Sunday Column: The “what if’s” in Boomtown

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My husband and I moved back to the ranch more than five years ago. If you’ve been following along here, you’ve likely seen how much has changed, and how much hasn’t, at the ranch, in our family and in our community.

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We moved back for a few reasons. Number one was because it is where we wanted to settle down and raise a family, but the number two reason made it possible–the economy was booming due to the oil and gas industry and seemingly overnight there were more jobs and more opportunity than our small town could keep a tally on.
The results have been unprecedented growth for our small town that was once only 1,200 people and now boasts a population that is seemingly uncountable due to fluctuations and many people living in temporary housing situations. My guess is we’re likely close to 8,000 people today.

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Our small town that never had a stop light, now has many. We have a sort of suburban sprawl happening with new apartment buildings and housing units going up. We have Main Street bars and a sushi restaurant. We have little strip malls. A big grocery store. A nice daycare, a brand new high school and multi-million dollar community and event center going up, with two indoor ice slabs and a couple pools. We’re working on a new hospital and clinic.
Everything that once was is now updated, expanded and improved upon, including our roads.
When oil prices were at $100 a barrel we worked on playing catch up because the entire country was moving in.

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 2.16.56 PMAnd now we’re planning for the future in a time we knew could come, a slow down due to lower oil prices.  We’re in a sort of eerie place where we can catch up, not realizing how we’ve gotten used to such a fast pace until there’s a shift.
In the new year I think we all wish we could see into the future, knowing that all we can do is believe in and trust in today. And today it seems like despite what looks sort of grim, my community is showing it’s a little beacon of light and hope on this cold prairie.
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by Jessie Veeder
1-17-16
Forum Communications

It’s been more than five years since my husband and I unloaded our hand-me-down furniture into the little brown ranch house in the barnyard where my dad grew up, fulfilling our dream of moving home, because unlike the economy the two of us grew up in during the ’80s and ’90s, there were jobs.

Everyone talks about how the oil boom seemed to happen overnight, but when you’re living among it, that sense of immediacy is only partially true.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of “what-if” that sits alongside “could it be true?” in your mind as you wonder about the alleged oil well that promises to pop up on the hill behind the house.

It seems like it could never happen, until one day you wake up and there it is.

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That’s how it’s been for the past five years around here in western North Dakota. Not believing and then believing — that there would be a stoplight in town, a four-lane highway to Williston, a fast-food restaurant, a brand new high school, dozens of new apartment buildings and so on and so on until you find yourself used to the stoplights, sushi and Southern accents surrounding you.

The “if you build it they will come” mentality wasn’t as much the case here in this once 1,200-person town. No, it was more of the “they have come so let’s do what we can to make it work better.”

And so we made time for the extra traffic, the long lines and construction detours, and have come to expect events and restaurants filled to capacity with people of all ages, races and backgrounds, our new little melting pot on the western edge of the state.

We knew it would slow down eventually, that the four new hotels that were built wouldn’t be filled to the brim every week with working residents, and instead we would have to find a way to fill them with guests.

We knew that we wouldn’t always have to make reservations for supper.

We knew that oil wouldn’t stay at $100 a barrel, and that we might get a chance to take a breath someday and catch up, even though the thought was both terrifying and relieving.

Because we knew what it was like to have our quiet and slow life interrupted, but maybe we didn’t realize how quickly we could get used to a new normal, a fast pace of planning hectic moment to hectic moment.

But that hectic moment has slowed for a bit now and, as oil prices have slid, adjustments have been made.

Is the boom over?

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That’s a question every news source and coffee conversation wants answered.

I’m not sure if anyone knows. Just like nobody seemed to know exactly what was coming five years ago. I read a different dramatic report, opinion and prediction every day.

But here’s what I know to be true for us: Oil prices have changed, but the sense of “what-if” coupled with “could it be true?” has not.

We have never settled into a sense of security in such fast-paced growth. Instead, we have remained committed to keep steady in our own plan to figure out how to stay here at the family’s ranch for the long run.

And I’ll tell you, it’s been much easier with better jobs and more opportunity at our fingertips. But along with that, for whatever challenges we continue to face, what our community has become in the wake of the boom has made this an easier and exciting place to live in many ways.

And for that we have been grateful.

I think that realization might be the case for most people who, after coming here for the work, have decided to make this place their permanent home now. Because of the jobs, yes, but also because, like us, they see a future here.

And it’s because of those people it seems our new population is remaining more steady than predicted. Yes, people are losing jobs and families are moving away, but businesses are also still hiring and new residents still seem to see the value in a community that has moved from building to keep up with the present into building for a future we want for our families.

For more information on Watford City and McKenzie County, and for other perspectives on Boomtown Living visit: 
www.mckenziecounty.net
www.voicesofwatford.com
www.oilgoesboom.com
www.boomtowndiaries.com 
www.beautifulbakken.com 

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Sunday Column: Getting it done in the Wild West…

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Oh my, we had such an amazing weekend here at the ranch. I can’t believe I’m even (barely) awake today as we all come down from the high of friends and family and celebrating it all.

And I intend on telling you all about it, about the beautiful day, the beautiful couple, the food, the adorable ring bearer and flower girl…

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and of course, the dancing,  but first I’m  going to share the column I wrote last week in the hectic whiz and whirl of planning and cleaning and trying to get work done with no internet and no phone in the middle of the wild west.

If I sound a little stressed and frustrated I blame it on the nice cocktail of time crunch, deadlines, road construction, horseflies, heat and hormones…

But don’t worry, we’ve all calmed down a bit now…

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Coming Home: Busy road, slow internet, both inconveniences in the Bakken
by Jessie Veeder
6-21-15
http://www.inforum.com

Pink Road

I pulled my car over on the top of the hill at the approach next to the gate where there’s usually a white pickup with a company logo idling and a man inside checking his phone or writing in a notebook. Usually, I see them there and shake my head in annoyance, wishing they would find another place to park, as if the county road going through the ranch belongs to us only.

Because it seemed like it used to anyway.

But now these once quiet roads have turned into a sort of autobahn, not just for transporting oil, water or random equipment strapped to flatbed trailers, but also the men and women who have places to go.

And while they’re going, they have work to get done.

Because the men behind the wheel on these roads don’t take many breaks, unless it’s to pull over for a phone call or to enter numbers on a laptop plugged into the console of their pickups, a regular mobile office right there on that approach on top of the hill next to the gate.

This is the reality of the weekday workday, not in town but out at the ranch these days. And while the wheels on the portable offices kick up dust on the road above my house, I sit in my back bedroom-turned-office and write about it, report on it, and make phone calls to tell its story.

And then, just as I hit send on one of those timely and important emails, the Internet cuts out.

I don’t panic. This happens a lot. Because no matter how fast we say it has changed out here, things like reliable high-speed Internet 30 miles from town are still a mystical dream of the future.

I’ll just communicate the old-fashioned way and pick up the phone.

But there’s no phone.

And so it’s a Thursday afternoon, I have a deadline, and two of my three links to the civilized world have been taken away.

My third link? Driving an hour in 30 miles of road construction to an office I can access in town, because we’re in the middle of progress, dang it, and progress means a little suffering along the way … and a little ingenuity and resourcefulness.

I thought of those guys in their pickups on that approach on top of the hill next to the gate and I grabbed my laptop, cellphone and notebook, pulled in to where I got a good cellphone signal, tapped into my hotspot and spent a good hour or two getting work done in my own mobile office.

Fast-forward to the weekend when my husband and I attempted to haul a little tractor from the ranch to Williston, N.D., and found ourselves along the highway with a flat tire on the old trailer and an even older spare that didn’t fit. Six phone calls later we landed a contact with a new tire business open past 2 p.m. on Saturdays, drove back to that trailer along the highway, and got it done.

And in between it all I’m arguing with the post office about a pair of my husband’s very important and needs-to-be-here-like-yesterday khaki wedding pants that got lost in the mail. Because it’s a long and winding road to the Wild West. Especially when you’re a pair of khakis coming from New York.

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Sometimes the Wild West just isn’t on my side.

Yes, some things would be undoubtedly easier if we just put this house on wheels and moved it to the suburbs of Minneapolis, where people don’t get flat tires, always have reliable Internet and don’t have to sit in their cars next to cow pastures to get a cellphone signal.

But, oh, the sweet clover smells good these days, even alongside a busy highway changing a flat.

Even without Internet.

Because this is not Minneapolis, even though these roads are no longer ours alone.

But if we stay on course, they will undoubtedly be smoother, the Internet will be faster, and the mobile lives kicking up dust above the house will get a little easier every day.

In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be on a hill somewhere trying to get some work done.

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Sunday Column: Moving dirt and making plans.

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So oil prices have dropped.

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

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

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

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

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

We just keep moving dirt and making plans…

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

Pumping Unit on Horizon-RTC

Jessie Veeder-“Boomtown”-Official Music Video

And now for the video!

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

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

Please pass it along!

Sunday Column: Some days the Bakken ain’t so Rockin’

On Friday evening we took a ride through the east pasture checking cows. The sky turned from blue to pink in front of our eyes and a small storm pushed through.We caught the breeze but didn’t get caught in the rain.

We caught the juneberries and the raspberries before the birds.

We caught Pops over the hill filling his mouth and his pocket and we were caught in one of the greatest things about living on this place.

Today I will attempt Juneberry pie because Husband packed his saddlebags and the breeze is blowing nice through the kitchen windows and it’s Sunday.

This is the kind of life I like to talk about. The kind of things I moved back here for. Sunsets and wildflowers and the sleek back of horses and fat happy cattle and Sundays and family.

These are all part of my reality.

But so is the dust kicked up by trucks tending to the oil well a mile down the road and the slick mud they make when it rains.

Sometimes I get stuck on my way out of this place.

Sometimes my car breaks down and so does our pickup on the way to get it all fixed. Sometimes the price of progress means you won’t possibly make it to your appointment on time.

And sometimes, after all that, one of those big trucks kicks up a big rock and you get another big chip to add to the 27 you already have in your windshield.

Sometimes I use my middle finger and think, hell, it’d be easier to just ride my horse out of here.

Sometimes it rains like hell and I’m reminded that I’m not perfect and neither is this place.

Sunday Column: Some days the Bakken ain’t so rockin’
By Jessie Veeder
7/21/13
Fargo Forum

I’m not perfect and neither is this place.