Celebrity sightings…

Ok, here’s this week’s column on celebrity sightings…

And just for the record, mom swears it was Kenny G because he was carrying a horn…

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Here’s to celebrities. May we all be at our coolest when we run into them in a hotel lobby.

Or on the trail…

Celebrity story the right fit for Western ND woman
by Jessie Veeder
9-11-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

My mom claims she saw Kenny G once in a hotel lobby in Fargo. It’s probably true. I mean, I think he was playing somewhere in the area that weekend, but then, it could have also just been a woman with long hair and a perm. It was the ’90s after all, and I think she only saw the back of his head.

Mom’s not much of a football fan, but she does appreciate a brush with fame as much as anybody, even if she can’t remember what team the guy played for.

Or his name.

Yes, it seems like we all have our signature celebrity-spotting story that we bust out at parties or for the 300th time at the family supper table, as if a run-in with a person of international credibility makes us a little more impressive ourselves.

Being a local musician, I’ve had my faIr share of meet and greets with famous performers throughout the years, most involving a backstage handshake, an obligatory photo and a hurry-up-and-get-your-stuff-off-the-stage nod because you’re the opening act.

But last weekend, my husband reminded me of the celebrity story I only tell if I’ve had one or two extra glasses of wine, rendering me ready for things like embarrassing confessions about an awkward college sophomore’s wardrobe malfunction in the wilderness with two professional cowboys as witness.

After a re-evaluation, I think enough time has passed now to revisit it here. I feel like it’s my duty, in the name of entertainment.

Anyway, out here in western North Dakota, we regard successful horse trainers and rodeo cowboys as celebrities. And during the summer of my sophomore year of college, I was invited to participate in a unique event where locals saddled up to ride and camp the Maah Daah Hey Trail through the Badlands with the famous Texas horse trainer Craig Cameron.

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Now, for those of you who don’t know, Craig is like the Kenny G of horse training, the NFL star quarterback of equine expertise, and I was invited along as an amateur journalist to document the experience for an equine magazine because, by some luck, the professional reporter scheduled for the gig was sick or giving birth or something.

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And so that’s how I found myself in the Badlands atop one of our more spirited horses, riding alongside a handsome Texas gentleman with a thick southern drawl and a skinny Texas cowboy butt and his professional bull rider friend with a thicker drawl and an even skinnier rear.

Now, the butt detail is a little morsel I would normally reserve for cocktails with my girlfriends. But it’s an important visual here because, while it was a minor detail I took note of as those cowboys unloaded their gear at the trailhead, it became extremely relevant when, on Day Two of the ride, I was face to face with those two skinny cowboys discussing pants sizes and wishing I would have packed cuter underwear.

Because the entire crew could see them, plaid and ratty and poking through the giant rip I tore in the rear of my jeans as I swung on my horse that morning.

Which would be embarrassing enough if I left it at that, except that I had already done the same thing the day before and, well, now I was out of jeans.

And so there I was, standing before two professional southern celebrity gentlemen as they so generously offered a solution to my wardrobe crisis, prairie wind blowing through my britches, wishing I wouldn’t have indulged in late-night Alfredo noodles every evening for supper my freshman year because, unless I wanted a weird case of saddle rash, I was going to have to squeeze my carb-loving badunkadunk into the famous Craig Cameron’s size 28 Wranglers and face the rest of the trail.

So that’s what I did.

And while it’s no Kenny G sighting in the hotel lobby, it seems my mortifying celebrity story, er, fits me just right.

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A heavy dose of escape…

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Yesterday afternoon, when Husband came home from work I escaped.

Yeah. I said it. Escaped. That’s the right word.  Some days around here are easier than others, and I think this baby is getting more teeth God help me, so I left her, and the man who helped make her, to it.

And I headed to the badlands.

Because I hadn’t been there in a while. Because  I was feeling overwhelmed in this house that’s never going to be baby proof enough. Because being a mom is hard sometimes.

Being a work from home mom to a baby who just learned to crawl is nearly impossible.

Because I needed some inspiration. A good breath. A minute.

Because it was a beautiful night and I didn’t want to miss out on it.

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The badlands are right in our backyard and the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is about a 45 mile drive from the ranch, but if I were a bird it wouldn’t take me nearly as long to fly there along the river.

I wished I was a bird yesterday evening as I drove through the park slowly with the windows open watching the rain clouds build up on the horizon, wondering how long it might pour on me and this landscape that has nothing to do but soak up the sky.

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Then I was feeling sort of bummed about it, about the rain. Like, finally I get out here and I won’t get the light bouncing off the buttes. I won’t get a sunset. I won’t get the great shadows the sun creates in the canyons. I won’t get to see it in all its late summer glory.

I won’t get what I want out of this little trip.

And I was right. I didn’t get what I wanted.

I got more.

Because just before the sky let loose a smattering of rain on a girl standing in the long grass, hair whipping across my face, a rainbow appeared like they tend to do out of nowhere and it stayed long enough for me get to know it a bit.

And to shake the boulder that unexplainably had been sitting heavy on my shoulders for the last few days.

img_3193img_3200img_3264img_3282img_3296img_3380img_3346img_3364img_3324img_3328Sometimes you don’t know what you need. And that’s ok.

But sometimes you do and you don’t take it. And that’s not ok.

I was reminded of that last night. Because I almost didn’t take the drive out there. I felt a little guilty about it. Like I should stay home and cook supper. Like it was going to be too late and the house was a mess. Like I had lots of work I could get done after the baby went down for the night. Like I was so tired.

But I went. I went because I wanted to. I went because it wasn’t asking much.

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Taking moments to exist in this wild space has always my best therapy. My best drug. And I got a heavy dose last night.

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And I’ve learned a heavy dose of escape makes the return so much sweeter…

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Summer, I miss your face.

And now for a weather report.

It’s -2.

March is coming in like a cold and bitter lamb and it’s making me a cold and bitter woman.

Just freezing.

But even though landscape looks a lot like this these days…

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it’s hard to believe that in a few months it will turn from gray to green right in front of our eyes.

I can just smell the clover now. By June, we’ll be rolling in it.

By May we’ll be thawed out and warmed up.

By April we’ll spot our first wild flower.

But March? March suffers from mood swings. So I decided I’d have my own today.

I decided that while I’m freezing on the outside, at least my daydreams can be warm.

Summer!!!! I miss your face!!!!

Summer Barn

Lake Sakakawea Sunset

North Dakota Badlands

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There. Now you miss summer too.

Isn’t it nice to all be on the same page?

On bighorn sheep and humans…

Oh my gosh you guys, look at this. 
It’s a baby bighorn sheep. He’s trying to get down to his momma.

And then look here, here’s the herd of nannies and babies I spotted a few weeks ago on a little drive through the badlands on my home turf.

The bighorns are badlands residents that I don’t get to see too often. In fact, this sighting was only my second in all the years I’ve lived and roamed around here.

So I was pretty excited to find a whole clan of mommas hanging out on a cliff in the badlands, posing for me.

These badlands that we live on the edge of are full of surprises, changing every day, every few minutes even, with the shift of light and weather.

Change is a big topic out here in these boomtowns exploding with growth above the shale formation where we’re busy extracting millions of barrels of oil.

Somedays are harder than others to get around, to make plans to accept that there are things that simply will never be the same. And this is both for the worse and for the better and that can be a hard thing to explain to people wanting to hear that it’s all black and white.

If I’ve learned anything from living back at the ranch it is that this world is full of blending colors…

Somedays I don’t feel like talking about it. Somedays I do.

But that day I was taking a drive outside of town, scoping out a spot for an oil truck  photoshoot.

A shiny oil truck in the middle of the badlands.

Not my usual subject and sort of a funny juxtaposition of industry and beauty…

I was kicking up dust on a gravel road, me and about a dozen other pickups, along the Little Missouri River, when I got a glimpse of this little family…

And so I slowed down and watched them eating on the yellow clover, twitching their tails at the bugs and content and unconcerned with the world outside the fence moving and changing so quickly around them.

I stepped out of my car to get a closer look. A trucker stopped with his camera.

And then a car. And another pickup.

Working people behind out of state license plates taking a marvel, taking a second to admire these mommas.

The guests came and went but I stayed for a bit longer, like a visitor at a zoo, studying their behavior, admiring how they move so easily up and down the cliffs. How they were made for this place.

I think I was made for this place. Most days I do. I was made to defend it and scuff my boots on it. I was made to witness it in all of its changes.

In its struggles.

In its best moments.

I was made to tell its story if I can. To ask questions and make sure I take notice of things that are just so spectacular. Things that we might miss if we drive too fast.

Sometimes I think we’re all driving too fast.

Maybe in another life I’ll be something like a  bighorn sheep momma, with just a few simple tasks, eating and moving and keeping us all alive….

Then again, maybe that’s all we’re really trying to do here…as humans…

Badlands Skies.

It’s Friday and it seems I have run out of words for the week, but that’s ok.  I want to show you something that I don’t think I need many words for.

Because I was in the badlands this week, in the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora. After my work was done,  I went out looking for landscape, for beauty and life in those rustic buttes, and found that above the vibrant green of the grass there were these colors in the sky, constantly changing, casting shadows and light that changed the way the world looked every minute.

I couldn’t take my eyes away.


Here’s to a beautiful weekend.

Peace, Love, Sunrise to Sunset,

Jessie

 

He flies airplanes.

This is Adam.

Adam plays the bass for me.

Long, low notes ring out from his fingers, finding a rhythm in the melodies I created between the comfort of the walls of the old farm house. Adam’s bass is something I didn’t know my music needed until it was there.

And now I don’t know if I ever want to hear my songs without it.

Adam also plays the guitar.


And the harmonica and the banjo and probably a hundred other instruments.

Adam grew up between the sidewalks of our little hometown. While his limbs stretched toward the sky Adam was listening…to his mother’s singing voice and the beat of his big brother’s guitar, the way the waves of Lake Sakakawea sound when they hit the rocky shore and the buzz of his dad’s airplanes as they took off from the runway and into the sky above his home.

Adam is my little sister’s age, five years younger than me. I can’t help but look at him and think of him as a little boy, though I was just a little girl myself in some of those memories.

Adam doesn’t say much, so I’ll tell you what I know:

Adam plays the bass and the guitar and the harmonica and the banjo and probably a thousand other instruments. Adam sings songs about the North Dakota badlands and that big lake where he’s caught a thousand fish. Adam plays music about big trucks and dirt roads and whiskey with friends around campfires, on front porches, in bars and on stages, anywhere there are ears to listen.

Adam climbs mountains and rides the snow down. Adam balances on rope strung between trees. Adam brings his own beer to the party in a little blue cooler. He wears a green jacket and is waiting for me to bring him some garden tomatoes so he can make salsa.

Adam makes salsa and plays the bass guitar for me.

Sometimes I listen to those notes and I think the things Adam loves are too big for our little town.

Adam flies airplanes in the sky above his lake,

above his badlands

and above the oak groves of this ranch.

He buzzes over the landscape that grew him tall and lean.

And because Adam doesn’t say much I’ll tell you what I think:

I think if you asked him Adam would make you a jar of salsa.

I think if you wanted he would take you fishing and play you a song on his banjo.

He might even play the bass in your band.

And I think he would take you flying. If you asked, I think he would.

I think Adam likes the way his world looks up there.

Because  from up there, the things Adam loves are just the right size…

Under a Badlands Sky…


One of my favorite autumn rituals has become my now annual trip down the road to visit the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park just outside the ever-expanding limits of my home town.

These days, more than ever, I believe this park to be a blessing and a gift, a reminder among the chaos of a bustling industry to slow down and remember the best things in life.

The sky…

The grass…

The quiet, wild things.

I like to visit those rugged buttes to be reminded that I am one of those quiet, wild things and last week I took my Little Sister along on a little hike so that she could remember that too.

See, Little Sister has just recently come into some major responsibilities after graduating from college last winter. And with her new teaching degree in health and physical education, she has found herself in a small school outside of our hometown writing lesson plans, leading jumping jack sessions, chasing around adorable kindergarteners and helping seniors prepare for college while working on getting a master’s degree in counseling and guidance.

I’m tired just thinking about it, but so proud of this woman who, in my mind, should still be 8 years old and following me up the creek to the forts we built behind the house.

I still find it a little disheartening that when we grow up that seems to be the first thing we give up…walks to nowhere.

And building forts.

But that’s what the ranch does for us, and places like this park. It provides us with a reason to walk to nowhere, to climb to the top of a hill and look down,

to notice how that jet leaves a white streak in the sky and to wonder where it’s going…

while we find we’re happy to be right where we are.

Happy to point out the small deer crossing the road or a chipmunk below our feet instead of worrying about deadlines and messy kitchens to clean.

Happy to notice how the sun shines through the changing autumn leaves on the river bottom instead of how the end tables need dusting and the windows need a wipe.

Happy to trip on a rock as we make our way down from the buttes, happy for a near-miss incident that we can laugh at together, thankful we made it in one piece.

Thankful that we’re not sweeping right now.

Or doing paperwork.

Or making dinner.

Thankful that someone set aside a place for us to go to get away from all of the things that seem to matter so little when it comes to a choice between watching the leaves change or watching a television screen.

Thankful that we can walk to the river and talk about the time Little Sister broke the tire swing as it flung her out over the coulee and dropped her in the creek. Thankful she survived the fall, though she was certain she was dying.

Thankful she has nearly forgiven my reaction of hysterical laughter.

Thankful that years later, though those jets could take us anywhere, we still chose to be out under this beautiful and familiar sky…

Together.

When it pours…

We got drenched here yesterday. The morning brought us thunder against the glow of a sunrise trying to peek through the clouds and, well, it just escalated from there.

Around here we don’t get too many downpours like this. Typically we get our moisture in the spring and then watch the sky for a chance of showers to help soften the hard clay throughout the summer, so this day of gully-washing rain was a welcomed site for us.

And when I say gully-washing, I mean it. The coulees were flowing with raging river rapids, the corrals below the house turned into swimming pools, a new ravine was cut along the edge of my driveway and, well, I got myself a free pug wash. It’s days like these that make me feel like I’m in a different world altogether. The ten-year-old in me itches to run around in it, to let the rainwater soak in my hair and squish between the mud in my toes. But the logical grown-up in me decides it’s best not to get pneumonia, even though I’m fully convinced the pneumonia scare was a ploy by  mothers and grandmothers everywhere in an effort to avoid soggy kids running into the house with a pile full of muddy laundry waiting to be stripped from their pruny bodies. But whether it was the threat of a sniffle or the scarier threat of more laundry that willed me to stay inside until the monsoon-like rains subsided, it doesn’t really matter. I was out in it at the first sign of let-up.
Because I love the way rain makes my world look. I love how it changes things, how it drenches the wildflowers causing their petals to recoil.

I love the sparkle of the rain drops waiting to be evaporated back into the sky on the soft surface of the leaves.

I want to lick the drips from the un-ripened berries.

I like to visit the horses, to see how they fared as they stood still against the opened sky, their butts turned against the wind, soaking the heavens into their skin. It always seems a storm makes them ravenous, starving for the lush green grass that seems to turn neon at the first drop of moisture.

 But after the storm they won’t have me poking my nose in their business. They are not about to come in.
 They braved the storm, now they’re going to feast.

 I always walk to a hilltop then. I scrape and scramble my way up the face of the clay buttes, my boots, suffering from a severe case of mud-pack, weighing an extra 10-20 pounds. I scour the bushes for flowers, check out the sky for more rain, listen for the birds coming back to life and breathe in the fresh, new air.

Funny how a good rain can cleanse us, even when we watch it from the other side of the windows or come to know it after the calm has set in.

I love this land.

I love what exists here.

The changing and unexpected beauty cannot be recreated, not matter the repetition of the seasons.

I find I’m manic about being a witness to its changes, running out to be a part of it…

to be a part of the down pour…

Because when it rains I feel there’s something up there responsible for this…

When it rains, when it pours…I believe.

Alone and breathing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Well fall came dancing along in all its glory around here and we sure didn’t need the calendar to tell us so. Just like the uncharacteristically warm weather, the leaves on the trees were not about to take the subtle approach to the season change. Overnight the ash leaves turned from greed to gold, the vines bright red, the grass and flowers exploded seeds and even the slow and steady oaks began letting go their acorns and turning one leaf over to gold at a time.

It has been magnificent. But that’s the way it is around these parts, when it comes to the landscape and the great outdoors, you really can’t accuse it of being understated.

So after a challenging week I was ready to celebrate autumn the way it deserved to be celebrated. I was ready to frolic in it, to let go my agenda and my worries, ignore my pain and troubles and just climb a big damn hill and feel the warm breeze in my hair. So on Friday after a trip to the big town for an appointment, I moseyed on down the busy highway filled with lines of trucks and pickups and SUVs. Vehicles that moved busy humans at full speed along that paved ribbon of road that winds through buttes and half cut wheat fields, across the Little Missouri River that sparkles and meanders under the big blue sky and slowly sinking sun. I wanted to meander too, I wanted to meander among the things out here that are allowed a slow change, a subtle move toward hibernation, a good long preparation for a show like no other, a recital of how to slow down gracefully.

And I couldn’t help but wonder while I tried hard to keep my eyes on the road, despite the neon yellow trees waving at me from the ditches, if these people who were sharing my path were seeing this. Did they notice that the tree was waving to them too? Were they commenting on how the crows have gathered? As we came down through the brakes that move us through the badlands of Western North Dakota, our home, did they notice how the layers of the buttes–the line of  red scoria, the black coal, the clay–did they notice how in the late afternoon light the landscape looked like a giant canvas and the buttes seemed created with wisps of an artist’s brush?

Did they see that river? I mean really see it when they passed over the bridge? Did they take note of how it has receded a bit? Did they feel like stopping beside it to rest for a while? And as they approached the sign that read “Theodore Roosevelt National Park-North Unit,” a sign that indicated they were indeed on the home stretch to their destination perhaps, only 15 miles to the town to stop for gas, to make it home, to take a rest on a long truck route, were they enticed like I was at all on that Friday afternoon to stop for a bit?

Because what could be better than breathing in fall from inside a place that exists raw and pure? A park. A reserve. A spot saved specifically to ensure that nature is allowed to go on doing what it does best while undisturbed by the agenda of the human race, which at that point on Friday afternoon I was firmly convinced didn’t have a grip or a handle or an inkling about how to live gracefully among a world designed for us…let alone accept and live harmoniously among what we can’t control or may not understand–like the change of weather and the seasons and the sun beating down on the hard earth we wish would soften, or a body we wish would heal and function properly.

And I was guilty as well of taking this for granted. I was guilty of driving by this spot time and time again as it called to me to take a rest, to visit, to have a walk or a seat or a climb.

But not Friday. Friday I needed its therapy. I needed to park my car and stretch my limbs and take a look around from the other side of my camera.

From the top of Battle Ship Butte.

From the trail at the river bottom.

From the flat where the bison graze.

So as I pulled my cap down and took to the familiar trail that wound up that big, daunting and famous butte along the road, I took notice of breeze clattering the drying leaves together, the birds frantically preparing for the chill, the grasshoppers flinging their bodies at the dried grass and rocks…

and then I noticed I was alone.

Alone out here in this wild place I’ve visited before as a tourist, as a resident of the area, on dates and outings, family functions and educational tours surrounded by inquiring minds and cameras.

But I’d never been out here alone.

Alone as I scrambled and pulled my tired body up the steep and rocky and slippery trail toward the top of my world  as twobison grazed on the flat below the buttes.

Alone as I reached my destination with no other ears around to hear me catch my breath and then sigh in awe at the colors and solitude.

Alone as I watched those bison move and graze, a spectator in a different world, a spy on a giant rock.

Alone as a ran my hand along the cannonball concretions, scrambled to keep my footing and wipe the sweat from my forehead on the way down.

Alone to take my time as I noticed how the trees sparkled on the river bottom against the sinking sun. No one to tell me that’s enough…enough photos, enough time, enough gazing.

Alone as I walked toward the river, keeping an eye on the time, but wishing there was no such thing. And there was no one there to stop me from following it a little bit further, to see what it looked like on the other side of the bend.

No one there but me and a head full of thoughts and worries that were being pushed out of the way to make room for the scenery, the quiet, the beauty, the wildlife tracks and magnificent colors and trails before me.

And because I was alone, because it was quite, because in here there was no speeding or trucks or access to my phone, because unlike on the ranch, I was unfamiliar with the trails and the directions I was forced to really pay attention, to use my senses, to make new discoveries,  I was able to notice that after a few weeks gone missing I was becoming myself again.

The self that understood this was my habitat, my home and surroundings. The self that knows the weather will be predictably unpredictable, but the seasons will always change, the leaves will dry up, the acorns will fall, the birds will fly away from the cold or prepare for it, the grasshoppers will finish their rituals, the snow will come and coat the hard earth, then melt with the warm sun, changing the landscape, if only a little bit, as the water runs through and cuts the cracks in the earth.

And the bison will roam because we let them and the antelope will too knowing or not knowing that their lives are fragile.

Just like ours.

So we must remember to be present,  live in it…breathe.

Thank God I remembered to breathe.

Please, remember to breathe.

For more photos of my hike around Theodore Roosevelt National Park, click here to visit my Flickr photo album 

Oh, and if you missed it, take a stab at my North Dakota Trivia Game from last week’s post for a chance to win a prize! There haven’t been many brave attempts (I think you’ve all been out enjoying the beautiful weather), so I’m giving you more time!  Get your ND history hat on a play!

North Dakota

I see you through cracked windshields
my dark sunglasses and
prairie grasses
trees that cannot hold their leaves
and drifts that will not stay…

dirt roads that carry on that way.

You wave to me
through barbed fence wire
old tractor tires
and houses with nobody home
things that could not be repaired…

things that were left sitting there.

We stretch along horizon lines
and dip below the buttes
your mud stuck to my boots
a piece of you you’re pleased to share
a piece I’m pleased to take from you…

your sky an ever changing hue.

And you see me through rearview mirrors
windows down and open doors
places I have gone before
my headlights through the dust I stir
how quick I am to roam….

you rise up to meet me home.