house, I sat down on the bed with my guitar while Husband cooked soup in the kitchen and I wrote a song called Boomtown, a song that attempts to tell the story of the different souls who have made their way to my hometown in the face of a the oil boom for a second chance, a job, a way to be home. A true folk song, the closest I could get to the ones I was raised on.

I’ve written about this place, this Boomtown, multiple times. The song has been the backdrop in documentaries and stories around the country, and even over seas.

This summer I decided it might be time to show you what it looks like here, in a different way.

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So a few weeks ago we gathered the band and hashed out a plan to make Boomtown into a music video.

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I can’t wait to show you these people, the heartbeat of a community that is hope and worry and chaos and relief, dreams-come-true and dreams shattered all in one place.

This week’s column is about the video and the people of Boomtown.

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Coming Home: Listening to the stories of Boomtown
by Jessie Veeder
9-7-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Stay tuned…

Buy Boomtown and the rest of my album, “Nothing’s Forever” on iTunes or at www.jessieveedermusic.com 

Sunday Column: 100 years!

IMG_1995The party of the century took place in my hometown this weekend. I sit here this morning at the ranch, my cousins and aunt and uncle visiting from Texas likely milling around the cabin in the barnyard over the hill, getting ready for another day in North Dakota, just one of the many family’s who made the trip back home to celebrate.

It’s fitting then that they would be spending their nights in the very spot that raised my grandfather and then raised my aunt and dad and uncle, right above where the old shack used to sit, right next door to the old red barn, family feet still making tracks in this mud.

Summer Barn

I can’t tell you what it means to me to have them here and I’m sure they can’t explain that the miles and time don’t make a difference, that this is always home.

I am certain that among the thousand plus people who celebrated with us, most would say the same.

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There’s coffee at my desk and I’m nursing a sunburn and tired feet. I have the whole summer ahead of me now, packed with more stages, more cows to chase, more events to plan and more sun to catch, but what I’m thinking now is “phew, we pulled it off.”

And that I’m proud to have been a part of it.

Because for two years we’ve been planning the bands and the art show, the kids games and the sidewalk sales, the film festival and the magicians, the clowns and the books and the auction and the big free feed under the tent.

We didn’t plan on rain, but we knew it was inevitable. We didn’t plan for a party in the mud, but we had one and it was great.

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We’re a young establishment, this booming small town in America. Things have changed since the railroad made promises and the first little wooden store took shape on the desolate landscape. Every day time passes and residents make decisions to build, to come, to leave, to stay.

Within those 100 years there have been booms and busts and years spent standing still waiting for and making our own opportunity that might help keep the streets alive with young people and babies again…

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Within those 100 years land has been bought and sold and split and kept. Businesses have changed hands, closed doors or stayed right there in the family.

Kids have learned between the walls of schools and out in the streets, riding bikes to the pool or driving their first cars out to help with a branding at a ranch in the badlands.

I am one of those kids. This weekend I was surrounded by them, tapping their toes to the music on the big stage, dancing and laughing, buying each other a beer, swinging around grandchildren, sitting down with a roast beef sandwich and catching up, just like they’ve done for decades.

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And isn’t it refreshing to know that no matter how things have changed us, no matter how fast the cars can go now, how we can fly across oceans, no matter that we can see each other on computer screens though we’re thousands of miles apart, still after all of these years there’s nothing like celebrating shoulder to shoulder, embrace to embrace, laughter to terrible joke.

There’s nothing that beats a good old fashioned party together.

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Congratulations hometown. Here’s to another 100 years and more!

Coming Home: We call it a century. 100 years. The Centennial
by Jessie Veeder
7-29-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Sunday Column: On slowing down

photo-79Well, I found a bluebell yesterday.

I was out cleaning the ditches between the two places, doing my part in a community weekend designated to “Picking up the Patch.”

There has been a lot of traffic on that pink road stretching from highway to highway the last few months. Behind our house at night, over the hill and across from the grain bins men and women from all walks of life are traveling to and from that highway to do their part to get the oil out of the ground below this ranch and the ranches beside us.

It’s noisy work, that oil drilling. At night we can hear the creaks and groans of pipe being pulled out of the ground, the blow of a horn, the hum of the trucks driving by, and if the wind is right I might hear those men hollering to one another.

And this traffic leaves residue. Pieces of these men’s lives thrown from the windows of their pickups on purpose or blown from the backs of their pickups on accident.  Everyone is going somewhere. To and from. Some care about this place.

Some don’t.

Some days it’s exhausting.

Some days I don’t notice much.

This noise won’t last forever, but the landscape is forever changed.

And in the spring, it needs cleaning.

So I went out in it, leaving my husband at home building new steps into our house inside our new garage with the fancy new concrete floor.

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We are building out here too. We’re noisy too. We’re making impacts, moving dirt and changing things that can’t be unchanged.

Some days we’re not so quiet ourselves.

Some days we need to remember to clean it all up too. So that’s what I did yesterday. I tried to beautify. I sorted my closets, gloves from neckerchiefs,

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I hauled construction material out of my yard, I swept the dirt from the floors and I used my legs to walk those ditches and pick up cans, watching the trucks slow down as they passed a girl and a dog cleaning up after anonymous faces.

And I was feeling good under that blue sky. It was a warm day. Hardly any wind. I was thinking we could be fishing or riding. Those were my two top choices.

But there were things to be done. The earth is greening up and working on showing us her best side. I wanted to help her along.

So I was feeling good. And then I was feeling bad. Each bottle, each leftover cup from Taco Johns, every wrapper and Copenhagen can a slap of carelessness for this place. I wanted to put my hands on my hips and stomp my foot and scream, “Don’t you care?!”

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But there was no one to scream at. They couldn’t hear me in the cabs of their pickups or behind the wheels of their big rigs. And they likely weren’t the culprits anyway. Most, like my husband at home building us new steps, are probably from here. Some might have places like this of their own. Some might have been out cleaning up their own section of ditches in the last few days. Most of them are doing good enough. Well enough. Just doing their jobs.

And screaming generally doesn’t help a thing.

But doing something about it does. So I filled the bags and step by step I felt a little better about it anyway. That I could at least clean up. That it was a nice day. That there were others out there doing the same thing.

And then I found the bluebell. A sweet, fragile little flower poking out brightly from the greening up grass, all hopeful and brave and beautiful like it knows something that I don’t.

Like thank you.

Like summer comes no matter what.

Like you should work hard like all of these people around you, and then you should look up and look down and look closely here. Slow down and look at me.

Coming Home: Summer a time to honor our childhood
http://www.inforum.com/event/article/id/434977/
by Jessie Veeder
5-18-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Sunday Column: Be careful with this place…

I write about this beautiful place. I write about how it grew me up and sent me out and welcomed me back home again. I write about the cows grazing on the sunny side of hills and what it means to me to step outside and smell the first clover of summer as it reaches and stretches to the sky.

I write about it and I photograph it–the red barn and the horses’ fuzzy ears.

The creek and her banks, the horizon and her sunrises and sunsets. The tall grass and flowers.

The buttes and the red road that cuts through it all.

And then I write about the impact the booming oil industry is having on our home, about how the big trucks kick up dust and throw rocks at my windshield on their way to punch holes that extract the fuel that this country relies on for more things than we care to remember when we curse that dust.

I talk about the people it brings with it, those persistent, resilient people with stories to tell, because there are jobs. Countless jobs being created and recreated every day. Jobs that brought us here, my husband and I, back to this ranch to make our lives. We likely wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those jobs.

Neither would my sisters.

Because it used to be much harder out here, you know, to make ends meet.

To make a living.

So there are things that I can manage. Things that go along with looking for ways to make the most out of this land we stand on, like the dust and the traffic and the noise over the hill that wasn’t there yesterday, and maybe won’t be tomorrow. Much of this impact is fleeting.

Much of it is forever.

But I don’t want it to fail.

I read in the papers the words of reporters sent out to tell the story of what’s happening around me. If there are mistakes out here, they will be written down. If there are questions, they will be asked. If there is something to say about how this is ruining a place, making it better, making it harder, making it easier, making us mad or happy or richer or poorer or crazy, the air too dusty, too noisy, too much, not enough, too damn good to be true, not what it was, not like it will ever be again…

It will all be said.

Somedays I don’t know what to make of it.

This is what I have to say about it all today…

Coming Home: We’re not all reckless in oil country
by Jessie Veeder
March 23, 2014
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Sunday Column: What I say about Boomtown…

We stood in line to board the red-eye flight out of Las Vegas, my mom and I fresh off of a whirl-wind trip to shop for pretty clothes and shoes and jewelry to stock her store in Boomtown. We had our bags thrown over our shoulders and our boarding passes out, anticipating the deconstruction of our outfits that would soon ensue as we threw it all in plastic bins to walk through the metal detector, only to have to put it all back on again.

When you’re in lines like this surrounded by people of all shapes and sizes and walks of life, taking off shoes and watches and unloading laptops and toothpaste tubes,  I can’t help but make up stories about the characters in my head.

Mom, Dad and baby heading out to see grandparents.

An older couple leaving their Las Vegas winter home.

Three middle aged and desperately tired women heading back to the midwest after a wild girls’ weekend in Sin City.

Most of the time my assumptions are unfounded, just a guess based on superficial cues, like the “I heart Las Vegas” souvenir shirt or the child wearing one of those monkey backpacks with a leash, running wild behind his overbearing mother.

But then sometimes the story plays out before me in a conversation I can’t help but overhear.

Two young women, maybe early twenties, cute and trim and friends, dressed in sweatpants with their hair pulled up in loose, but well-tended ponytails, light jackets flopped over their arms, lift overstuffed carry-on suitcases up on the conveyer belt and turn to answer the question coming from the couple behind them…

“You heading home?” 

A tall man, like 6 foot 3, in his mid-thirties, immaculately dressed in slick jeans and sneakers, his dark hair pulled back in perfect and long dreadlocks, has his arm around a petite young blond in a tight red knit dress as she unzips her studded high heel boots and places them in one of those bins…

“No,” replies one of the girls. “I’m heading to see my boyfriend in North Dakota. Williston.  He works in the oilfield up there.”

“Oh, right!” says the dreadlocked man turning to the blond. “We’ve been there.” 

“Is it nice?” 

I turned to my mom to make sure she was listening. Williston is our neighboring town and I needed an extra set of eavesdropping ears to hear the string of assumptions, observations and impressions that would follow about our booming community from the mouths of a few mis-matched Las Vegas residents.

It was an earful.

“It’s cold as hell. Like, it burns your face and skin a few seconds after you step out the door.” 

“We ate at that Mexican place, what’s it called…oh, I can’t remember, but you’ll find it. It’s one of the only places to eat in the state.” 

“Oh, and then there’s that Barbecue place…” 

“Yeah, you’ll see it. Two restaurants. One says “Mexican.” One says “BBQ.:

“Hahahaha…”

“Oh, well, we don’t go out much when we get there. Usually only go to the two strip clubs. There’s two, right beside each other…”

“You better wrap your arms around that boyfriend of yours when you get there and tell him you really love him, you know, to have traveled all the way up there, to a godforsaken place like this…for him…” 

Two sweatpants-clad women laugh. 

My mom sighs.

Red Dress walks through medal detector

I say at least they’re right about the cold. 

End scene. 

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But here’s the thing, our community is in the spotlight right now, for good reasons and bad reasons and because there is a story around every corner, one that can be easily sensationalized or one that is sensational enough on it’s own.

And we’re in the thick of it. We may have escaped to Vegas for a few days, but a world full of rumors, truck traffic, booming populations, help-wanted signs, $15 per-hour McDonalds jobs and young men working away from home waiting for their girlfriends to pay them a visit from a warmer climate was waiting for us when we got home.

If those two young women would have asked me if it was nice up in North Dakota, they would have received an entirely different answer.

I would have at least given them a few more tips on restaurants, and maybe advised on buying a beanie, I mean, wouldn’t the boyfriend have thought to mention the windchill?

Anyway, I imagine those two young women have been here and back again and now hold on to their own impressions of my chilly home state, impressions they will bring back to share with their friends in Nevada.

I’ll tell you though, having grown up in this place when it was quiet, when it was scoria roads and “everyone knows everyone” and the only thing anyone ever knew of this place was that it was cold, and that people here have a funny accent, and that yeah, we’re nice,

North Dakota nice,

I’ll admit now reading about us in the papers, about how we’ve changed, about how some of this oil booming business isn’t so nice, isn’t so pretty, isn’t necessarily understood, it makes me cringe. It’s like overhearing a a stranger say mean things about my little sister.

“You don’t really know her! You don’t know why she is the way she is! You don’t know the challenges, how big her heart is, how hard she’s trying! You don’t understand!”

But just as I observe and make assumptions about those travelers based only on the information I’m given, so go the perceptions of my home, coming from a visitors’ own frozen lips or from the lips of those willing to share their own judgements and experiences.

So I suppose that’s why, when I get the chance, in my North Dakota accent, I talk about it. To whoever’s asking, I’m happy to explain my world the way I knew it and the way I know it now.

Not that I know everything. I’m quick to note that living in a camper in sub-zero temperatures hundreds of miles away from home is a little different than living in a new house in a familiar place. It isn’t all pretty and it isn’t all nice, but some of it is. Some of it is damn exciting. Some of it, like a sunset over the badlands and a hike through the tall grass, and the fact that my husband and I can make enough of a living to stay and work in a place we love, a place we stand up for, is as beautiful and thrilling as it ever was…

That’s what I know of this place anyway…. That’s what I would have told them…

Coming Home: Northern accent perfect for telling story of my town
by Jessie Veeder
2-23-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

Sunday Column: A new life for an old country school.

This is me, about forth grade I suppose, back when Garth Brooks was king (and so were his wild Brush Popper style western shirts) and I spent my recesses planting a garden with my friends outside the window of the lunchroom of the country school down the road.

This summer they’ll start work to turn Johnson Corners Elementary School into a travel center. A gas station.

A place to buy Cheetos and Red Bull and fuel for the hundreds of trucks and pickups that pass by my old stomping grounds every day.

A sign of the times….times we never thought we’d see when they shut down that little school 15 or so years ago, sending those country kids to town…

This year, in Watford City, they built an addition to that elementary school in town, making room for the 100 + kindergartners that need to learn their letters.

In 2014 we’re making plans to build a new high school.

We couldn’t have known then what we know now about what lay below our scuffed cowboy boots as we kicked the soccer ball around and dangled from the monkey bars.

We couldn’t have known all these years later, after growing up along quiet highways and dusty scoria roads, that the world would pass by that abandoned playground, bringing with it a new life…

Coming Home: Boomtown makes room for travel center in old schoolyard
by Jessie Veeder
2-16-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com