A year of work ends at the sale barn

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We sold our calves last week.

With snow on the ground and our warm breath turned to ice in the crisp morning air, we layered up, saddled up and gathered up our herd of Black Angus and Simmental cattle and loaded up the calves to head toward the sale barn in town.

My husband pulled a trailer load out of the ranch while I served the neighbors and family who helped us some of that good ol’ spiceless North Dakota chili and watched one of the bachelors eat at least six or seven apple bars for dessert.

And when they all left, I was suddenly alone in my house for the first time in months, smelling like horsehair and plenty warm because of the long underwear and silk scarf that stayed on through lunch. And I probably should have taken the time to clean up the kitchen and do something domestic-looking after the whirlwind that fall inevitably brings to the ranch, but sale day gives me a bit of nervous energy.

 

Typically we think of it as a whole year of work riding on what the market is doing that day, but for us, even though it’s not our sole source of income, it’s so much more. It’s holding your breath to be given a sign that we are not crazy people. That there might be a future for us in this cattle business somewhere, no matter the slow, steady and cautious pace with which we are pursuing it, working to find our footing as the new generation here.

And so I decided I couldn’t stay at home cooking and cleaning, waiting to hear the numbers — I had to go watch it myself. So I grabbed my young daughters and their tiny pink cowboy hats and we headed toward Dickinson.

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I wasn’t going to bring them. I mean, taking a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old to a smelly, noisy sale barn 60 miles away on a Thursday night during suppertime is really just asking for it, but I felt like we all needed to be there, this year especially.

Because, despite the smell, I love the sale barn. It reminds me of the Carhartt coveralls that I outgrew long before I was willing to hand them down, and being 8 or 9 and sitting shotgun next to my little sister, next to Dad, warming our flushed cheeks in the old Dodge pulling a load of Black Baldy calves through the breaks after an early-morning roundup.

It reminds me of patience in a time with less distraction, of a time when a can of Mountain Dew, a cheeseburger and maybe a Snickers bar at the little cafe there was a big-deal treat and took the sting out of the 45-minute wait in the pickup to unload with nothing but AM radio to cut the boredom.

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And so when I walked my girls into Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange, we wasted no time getting that pop and a burger, feeding my nostalgia while feeding them supper.

 

And when we took those steep steps up to sit on the benches in the ring, I quickly became aware that we were the kind of circus they just might appreciate around there.

“What is going on, Mommy?!” my little Rosie asked in complete wonder, pausing to watch before unloading all the tiny plastic cows, steers, horses and a Mickey Mouse onto the bench to amuse herself.

“We’re selling our calves today!” I told her proudly, which promptly set her big sister off into tears, declaring dramatically that she was going to miss them “so, so much!”

Twenty minutes and three plastic ponies flung at the buyers below us later, our load number was up and our calves began to enter the ring, just as Rosie spilled the entire contents of her pop down my husband’s back.

And just like that, the day we’d been working for all yearlong had come and gone, the scent of cattle on our clothes and plans for the year ahead drowning out the doubts as we chased our headlights and our bedtimes back home through the Badlands.

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Time to gather

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It’s fall. Shipping season.

The leaves have stripped from their branches, the horses are hairing up against the cold, the grass is golden and the cows and calves look like black dots on the hillsides.

We’re getting ready to gather.

We’re fixing up corrals and fences, hauling hay off the fields, calling in the uncles and putting on our chaps and silk scarves and wool caps, gearing up like those horses for a season as unpredictable as it is predictable.

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On this ranch, we’re in the same transition period as our neighbors and friends. This is the season. We all know it well.

But I can’t help but notice how much this shift-over is mimicking our lives right now as I sit here trying to hash out my thoughts after another visit to the bank and the insurance agent and our small business development consultant. My husband meets me in town with the feed pickup, dressed in layers because he’s been fixing on the tractor. He smells like the men I grew up with, coming inside with the cold and the scent of diesel on their jackets, noses and cheeks flushed under unshaven faces.

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He looks sort of out of place in the seat of the beige bank office in his big boots and Carhart coat. We’re talking numbers and new business plans and what it’s going to take for him to make a living building garages and decks and tiling bathrooms and kitchens and refinishing barns and haying and feeding and raising cattle, all the things he’s always known, now officially declared as the plan. As his occupation. Carpenter. Rancher.

I’m his champion in my going-to-town clothes, the same way he’s been my champion in all of the weird leaps I’ve taken as an entrepreneur with a job title too long and unconventional for a business card. Now it looks like our cards might start looking the same.

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When we first got married, I remember a moment when we were driving down the road toward home after a long trip together somewhere, and we made ourselves a promise that if we were ever in a place that we didn’t quite feel ourselves, or if we noticed the other slipping or not laughing as much as we know them to, that we would stop right there and help each other figure a way out.

I’m not sure exactly how the pact came to be, but I remember the road whizzing by outside my passenger window and I remember the lump in my throat dissolving with the breath I took after we declared it.

My husband and I talk dreams and plans for this ranch and our work almost every day. I don’t know if that’s a thing that everyone does, but we do it.

We lie in bed after the kids are finally sleeping and we hash it out, or we sit together in the noise and interruptions of our house and we make mental lists. We stand in the dark of our kitchen after I get home late and we recap and scheme.

And sometimes I don’t feel like thinking about it because it overwhelms me, but I listen.

And sometimes he is distracted by a phone call or a crying kid, but he comes back to it, to help me find my place again.

Because it’s important. Because you can’t see 10 years down the line, you can’t reach out and touch the plans, those dreams we have. And so we speak them out loud into the space between us.

Because it’s a new season and we’re getting ready to gather…

Potty pit stops are not a glamorous part of country living

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Good morning from the ranch where it’s been raining for three days straight, but it feels like 20, and where this truck has been stuck in our driveway since Friday night, essentially trapping those of us who don’t have the proper mud tires on our vehicles.

But as of 9:20 am, it’s gone,  which means it’s my turn to attempt the muddy trip out of here…

Yeah, there are things that are glamorous about country living, but this my fine people is not one of them.

And there’s more where that came from in this week’s column:

Potty pit stops are not a glamorous part of country living

There are times when I’m being whiny about how hard life is with two little kids and two (or three?) jobs plus the ranch and the laundry and the 40-minute trip to town, and I think of the women who came before me who raised their children without air conditioning or microwaveable chicken nuggets, and I tell myself to suck it up.

Because, well, these are First World, privileged Middle-American problems and I am lucky. This is all I ever wanted, (except for maybe $1 million collecting interest in the bank…)

But yesterday, I finally wrapped up my office work for the day at 5 o’clock knowing that I had to get the girls from day care at 5:30 and it took a good 10 minutes to drive from my office to the store, but I needed essentials like milk and granola so I did it anyway and forgot the granola, but made it to day care by 5:29 and then wrestled my dear munchkins into their car seats, distributed an equal share of snack and drink for the long drive home before stopping at the gas station to fill up my tank so I wouldn’t have another gas can situation — and just as I turned the corner on the last stoplight out of town with two quiet kids munching on crackers in the back, I dared to think I might actually have it under control.

That’s when I heard a panicked voice from the back: “I have to go potty!” And at that moment, I thought that there are a lot of things about raising my children in the country that make me forever grateful for the life that we have, like wide-open spaces and wild plum picking and watching them catch toads in the backyard….

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but this?

This was definitely not one of them. So I did what any good mom would do and I asked her if she could hold it. And she did what any good almost-4-year-old would do and said she would try. Which she did while she argued with her little sister about who had the right milk cup and then who had more crackers and then gave me suggestions on my radio choices before asking, repeatedly, if she could have a piece of gum that did not exist, a request that prompted a full-on meltdown from her little sister who happens to be obsessed with gum, before, finally, about 10 miles from our home, she winced, pulled her knees to her chest and whimpered, “I really, really have to go potty!”

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And so I did what any good mom would do and said, “OK, OK, OK, just a minute, hold it just a little bit longer,” and then proceeded to cuss under my breath while trying to simultaneously speed up and slow down to prepare to pull over in the nearest approach, which just happened to be an oil location.

And while truck after pickup after SUV rolled by on their way to an oil site or home or to work or to sports practice on a busy Tuesday evening, I crouched in the ditch, my butt in the air, trying and failing to shield passerby’s from witnessing my daughter’s emergency situation, our hair blowing in the 30 mph North Dakota autumn prairie wind, her bare bum catching that breeze, waiting, er, for the plop which would put us all out of our misery.

Except that plop never came. Turns out she’d rather poop in the potty at home. Which she did, and we all lived happily ever after in our home in the hills 30 miles from the nearest public restroom.

And if you need me, I’ll be loading up that portable kids toilet I bought three months ago that’s still in the box in the garage.

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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…

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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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A glimpse into our future

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Sisters, and a glimpse into our own future

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this with as much enthusiasm as I feel about the news, but my little sister has recently moved from town to the ranch and is currently living in the little cabin down the road waiting for her house to be built.

Yes, we are officially neighbors now, just like we were when we were kids building forts out by the creek, talking to one another on tin-can telephones. And while our string might not be long enough to stretch between our two forever houses now, when our girls are older, they will be close enough to ride their bikes to meet up and get into mischief.

And with a new niece arriving for my little sister in November, putting our girl stats at ages 4, 3, 2 and new, I sense some interesting times ahead.

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But I’m excited for all of us, my sister, the girls and me. Our husbands? Well, they’re in for some fun, too.

When we welcomed Edie into the world, I hoped she’d have a sister (I think my little sister hoped the same for her firstborn), so here we are. And with big sister/cousin Edie leading the charge, we might as well both douse our houses in pink glitter and get it over with.

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So now that my built-in best friend is my neighbor and we’ve created four more built-in best friends, I can’t help but think how their relationships are going to develop. Because when my little sister and I get together, it seems like we do a pretty good job of zoning out everything else in the world and concentrating on the things that matter.

Like the movie she watched last night, the new boots I’m thinking of buying, what we should drink for happy hour, the status of our children’s bowel movements and how we are going to pull off the next water balloon ambush on my husband.

And with roundup time just around the corner, I’m reminded of the last time my sister and I worked cattle together. Because nothing exemplifies how incapable we are at focusing more than when we so generously volunteer to help our father move cows in the early morning and then linger in the house just long enough over a cup of coffee, a piece of toast, my little sister’s missing boot and the morning hairdo I can’t fit under my hat for Pops to get out the door, up the road and into the barnyard to catch horses, saddle up and assume the position of waiting patiently while he listens to our jabbering as we finally make it out of the house and to the barn to meet him.

Three gallons of ShowSheen to get the burrs out of our horses’ manes and tails, three curry combs, seven curse-word combinations and another half hour later, we get the horse-hair situation under control. And once we get past the missing reign situation, the stirrup situation and the fly spray situation, we are finally on our way to moving some cows in the heat situation.

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My little sister hates the heat. She’s also hates bees, or anything that looks like it might belong to the bee family. Information to hold keep in mind as I describe the roundup, which went like this:

Us: “Where are we chasing them? Which gate? That gate? Where are you going? What? I can’t hear you!?”

Dad: “Just stay there, I’ll head up over the hill to look for more, then we’ll move them nice and easy.”

Me: “I think we missed one. Should I go and get it?”

Little Sister: “Should I come with you? I should probably come with you. I’ll come with you… eeeek! A bee… I hate bees… eeeeeeeekkkkkk.”

Dad (as he races through the brush and up the hill): “Just stay there!!! Girls! Stay there! I’ve got it!!!”

Little Sister: “I’ve never really liked chasing cows… I mean, I like it when things go well, like we can just ease them along, but they start going the wrong way and it stresses me out.”

Me: “Ooh, chokecherries!”

Little Sister: “Where’s dad? Maybe we should go find him. Should we take these cows with us?”

Me: “Munch, munch, munch… Oh, yeah. We should get going.”

Little Sister: “I think my horse runs weird. Does he look weird to you?”

We finally catch up with Dad, who is behind 25 head of cows and their calves. Little Sister and I brought along four, who head toward the wrong gate on the wrong side of the creek.

Dad (hollering from behind the 25 head of cattle and their calves he’s just moved through a half-mile brush patch on his own): “You’re going to have to turn them or leave them because they’ll never make it across the creek and through the trees…”

Me (running toward my small, straying herd eyeing a brush patch): “Oh, oops. I’ve got ‘em. Sorry. Wasn’t paying attention.”

Little Sister: “Do you think my horse runs weird?”

Dad: “I think your horse is just fat… Jess, you’re never going to get them. Just leave them. I’ll get them later.”

Me, hollering to Little Sister: “Whhhattt? Whhhattt did hee sayyyy?!! Ask him? Should I leave them???”

Little Sister, hollering to Pops: “DAAAADDD, SHOULD SHE LEAVE THEM?”

Dad, hollering to Little Sister: “Yess, ssheeee ssshhoullld lleeave them!!”

Little Sister, hollering to me: “HEEE SSAAAYSS LEEAAVEE THEM!”

And so on and so forth until a tree branch slaps me in the face, we almost lose the entire herd to the brush and my little sister never actually gets stung by a bee. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think this might be our future.

And I can’t wait.

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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.

How to mow the lawn at the ranch

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How to mow the lawn at the ranch
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It’s July at the ranch and the cows are out to pasture, I’m out singing for my supper, the guys are out in the hayfield and the kids are out running naked in the yard.

And while we’re all out, the grass in that yard just keeps growing. Because there’s nothing that a ranch yard loves more than a family too busy to landscape.

But when I lost Rosie in the weeds on a walk to the mailbox the other day, I thought it might be time to dust off the ol’ lawn tractor and get to work before it became a job for the swather.

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Oh, I love mowing the lawn, but apparently not enough to make it a priority over a 10 p.m. bedtime, which seems to be the only time left at the end of our summer days where I can escape to the tranquil, solitary bliss of the grass cutting motor.

Seriously though, it’s laughable what it takes to get such a simple chore done in my world these days. And because this is my life now, I’m gonna take this opportunity to walk you through it.

First things first, because we’re too cheap and stubborn to get new tires on my most prized possession, I have to dig out the ol’ trusty air compressor from the depths of the garage and air up two of the four tires. Done. No big deal, just have to pay attention to the slow leak to avoid the flat-tire-lawn-mowing-figure-eight-cut-in-our-lawn incident of June 1 that we’ve only recently recovered from.

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Next, I need to clear the area. Roll up the hose to the driveway in front. Roll up the hose to the garden in back and move the piece of barbed wire that’s supposed to serve as a makeshift gate to keep the cows out of the yard, but judging by the amount of cow pies in my grass, clearly needs to be re-engineered.

Then I properly roll my eyes and huff at the amount of toddler debris strung about before picking up five Barbies, 10 balls, a G.I. Joe, a mini lawn rake, a battery-operated four-wheeler and 35 half-painted rocks.

Next comes my favorite part — heaving the trampoline, fire pit, plastic slide, turtle sandbox and inflatable pool onto the little concrete pad under the deck and out of the way. And just when I think I’ve got it all, I need to turn and break my toe on the stake we set out to tie the pony up three weeks ago at our niece’s third birthday party.

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But really, it’s all worth it when I finally get on that mower, turn the key, put down the blade and start knocking down the roughage. The wind in my hair, the sun on my back, I start first along the sides of the road going up to the mailbox and let my thoughts wander to getting a job with the park board or something because this is my calling.

The lawn mower is my favorite piece of equipment, the lawn mower is my spirit animal, the lawn mower is my freedom, the lawn mower is… out of gas.

Next step, call Husband to instruct on gas can situation. Assess gas can situation. Lug giant gas can up the road. Spill a fair amount of gas down my leg and into my shoe. Decide it’s good enough. Start ‘er back up again to resume feelings of freedom.

Run over a log, get stuck twice, get unstuck twice, run over two big rocks in the ditch and three horse poops and have a near miss with the shovel we were supposed to use to scoop up said horse poops.

Give three kids a ride, run out of gas again, fill up again, almost get stuck one more time, sweat, smile, park and, four hours later, hands on hips, look out at that fine manicured lawn thinking Better Homes and Gardens has nothing on me. Now if they would just let me run the swather.

If you need me, I’ll be out in the yard. I have a turtle sandbox that needs to get back in its proper place.

Yours in peace, love and lawn care,

Jessie

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A spectator in a familiar world

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Prairie sunsets make me a spectator in a familiar world

The sunsets on this prairie are nothing short of a gift.

After a long day working under the hot summer sun, or inside the walls of buildings that make us feel small, we understand that if we look up towards the heavens to catch the sun sneaking away, we may be rewarded with a splash of spectacular color.

I’ve seen sunsets in other parts of the world — across the vast oceans, peeking over the mountaintops and at the edge of rolling corn fields, but there is something about the way the sun says goodbye along the outskirts of my own world, against the familiar buttes and grain bins and horses on the horizon that puts me at ease and thrills me at the same time.

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I have theories about things like hail storms and tornadoes and blinding blizzards, that they’re a way of slowing us down, reminding us to surrender to an earth that spins no matter what our plans are for crops or hair-dos or making it to our Christmas party on time.

The storms are unpredictable, but the sun is always there. And it will always set and rise again.

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And sometimes as we put the burgers on the grill, close the gates for the cattle or roll the lawn mower in the shed might find ourselves bathed in yellow, gold, purple, orange, pink and blue and hues we’ll never find in our crayon box.

We might look above the oak groves or down to the end of the pink road and we find that sun bouncing against the clouds that roll over the prairie and buttes that we know so well, and if we let ourselves, we might think we’re lucky to have caught that fleeting, beautiful moment, one that is there for us, for anyone who has the notion to look to the horizon.

I tilt my head up and run to find the nearest hill so that I can watch how this landscape looks under the different shades of light.

Under these prairie sunsets I am a spectator on the familiar ground of home.

A tourist with my mouth agape in wonder.

And thankful for a world that’s round and a sky that’s so vast and forgiving.

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Get the Gate

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Get the Gate
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“Get the gate.”

There are other words that conjure up anxiety for me, but none in the same way as this phrase declared from the driver’s seat of an old feed pickup or from atop a horse about to take off for a mile in the other direction and return with 100 cows that I’ve been instructed not to let miss that open gate and head for the deep and ominous patch of trees further down the fence line.

Get the gate. It seems simple enough if in your imagination you are picturing a white picket fence on neat hinges with a little latch. Easy.

We don’t have those here at the EV Ranch. No. What we do have is miles and miles of barbed wire fence line, much of it built 80 years ago, held up by old cedar and steel fence posts driven into the hard clay of the Badlands. And through the years, it’s been stretched and re-stretched, patched and stapled, trampled by wild elk and escaped by fence-crawling cattle that couldn’t be held by elephant fence so why do we even try…

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And in the corners and on the flats, in the mud puddles and next to the trees there are the gates. Gates that have also been stretched and re-stretched so tight that I swear Hulk himself would grunt when trying to release the wire loop connecting one post to the other.

But my dad never did. Nope. He would just walk over there and pop that thing open like it was a toothpick connected to a string and we would move on with our lives. Which made me believe that my noodle arms and I were fully capable of opening it the next time we came across it.

But the whole “moving on with our lives” thing took a little longer with me in charge of the gates while Dad watched me flail, struggle, grunt, sweat and bleed before he opened the pickup door and put me out of my misery and I sheepishly returned to the passenger seat, my self-worth as a ranch kid sinking like my heart.

Oh, there are some gates on this place that are in dire need of work, making them easy to open. But you never really know what you’re going to get when you’re out there alone. Or worse yet, when the men in your life are watching you from the other side of the windshield.

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I’m sweating just thinking about it actually. And I’m thinking about it today because my husband and I had a recent discussion regarding the gate next to our house put there to keep the cows out.

I got it open, but couldn’t get it closed and so I accused him of stretching it too tight after I pushed and pulled and cussed the thing before finally giving up, marching to the house crafting a speech in my head about equal access, equal rights and calculating the costs of buying those fancy metal gate closers for every gate on this place. Or at least some rope.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” my darling husband calmly replied after I delivered my address. “That’s one of the easy ones.”

I guess if I want to take matters into my own hands out here, I’ve got to… well… take matters in my own hands.

If you need me, I’ll be at the fleet store loading up my cart.

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The Rancher’s Wife Mic Drop

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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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