The devil in the barnyard…

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Coming Home: The Devil in the barnyard

Ahh, autumn’s beauty.

Serene. Peaceful. Golden hues, warm setting sun, a light breeze, 10 perfect horses grazing on the hillside. From far away, it looks like I exist in a painting. From far away, it looks like something in a coffee table book. From far away, our horses are sleek and groomed, with slick, shiny coats glistening in the bug-free air.Come a little closer, pretty boys, let me run my hands through your manes, bury my face in your coat, ride like the wind as the autumn air whips through my gorgeous hair so that I look just like that woman on her mount in the clothing poster in the dressing room at the Western store.

Yes, I’ll be her. Just let me get my long, flowing dress and giant earrings and we’ll show them what it’s like out here in the Wild West of North Dakota. We will be specimens, just what those stable horses and city dwellers dream of being — free, agile, spirited, untamed, wild and…

Horses

Full. Of. Burrs.

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I weep. I twitch. I scratch. … Yeah, from far away, it all looks so glamorous, but I’m here to tell you the truth and the truth is that I believe the devil himself created the burdock plant that grows wild in our draws and, if left to its devices, grows 6 feet tall and at full bloom produces hundreds of evil Velcro balls that attach to anything and everything that gets within 10 feet from the plant.

Yeah, you might not believe it, but cockleburs can jump. I’ve seen it and I don’t understand it. I don’t understand any of it. I mean, the Lord, I believe he created all things for a purpose. The worms for the birds, the mosquitoes for the frogs, the mice for the snakes, the snakes for the hawks, the weeds for the goats. I get it. I know how the chain works. I see the big picture. Lord, I do indeed.

But cockleburs? I just don’t get it. The only answer to the riddle of why these beastly, gnarly, poky, sticky, buds of torture exist has to be that while the sweet Lord was busily and happily creating the Earth and all its inhabitants, he had mercy on the Devil and gave in to his plea to let him have a chance at inventing something too. “Ah, what the heck?” the ever trusting Lord thought to himself. “Maybe the Devil has turned himself around.”

And so the Lord gave in, suggesting maybe the Devil start off with something small, like a nice green plant, maybe a pretty flower. Then the Devil rubbed his spindly little hands together, swished his tail and snickered with glee as he concocted a plan for a plant to take over barnyards everywhere.

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“It will start out innocently enough,” he growled to himself while God had his back turned, busy inventing baby ducks. “Some people will mistake it for rhubarb and happily collect it to bake in pies for unsuspecting neighbors (true story for another day). Bwahahahah… cough, cough, wheeeze… and then it will grow. It will grow tall and strong in the most inconvenient places, like in front of the barn, and along the water tank, or the edges of creeks and under shady trees, everywhere a beautiful horse with a long luscious mane might want to wander,” the Devil snorted.

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God moved on next to lily pads, with those pretty little yellow flowers, and then finished out his day with penguins and cotton balls, all the while trusting the Devil to do the right thing. But no. The Devil had plans…

“It won’t need sun,” he howled, pacing. “In fact, it will prefer the dark places. But when the sun does hit it, no worries. It will just sprout the best part, the best part of it all… the sticky, scratchy little balls that will jump off the plant and stick to EVERYTHING, allowing my weed to spread to every corner of the prairie!”

He laughed, he roared, “And it will multiply and grow and thrive!! Because nothing. NOTHING WILL EAT IT! Mwahahaaa!”

And with that, and a swipe of his red-hot pitchfork thing, burdock was invented.

Now I wish I wouldn’t have put on this long, flowing ball gown for this horse frolic photo shoot, because I am pretty sure I have a burr stuck to my butt…

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Nothing’s Forever

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When I first moved back to the ranch almost 10 years ago, wondering what I was going to do here, I spent my first summer reuniting with every inch of the place that raised me.

I walked to the top of every hill, down every draw, crossed the creek beds countless times, looked up at the sky and maybe, more importantly, down close to the ground where the secrets seemed to lie.

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I was searching for inspiration, the same way this place inspired me as a kid, and I found it over and over again. The time I was able to take for myself those first few months back home shaped the career I am able to chase and build upon today, writing and singing and helping to make inspiration for others in my community through the arts.

But once the babies came, those long walks by myself for creative inspiration have taken a backseat to the responsibilities that come with motherhood and work and trying to keep it all ticking, just like the clock that never stops.

I celebrated my 36 birthday a couple days ago with my family–my one-year-old and three-year-old, my nephew and niece and parents and sisters–and I couldn’t help but look around at the cupcake frosting and chaos and I feel like that twenty-something woman who walked those hills was simply a million miles away.

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And so the next night, after we put the girls to bed, and before the sun went down completely, I walked. To the top of the hill to watch the sun go down on another year older on a crisp August day and I felt like my old self again for a minute. And even though you all know I wouldn’t change a minute of this motherhood journey–even the hard part, even the losses–because they all brought me here to these children I adore, some days I miss me, you know?

Please tell me you know.

My kids are getting older and soon there will be a bit more time freed up for things like walks.  Soon they may want to join me (I hope they’ll want to join me).

Nothing’s forever…

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It’s a phrase that haunts me and comforts me every day in a way I never anticipated when I wrote it in a song all those years ago.

So this week, for my newspaper column, I went back to the archives to republish a piece of writing that was shared all over the world. It’s a piece that simply takes us all off the beaten path, to look closer, to take more time to be part of the extraordinary parts of this world, and it seemed to resonate with many people at the time.

Who knew ten years later it would work to inspire me again too.

The extraordinary ones.

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There are secrets out here in these prairies and Badlands that not many have explored.

Not far off the beaten path, these secrets are quiet and hidden and full of magic that only a watchful eye can detect. And the ones who do, the ones who look for it, these are the special ones.

The special ones listen. They stand deathly still at the side of the road and hold their breath to hear through the wind and the traffic and the barking dogs. They lift a hand to shield their eyes and carefully take a step off the gravel — one step into the world. And then the brave ones take another and another…

Because they think they can hear something calling to them, saying, “Hello up there,” under the tangle of grasses and cactuses, along the base of trees, where the roots peek out from under the damp earth.

So the curious ones, the ones who listen, move their eyes from the horizon and follow the call from the ground. Their feet moving them from the top of the hills in open prairie to the mysterious, damp, dark and prickly gullies of the surrounding coulees and creek beds.

They take in the panoramic view of cattails springing up like furry corn dogs bouncing and bending on frail sticks in the breeze, calling the special ones to take a step a little closer where the smell of the marsh fills their nostrils as the once-solid ground gives way to the dark mud under the reeds. And the water seeps into the brave one’s shoes as they wobble and slosh their way, deeper in.

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And with each step, the voices get a bit louder, coaxing them to look down to the moss spreading on the bark of the bur oak. The brave ones bend down to run their fingers along it, to feel to look underneath the caps of the mushrooms, making sure the stories of the fairies and the elves aren’t true, a little disappointed to find, when they look, there is nothing there but a couple gnats…

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And the curious ones notice a soft rippling on the surface of the creek as the water bugs zip and glide and row and skim across the water. The brave ones feel the urge to jump in and splash with them, but don’t want to disturb the bugs. Because, if not the fairies or the elves, maybe they are the ones who have called them here…

And when the voices (whoever they are) are drowned out by the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the air gets cooler and damper as the brush thickens up again along the path, even the brave ones can’t take it — they want to see the sky again, to see how the time has passed and how far they’ve gone.

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So they claw their way up the steep banks of the creek. They want to run, but something slows them and they crouch to see how the tall grass looks against the overcast sky.

Then they stand up and stretch their limbs and reach to grab a taste of the ripe plums growing at the very tips of the thorny branches. The curious ones bend down low to skim the brush for red raspberries or wild strawberries underneath the mangle of green and they tiptoe along the juniper spreading up through the rocks and watch for the poison ivy that has, until the voices called out, kept them from coming here.

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With mouths puckered from sucking on plum pits and foreheads wrinkled from seeing the small things, they are all surprised that the road has found them again, somehow. Turning their heads back over their shoulder, they take a look of it all from far away. The trees put their arms around each other, the wind blows through the reeds, the grass stands up straight, the wild sunflowers smile and everything seems to wave at the brave and curious and special ones making their way home.

And the extraordinary people say a quiet word of thanks to the voices whispering their secrets, because the small world they thought they knew, the one they thought had belonged only to them, has suddenly become bigger.

And after all that magic, it never, ever looks the same to them again.

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

Come rain or shine or rain or wind or heat or hail…

Rain on Leaves

Summer fun, rain or shine
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I’m telling you when it comes to getting the most out of summer, rain or shine, North Dakotans don’t mess around.

As a musician who has been singing at these outdoor events most of my life, I’ve sang “Home on the Range” when the skies were most definitely cloudy all day. And blazing down temperatures of 105 degrees, burning my skin and making a nice sweat puddle down my back and behind my guitar.

Or, like last week, pouring down monsoon-style sideways rain for hours on the Wells County Fairgrounds while the audience sat under a canvas tent in puddles upon puddles of muddy water with the strings of their hoods tied around their chins, nothing but blankets, raincoats and trash bags shielding their soggy bodies as they tapped their toes and swayed along to the music.

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When it rains on a summer day in rural North Dakota, we tend to get a little punchy about cussing it. Most sane people would just go ahead and let 3 inches of relentless, pelting rain ruin their outdoor celebrations, but that type of person likely doesn’t endure 17 months of winter. But we do. And when summer finally does come, it’s a glorious reward for those long winters, and we refuse to waste a moment.

So in North Dakota, we say things like, “Well, we need the rain, it’s been so dry,” and then the show goes on. Or the rodeo. Or the 4-H goat show. Or the parade…

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Even when, in the first 45 minutes of our three-hour trek across the state to stand on that soggy stage, the windshield wiper on the driver’s side of my dad’s pickup flung clean off into the abyss of the monsoon. I guess it was exhausted. And I laughed, maybe a little too hard, because, well, of course that happened.

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But Dad wasn’t laughing. I guess he didn’t think standing in a downpour for 20 minutes trying to make the repair so we could make it to Fessenden on time was very funny. Thank you, New Town Napa guy, for saving us so we were able to get back on that rainy road and arrive at 5 o’clock on the dot, right at showtime, running from the rain to plug in, mic check and do what we came there to do. Rain or shine.

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And I loved it. I loved that that die-hard audience of all ages with their jackets zipped up to the top reinforced all my ideas that we are here to live and love and clap along and say “I think it’s going to let up” in all kinds of weather. Rain or shine.

And so I smiled and closed my eyes and sang my love song to the rain, while outside that tent it was clear that no crops were to be planted that day, but we were going to be together regardless, swaying and singing and laughing and soaking wet…

Because we’re North Dakotans, and when it comes to summer fun, we don’t mess around.

4-H in my memories

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Old photo brings back proud horse show memories from childhood
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It’s 4-H Week in McKenzie County and I spent yesterday afternoon talking with 4-Hers about the photographs they took of their roosters and kittens, sunsets and sisters, horses and old country churches.

I’m always amazed at the poise, passion and pure creativity these kids possess and am always happy to be involved where I can. As a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere, 4-H held it all for me. It was my connection to civilization for a week in the summer and a good excuse to do a project.

I spent hours on the floor latch-hooking a rainbow or at the kitchen table woodburning or pressing and identifying wildflowers. I grew a garden. I tried my hand at drawing. I took photos of my cats and dogs and horses, and true to form, I never baked a thing.

But my favorite was the horse show. A few days ago I was looking through old photographs in search of some other memory, and out of the pages falls a photo of me, my little sister, and my sorrel mare Rindy, standing stoic and proud in our pressed white shirts, Wrangler jeans, hats and boots at the fairgrounds. I suppose she was about 6 and I was around 11 and we were the perfect age to take this seriously and make it our life. I held that photo and a flood of memories washed over me.

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I could smell the ShowSheen and feel the sweat pooling up on my back, my stomach knotting with excitement and nerves. My little sister and I at the county fair, fresh off the ranch where we likely spent the night before washing my old mare in the backyard with Mane ‘n Tail shampoo, a brush and a hose spraying freezing cold water. I would have put on my shorts and boots and worked to convince my little sister to hold Rindy’s halter rope while the horse got busy munching on the green grass in our yard, not fully understanding or giving a care to what was on the schedule for the next morning.

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My little sister, enthused initially, likely started to get annoyed by the whole deal, the sun a little too hot on her already rosy cheeks, the bees getting dangerously close, so she probably abandoned ship after a couple arguments about it and then I would have been out there finishing the job, picking off the packed-on dirt and yellow fly and then standing back, pleased with the work I did and excited to show my horse in the big arena and decorate her up and ride her in the parade. Because she’s never looked so good, so shiny, her red coat glistening in the sun.

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Then I’d take her down to the barnyard and give her a munch of grain, tell her I’d see her in the morning. It probably rained during the night, soaking the ground nice and good and I likely woke up bright and early because I didn’t sleep a wink, so nervous about getting that purple ribbon.

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I would have pulled on the crisp, dark blue jeans and clean white shirt Dad picked up for me at Cenex or the western store on Main Street and tucked it all in nice and neat before heading out to the barn with my little sister trailing behind to get my glistening horse and her fancy halter loaded up in the trailer, only to find that the mare had gone ahead and taken advantage of the mud, rolling in it nice and good and letting the clay form a thick crust on her back. Typical ranch horse.

So we’d get to brushing in the crisp of the early morning and to get her shined up again in time to head to town in the old horse trailer and show her off, two girls and a mare on her annual and only trip to town.

Yes, it’s county fair season across the state and across the country and I’m basking in the memories. Good luck to all you 4-Hers. Have fun and be as proud as those two little girls in that photograph.

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All the things to love

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All the the things to love
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Last night, as we were driving back to the ranch late from a performance in a bigger town, my dad said he wishes he could live a whole other lifetime so he would have time to fit in all of the things he wants to do.

He said it sort of casually to our friend sitting in the passenger’s seat, the man who has played guitar next to me during most of my music career and stood on stages with my dad in their younger lives. I sat in the back seat listening to them talk about the getting old stuff they are facing now — retirement and bad shoulders, travel and finances and grown children.

But I couldn’t shake what my dad said about the other lifetime, because it’s the same thing that has come out of my mouth time and time again, but it was the first time I’d heard it come out of his.

I wish there were another couple hours to linger a bit on the most important, or the sweetest, or the warmest, or the most fun things. To sit on the back of this horse a little longer, or with my arms around my sleeping child, or climb another hill, or make a trip to see my friends, or help or host or work on the ideas that tumble and toss in my head — the ones that need nothing but a little work and the extra time, time that we cannot, no matter how we try, create.

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And it’s funny that he said it then, after we wrapped up a night of music in a beautiful park in the middle of a growing town. That evening I stepped away before we went on the stage to have a look around. I watched daddies strolling babies, grandparents taking walks, a woman playing fetch with her dog, kids screeching down the slide, and I thought, ‘Well, I could live here.’

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And then for a few moments I allowed myself to imagine it. It’s the same way I imagine myself being a part of the families riding their bikes down a charming city sidewalk in a quiet neighborhood in an unfamiliar town. I wonder what it looks like in their houses and then I recognize that there wasn’t ever just one way to be me.

This spot out here on the ranch, where the cattle poop in my driveway and eat my freshly potted plants, might have remained the quiet little pile of abandoned cars and farm machinery if I would have followed through with my idea when I was 22 years old to move to the big city and sing.

What if he never asked me to marry him? What if he bought that motorcycle he talked about and headed farther west while I headed east, uncompromising in the vision I had for myself at that moment as someone who shouldn’t go home again?

There’s nothing there for me. They told me so. Would I have bought a house in a quiet neighborhood in a suburb in the Midwest or traveled to Nashville like they all told me I should do?

Would I have broken his heart and met someone new? Would I have children now with different colored eyes and unfamiliar names and would we ride our bikes and play fetch in a park like this listening to another woman singing about a life I could only imagine?

And in these imaginary scenarios, I like to think that I am happy and content, that whatever choices I made would find me just fine. And if I’m being honest, a part of me wishes that there was some way I could find out what would have become of me in Minneapolis or in Nashville or on a ship on the Mediterranean. What would my new favorite places become?

Because as much as there are things in this world that terrify me, those don’t weigh as heavy as the weight of all the things there are out there to love, if only we had another lifetime.

“Oh, I hate this getting old stuff,” our friend said to my father and then they both got quiet, staring ahead at a dark and familiar road, the headlights lighting up the night.

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Not on days like today

Spring Trees

Not on days like today
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I planted some flowers this afternoon as the temperature reached up toward what we can finally call warm.

Some are working to root themselves in pots that have sat for years on this deck, and some sit next to me on the deck waiting for a turn as I watch the moon come up. Behind me, the sun streaks the sky pink, making its long, dramatic exit.

I leave more things undone these days than ever before. It’s a part of motherhood no one told me about. Inside the house, the ice in my husband’s whiskey glass clinks as he walks across the room, but I am outside searching for words tonight.

So I look up. The tops of the oak and ash trees are budding a neon sort of green, trying to compete with the birches. It’s quiet out here in a way that a world waking up and winding down is quiet.

The birds are having their final say for the evening. I hear whistles and chirps and the flap of the wings of ducks on the dam against the drone of crickets and the creak of frogs.

Something big is moving on the trail in the trees. I watch for it to appear — a deer, maybe an elk or cow — but it quiets and so I look up again.

Up at those treetops that were bare this morning, before the sun shone at 75 degrees, and I wonder if those crickets and birds and frogs, if that wind and the barking dogs in the distance, if the cattle and the babies and the mommas and the daddies and the engines of the trucks rumbling way up on the highway could take the same breath and hold it all at once, at the right moment, if we might actually be able to hear those leaf buds emerging one by one.

Pop.

Pop.

Pop.

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We will never know. Nothing here could ever stay so quiet. I suppose it’s all magic enough as it is.

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I’m anxious for the change of seasons. I feel like those leaves. It’s why I loaded up our pickup box with little cherry tomato plants and basil, petunias and geraniums, black dirt and seeds. All of the hope that is held in the small bud of a sprouting leaf I hold inside of me.

This afternoon, I filled up the baby pool with warm water as the sun shone on the backs of my splashing, naked children, and I dug in the dirt. Before I could strip her down appropriately, my youngest daughter, 1-year-old Rosie, climbed in that tiny wading pool. With her blankie clenched in her fist, she drug it with her to the water that was soaking her socks and up over the hem of her little pink pants.

And when she was where she wanted to be, she just stood there and looked out over her world and up at the big blue sky and fluffy clouds shaped to fit her imagination. A better mother might have scooped her up, but I just let her be for a moment.

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We’re all so thirsty. Tomorrow it will be cooler, and maybe it will rain, but today they were mermaids and then they were fishermen and I was a gardener dreaming of plump red tomatoes bursting in our mouths and a world where we might sell them together, my daughters and me, in little Mason jars on a card table at a farmers market in town.

Someone told me a story like this once, and there are times that my dreams are much bigger, but not today.

Not on days like today.

A game of cat and mouse and me in my robe at 6 am

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Cat and mouse game isn’t our new cat’s strong suit

Last week while I was writing my column, unfolding a tale from the olden days about my dear grandmother’s run-in with an ornery bovine and an exasperated husband, a saga of my own was developing in my living room between our new orange cat who now has six names and a mouse, who shall never be named.

At first I thought the commotion our new feline was making was just what cats do when they become “possessed” and chase imaginary threats around the house. I continued with my work unconcerned, encouraging the behavior of Sven (one of his names), thinking he was just practicing for the real fight.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the threat — and it was not imaginary. The fight was real, and Reggie (one of his other names) wasn’t winning. The mouse ran under the couch. The Cat (his third name) was now on a stakeout.

But I decided to be in denial for a bit. Tigger (his other name) looked like he had it under control and I had a deadline. I continued typing, one eye on the couch, but I couldn’t concentrate.

I called my husband to give him the report, because I heard husbands like to be informed of impending doom. I was right.

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Sven the cat takes a break after a hard day of work.

I texted my sister. I called the fire department. No, I didn’t really call the fire department.

But I did move the couch because Orange Kitty (his fifth name) needed help. The mouse scampered out toward my bare feet, and though I be tough, I screeched with immediate regret, praying it didn’t wake the kids. Because now the mouse was under my chair and I was neck-deep in a hunt and I hadn’t even finished my coffee yet.

I grabbed the cat and set him by the chair. He didn’t get the hint, but the mouse did, and he ran for his furry life toward the fireplace, huddling there behind the dollhouse. I grabbed Sven (my preferred name for the cat) again and placed his nose right on the stunned mouse. But apparently Sven only likes a challenge, and he turned that nose up and strolled away.

And so there I was, hunkered over, my robe undone, my hair undone, my column undone, my quiet morning undone, trying to teach a cat how to chase a mouse. It wasn’t working.

The mouse retreated behind the kids’ craft cupboard and I tried to pretend nothing was happening. I sat back down. I heard the 1-year-old stir just as I hit “send” on my column and realized that having a mouse and two toddlers roaming free in the house was not the kind of life I wanted to live.

So I got up. The baby cried louder. I grabbed the broom. I sent Sven subliminal messages and we approached that cabinet. I got down on my hands and knees to take a look and the mouse flew out toward my face at lightning speed. And though I be fierce, I screamed.

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The baby cried, I wiped the sweat from my forehead and I muttered some harsh words about our broken cat under my breath — until Sven, glorious Sven, emerged from the abyss of dust and smoke with the mouse in his jaws.

I beamed with pride for about three seconds until he dropped it. And though I be Wonder Woman, I screeched. And the baby cried harder. And the mouse ran back under my chair.

But its time had come. I grabbed the broom and Sven and I went to work as a team of freaked-out hunters, me sweeping, him catching and releasing, leaving toys and furniture, my hair and robe flying behind us until Sven crouched over a stunned mouse in the middle of the living room, the door of my 3-year-old’s bedroom cracked open, the baby couldn’t be left to cry any longer and I mustered my courage to finish the job, flinging the remains out the door and turning around just in time to bid my oldest daughter good morning.

And though I be brave, I never want to do that again. If you need me, I’ll be setting some traps.

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The Rancher’s Wife Mic Drop

Gramma and Grampa

Grandma Edie and Grampa Pete

If a rancher invented cussing, a rancher’s wife invented the walkaway mic drop
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The first time I heard my dad swear was when he was standing in the horse trailer at a high school rodeo in New Salem while my horse was standing on his foot.

Or maybe it was that time the bulls got out and bringing them back with only the help of an 11-year-old was going about as swimmingly as you can imagine.

Wait, no, I think it was the time he stepped off a young horse to open a gate and that horse began his slow and methodical side pass toward home, leaving the reigns just out of Dad’s reach.

Well, I can’t remember exactly, but my dad doesn’t swear much — so when he did, it made an impression on me. It meant a brief loss of the positive nature he exuded that fooled us all into believing we were going to be all right out there chasing bulls out of brush patch after tick-infested brush patch.

But mostly it was the string of words he chose to stitch together when it all finally did come spitting out, slowly and with utter, exasperated passion in a sort of poetic way that only a frustrated rancher could pull off.

Anyway, it just sinks in the point that being a cowboy is glamorous and everything, until it’s time to do cowboy things. I think it was likely a rancher who invented cussing. He was probably working on broken equipment.

And it was the rancher’s wife who invented the walkaway mic drop. Because the rancher’s wife is often times a rancher, too, unless you’re my mom who steps about as far into the calf pen as the porch outside her house and only gets her hands as dirty as they can get while planting geraniums, which is probably one of the reasons they’re still married, honestly.

My dad’s parents, however, worked side by side on the Veeder ranch during a time when the stakes were a bit higher on this place. And so it wasn’t always as romantic as their once-a-year trip down to the river to go catfishing.

And because I admired my Grandma Edie so much when I was young and she was still alive, I always lean in when my dad and uncle start sharing stories of their childhood with their mother at the helm.

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Last night, after the last few bites of my mom’s lasagna and a comment about my recent run-in with a cranky cow, the brothers sat back and remembered the time their mother was out helping move a bovine with a similar attitude from the pen below the barn to one in front of the barn.

It sounded like one of those moments where my grandpa passed on his own unique string of cuss words to the next generation as the cow did her best to fight the system and run past the gate and toward members of the happy family yelling and waving sorting sticks.

And then that cow turned on my grandma, chasing after her as she ran for her life toward the fence while my grandpa yelled at her, “Run toward the gate!”

And the part where their mother continued her climb over the fence and, without a word and without looking back, walked straight through the barnyard and up the hill into the house, leaving her husband standing there with only his foot in his mouth and stick in his hand, will forever be etched into the memories of her two sons.

And that, my friends, is what you call a mic drop that will live on in history…

What the cat knows…

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What the cat knows
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When we were growing up, we had a house cat.

I shouldn’t say “we,” really, because that cat was all my little sister’s, except that my big sister named her Belly, after one of her favorite mid-’90s girl grunge bands and I got the heroic ranch kid privilege of rescuing her as a tiny abandoned kitten from underneath my grandma’s deck while my 5-year-old sister clenched her small, nervous fists under her chin and waited for her turn to hold her.

And so the runty calico cat with the weird name came to be ours and stayed through the entirety of my little sister’s childhood. And she was a typical cat in all the ways cats are cats.

She did her own thing. She waited at the door to go out and then would immediately climb up the screen, tearing it to shreds and driving my mother crazy. In an effort to try to deter this habit, we were given permission to use our squirt guns in the house. But only on the cat clinging to the screen door, of course.

But Belly didn’t care. She knew how to get our attention. She knew how to get what she wanted. And what she wanted was to sleep in my little sister’s bed every night.

After she was tucked in, if my dad forgot to leave the door open a crack, the cat would sit out there pathetically whining until the little kid version of my sister, with her wild hair, leaky eyes and big heart, would let her in. Every night for 13 years until my sister left home and left that cat behind.

Belly didn’t live a year without my sister in the house. My little sister was her person. And in a different life I’d be the type of skeptic that doesn’t believe in those sorts of bonds, except I watched that cat come and get my little sister before she gave birth to both sets of her kittens in that house that raised us all, which is an uncommon behavior for any animal, especially an independent cat.

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I’ve seen it with my dad and his horses, too. And I’ve had it with my old dog Hondo, who always slept on the floor on my side of the bed, even though he was technically my husband’s hunting lab. My mom has a cat now that will only sit on her lap — that is until the few times a year my uncle from Texas arrives, and then that cat’s all his. It’s as if she’s saying, “Oh, there you are. I’ve been waiting for you.”

Yes, I think we choose them, and then they choose us, because maybe they just know better.

Last week I brought my two young daughters to Dickinson, N.D., to sign the paperwork to adopt a big, orange house cat from an animal rescue. As I write, I’m not sure why I felt compelled to do such a crazy thing. Maybe it was that heroic ranch kid rescue gene in me, but the last thing I need is another wild creature in these walls.

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And Lord knows there are plenty of cats for giveaway out here in rural North Dakota, except I saw him in a photo all curled up in that cage and I made a decision. Oh, I used the “we need a mouser” excuse on my husband, but this big orange cat is clearly a lover, not a fighter and my husband knows it.

Time will tell us what this cat knows.

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Shifting winds of confidence…

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Shifting winds of confidence
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Some days, if the wind is just right and I’m the proper amount of sleep-deprived, I can convince myself that I’m a rock-star cowgirl who has this work, ranching, cattle and kid-raising situation under control.

Like last weekend when I was helping sort cows into the chute for medicine, for example. I was following the cattle down the alley with a sorting stick yelling “Whoop, whoop, c’mon girls, hya, hya, hya!” feeling strong and capable. When they loaded right into the chute and I grabbed the rope to close the gate, climbed up on the fence for a head count (which we all know is the most important thing, really) and then hopped back down to do it all over again, I had a brief moment where I thought, “Well, this is the life. I can do this. I was made for this.”

But that confidence? Well, it comes in waves. Or, because we’re in North Dakota, more like gusts.

Because just as soon as the wind blows my neckerchief the right way so that I start feeling like the underdog ranch hand in a John Wayne movie finally getting the respect I deserve, the wind shifts and covers me in a nice, authentic layer of dirt and cow poop better known as a reality check.

But I’m nothing if I’m not diverse in my experiences. Sometimes, in the course of two days, I feel like I’m five different people.

Last weekend I started my morning off as snuggly-booger-wiping-Mom, moved on to pony-riding-lesson-Mom in the afternoon

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and then I loaded up my guitar to be a singer-in-the-big-town at night.

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Then I headed home in the dark so I could get up early to be pancake-making-Mom in the morning, cow-chasing-Mom in the afternoon and supper-making-dishwashing-deadline-meeting-bedtime-story-lullaby-singing-Mom in the evening.

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And maybe that’s where the whole problem lies in the first place, now that I think of it. Maybe there are just too many things weighing on my mind for me to properly and swiftly react to the angry, pregnant, half-ton cow lowering her head and running toward me in the sorting pen while my husband tries to find his voice to warn me.

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“Surely she isn’t coming for me?” I wondered to myself in the half a second I had to think about the meaning of my life. “Surely she’ll go around this rock-star cowgirl who has her life under control. Seriously, everyone underestimates my capabilities. I was born to do this. It’s in my blood. If I just wave my hands and yell ‘hya’ and…oh…my…g… RUN!”

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Yeah, some days, if the wind is just right and I’m the proper amount of sleep-deprived, I can convince myself I’m an underestimated rock-star-cowgirl-mom. And some days a 1,300-pound cow rams her giant, angry head into the bony part of my backside, sending me running for my life to the fence line and my husband into near cardiac arrest.

Because, like I said, this whole “under control” thing? Yeah, it comes in gusts.

And the sigh of relief I breathed when I reached that fence? Well, I just hope it shifted the winds and blew someone’s neckerchief the right way.

If you need me, I’ll be folding laundry and sitting on an ice pack.

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