Motherhood: Hold on tight while you let go


“One. Two. Threeee!!!” She yelled before she launched herself from the top of one big round hay bale and over the mud filled gap to the next, landing safely on her knees before scrambling up to her feet to continue her race down the rest of the row of hay.

I stood holding Edie on my hip, both of us laughing as we watched her three cousins run and leap, making an obstacle course out of the hay yard, their blonde hair escaping from ponytails and flying up toward the blue sky in the wind.

I lifted Edie up over my head to sit her next to her cousin and take in the view, my hands held tight around her little waist to hold her steady for a few short moments before my baby girl promptly reached down, grabbed my fingers with a little whine and pushed me away from her, trying to convince me to let her go.

Apparently sixteen months of growing on this earth is long enough to be ready to leap across the tops of five-foot tall hay bales on her own. Now if only she could convince her momma.


The stomp of six rubber boots kicked up the scent of summer dust trapped inside that feed pile combined with the squeals and chatter transported me to a time when I was as fearless and free, racing my cousin to the third tier of bales in the stack, declaring myself Queen of the World on top of her pyramid 20 feet in the air, with no regard for the scary consequences that could result from a slip.


I couldn’t help but notice then the little twinges of worry that shot through my body as I watched those girls reach the top of their own pyramid. And then there was the push and pull I felt in my gut, the tug-of-war of wanting them to go higher, to see what the cows look like from up there, but willing them to be careful.


Oh child, don’t you know what could happen!?

I guess that’s what motherhood is. Holding on tight as you’re letting go…

Edie reached her arms out towards me, and I helped her off the top of that bale and then walked her over to where her grandparents and daddy were watching by the road.

“C’mon,” I said to him as I ran back toward the hay yard, stripping off my jacket as I hoisted myself up to enter the race to see who could be the first to leap across 25.

“One. Two. Threeeee!!….”

A chance to warm up


Well, I’ve bitched enough about the bone chilling weather lately, it’s time I’m finally able to praise this much appreciated January thaw.

I wasn’t sure if we were going to get one this time around, but I guess I can count on it again. And boy, did we need it, for the cattle and for the kids and for low North Dakota spirits everywhere.

I drove to town the other day and it was 41 degrees. It might as well have been 70. I went by the little donut shop and the two girls were outside shoveling in their t-shirts and sunglasses like they were in California. I guess I couldn’t blame them. I felt that way too.  I didn’t bother with my coat, in fact the sun shining in the window of my car made it too warm in there, so I opened up the window and listened to my tires splashing up slush on the pavement.

It’s because of January that I’ve never minded the mud.

We took advantage of the beautiful weekend and spent Saturday continuing work on my video for my song “Northern Lights.” Turns out dad doesn’t mind a third take of him walking up a steep snow bank in his snow shoes when its 35 above zero.


And I don’t mind standing there watching him either, thankful for things like snowshoes after watching the filmmaker sink up to his waist trying to situate the camera in a snowbank.

But after today the snow has cleared off the tops of the buttes and the 10 foot drifts have shrunk down to 8 feet drifts. And the snow on the table on my deck melted enough to remind me of the three casseroles and  two pies I set out there to chill on Thanksgiving.(So that’s where that glass bowl went!)

Ahhh, I love it. Really. I wouldn’t mind January in North Dakota if she always behaved this way. And by that I mean staying above the 0 mark on the thermometer and chilling on the whole wind thing.

But knowing that’s not in her nature, so we take what we can get. On Sunday my little sister and I took turns taking Edie on sledding runs down the icy road in our yard.


(Don’t worry, we weren’t going as fast as the screams would have you think…)

As you can imagine, she loved it.

She loves the cold actually. It’s weird. You take her outside, the cold air hits her face and she comes alive, squealing and laughing, waving her arms and legs, squishing up her face in delight.

I plop her in a snowbank and she flings snow up in the air like she’s splashing in a swimming pool, not giving a care in the world about where the cold stuff lands on her face.


I swear, this kid was made for this place, it’s like she just sprang out of the slick clay one day and announced her arrival. She’s reminding me about the magic this place holds and I love her for it.

It’s all just an adventure.


Tomorrow’s Friday and we have the weekend ahead of us that we intend on filling with house construction projects and outdoor chores. Edie’s getting to the age where it’s fun to take her along. I bought her a pair of little boots and today, just as I was bundling her up to take her outside to test them out, Pops poked his head through the door and we piled in the pickup to go feed the cows.

“This is what you’ve always dreamed about,” he said as we watched Edie squeal at the cattle lining up behind the bale we rolled out for him.


Leave it to Pops to take the ordinary trials of a Thursday and turn it into a reminder of the simple things we live for.

Thanks Pops.

And thanks January sun for giving us a chance to warm up.


On horseback…


We’re in the thick of fall at the ranch, which doesn’t mean as much pumpkin spice flavor as it does wooly horses, wooly caps and scrambling to get things buttoned up and rounded up for the winter.

On Sunday gramma came over to watch Edie do the things Edie does, like try as hard as she can to stand on her own, fall down and get concussions…oh, and blow kisses, and I headed out with the guys for a ride out to the west pastures to move the cows to a different pasture and find some strays.

The weather looked sort of threatening and chilly from behind the glass windows of my house, so I bundled up in layers and squeezed into the riding jeans I haven’t worn since I was three months pregnant, and headed out into a calm and sort of rainy day.

And it was a much needed trek for me, something I used to take so much for granted before I had a little one attached to my hip. Now, if I want to go out for a ride it involves “arrangements.”

So many simple things these days involve more planning than I ever did in my pre-baby life. But it’s worth it all around. Gramma gets one on one time with the baby and I get one on one time with the things I love most.


I traveled those hills on my sorta of slow and lazy horse, took two pees in the pasture behind bullberry bushes because I drank too much coffee,


Here, hold my horse…

chased cooperative cattle through open gates,


got sorta lost looking for a stray, got slapped a few times by wayward branches, got kinda wet in the rain and the deep creek running high because of all the fall moisture and came home a different woman, reminded that heaven isn’t the only thing that can be found on horseback…



Sometimes, you wind up finding yourself again too.


Memories in October Rain


Today it’s snowing. Big white, silent flakes falling from the sky and accumulating on the earth and tree branches, coating the grass, which has turned green again in late fall due to all the rain we’ve had.

The last of my garden is sitting in a basket safe from the weather in the garage, tomatoes in various sizes and states of readiness, waiting for me to turn them into salsa, someday soon hopefully.

Our plans for finishing up the rest of the outdoor projects–hauling hay, staining the house,  mowing the lawn one last time–have come to a pause as we wait for it to melt off again.

Sunday it was nearly 80 degrees.

Saturday was in the 30s.

‘Tis the season of extremes in North Dakota.

And ’tis the season of nostalgia for me.


Coming Home: October rain brings back childhood memories
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

It rained all day yesterday. Big sheets of water fell from the sky, straight down and then sideways, giant drops making puddles in places puddles rarely exist in the dry autumn months around here.

I’ve always been fascinated with the rain around here, and yesterday, as I stood with Edie pressing our noses to the glass doors on this house, it occurred to me that fascination still holds.

Because water transforms this place. It’s one of the only kinds of real magic I know exists, besides how the heck the hornets keep getting into the house.

In the unpredictable weather we live in up here, I find it comforting to know that we can always count on a season change. But I’ve never seen one like this.

It’s been so wet this fall that overnight big white mushrooms sprouted up like oversized golf balls scattering our lawn, a lawn that had to wait until October to fully turn green.


We rarely get soaking rain like this so late in the year. This morning I looked out the window and noticed that the trees looked like they were shivering, their leaves shaking on the branches as they work to hold on tight to this season.

Tomorrow it might snow.

These weather shifts always turn me a bit nostalgic.

I drive through my parents’ yard, my tires splashing through the puddles that have been forming in the same places since I was a kid and I remember the time when my little sister—she was about 5 or 6—took her sled out to where the warm sun had melted the snow in the driveway. A big body of water had formed and to her it looked like a perfect place to try to float. So she plopped her sled down on the edge and took a seat.

I can still see her brown curls escaping from her ponytail and her look of surprise and disappointment when her sled-boat sank, freezing cold water flooding over the shallow edges of the plastic sled, soaking her purple snowpants.

Funny how something as simple as a puddle can bring back big memories. I guess that’s what happens when you find yourself all grown up in the place that grew you.

I opened the windows of this house this morning and the smell of damp leaves and the brisk morning air turned me back into a 12-year-old girl on the back of my red mare riding alongside my little sister on her white pony, Jerry.

We’re on our way to the reservation to round up cattle and bring them home to wean. Our noses are cold and we can see our breath, but the sun is shining, the dew making the yellow leaves sparkly and golden.

And we’re paying no attention really. We’re just kids, spitting plum pits at one another and screeching when that pony, like he always did, decided he had enough for the day, gave up and laid down on the trail in an attempt to get rid of that curly-haired cowgirl on his back.

Dozens of autumns have passed since, creating countless memories I could recall, but the scent of the season and the change of the leaves always turn me into that little girl in a red barn jacket, as if that’s the only person I’m supposed to be in this season.

And I can’t help but wonder, as I open up the door so Edie can feel the cool air, what this season might mean to her when she’s a grown woman. I wonder what she’ll remember with the crunch of the leaves beneath her boots and what stories will fall from the sky and gather like big puddles of October rain.


Moving cattle: A Script


Coming Home: Sister on the ranch is friend for me, un-hired help for dad
by Jessie Veeder

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my favorite parts about living back at the ranch is that my sisters have decided to re-plant roots in our hometown. Having a sister nearby as an adult is like having a best friend who doesn’t care if your floor is swept and will call you out on your questionable attitude without worrying about offending you.

Anyway, when it comes to ranch life and work, I’ve rarely seen my petite almost-5-feet tall big sister without heels on almost as many times as I’ve seen her on the back of a horse, so you can guess which sister and I get in the most ranch-related shenanigans.

And how much help the two of us have been for our dad throughout the years.

Jessie and Little Sister

So this is a confession: My little sister and I can be pretty worthless when we get together. And contrary to our parents’ prayers and our husbands’ hopes, it hasn’t gotten any better as we’ve, ahem, matured.

sisters 2

Nothing exemplifies our incapabilities 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, Little Sister’s missing boot and the hairdo I can’t fit under my hat so that Dad can get out the door, up the road and into the barnyard to catch our horses and assume the position of waiting patiently while he listens to our jabbering as we finally make it up on those horses.

The man is patient. He’s had to be out here in the wild buttes of Western North Dakota surrounded by girls. Sometimes I wonder if his life on the ranch as a father would have been a little easier if he would have had a boy tossed in the mix.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 11.30.34 AM

But he’s never once complained, and you gotta love him for it. He’s just grateful for the help, even when his help is riding a half a mile behind him talking over how weird it would be if we rode cows instead of horses as he works to keep the herd from brush patches in the morning that’s turned hot in the time he waited for us to join him.

Because we really are a lot of help, with one of us swatting and screaming at anything that resembles a bee and the other tripping over anything that resembles the ground.

To really paint you a picture, I would like to present to you an actual roundup script.


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

Jessie: I think we missed one. Should I go and get it?

Little Sister: Should I come with you? I should probably come with you … eeeek! A bee, eeeeeeeek!


Pops (racing through the brush and up a hill): Just stay there!!! Stay there! I’ve got it!

Jessie: Oooh, raspberries.

An undocumented amount of time passes.

An undocumented amount of raspberries are eaten.

Little Sister: Maybe we should go find Dad.

Daughters catch up with father who is behind 25 head of cows. The women are trailing four cattle and currently heading toward the wrong gate on the wrong side of the creek.

Jessie (hollering across the pasture): We’ve got these here… thought we were going to the other gate.

Pops (hollering from behind the cattle he’s just moved through a half-mile brush patch on his own): Actually you’re going to have to turn them or leave them because they’ll never make it across the creek.

Little Sister: Whaatt did he saaayy?!! Should I leave them???


Pops: Yess, ssheeee sshhoullld leeaave them!!



“Slap,” a branch hits Jessie across the face.

Little Sister stops to double over from hysterical laughter.

Father rides up over the hill alone to finish collecting the cattle before all parties return to the barn where father thanks daughters for their help.

(Yeah, really.)

End scene.

Don’t tell my husband about my hopes for another girl …


Sunday Column: Traditions, heartbeats, one another…

img_9628.jpg When I was about 19 or so I wrote a song called “Heroes Proved.” I was knee deep in college and missing home, missing a slower paced life. Missing college. Missing a time when neighbors came over and sipped on coffee from a big mug and visited long enough to have a couple more refills.

It was a time I was certain all of the yard lights along the pink scoria road where I grew up were going to blink out one by one as stewards of the land grew old and moved to town, with no one in line to move in the old place, because there was nothing for them here.

I couldn’t be convinced then that just eleven years later I would be adding a yard light to the picture, staying up late building a life out here with plenty of prospects. Plenty to do.

House 1

And down the road and up the road, other families, other friends my age or younger are moving into old houses or building roads to new ones, putting up walls where they plan on raising their babies and having friends over for coffee or for a bon fire and drinks late into the night.

It’s a new world. It moved fast in those eleven or so years when I got my first cell phone and used it only for calls back home because it was cheaper than long distance.

I was in college before texting and leaving campus right as Facebook hit the scene. I was a child of a less digital age, an age when you asked your dad instead of Jeeves or Google. The world looked different without YouTube, three thousand channels on television and more information at our fingertips than we had in our parents’ set of 1993 Encycopedias on the shelf.

Now I’m not always nostalgic for a slower pace. In fact, I owe my career out here in the middle of the buttes to the accessibility that technology has allowed. I am able to have virtual coffee with all of you on a whim, share my music and photos from the ranch, get to know you through cyberspace. Write. Submit. Send emails. Get paid.

But some days I want to throw it all in the stock dam and go running wild into the trees, over to my friends’ house to pick chokecherries and make plans for a pie and a neighborhood party. Because a neighborhood party is more important than seventy billion followers on Twitter.

For all the connections we have to one another these days, Skype, Snapchat, Instagram, FaceTime, Facebook and who knows what else, some days I just miss my friends.

And some days I wonder if I’m the only one feeling this way as I use Snapchat, Instagram, FaceTime, Facebook and, *gasp* the telephone, to invite them all over, bring some drinks, bring some noodle salad and sit with us, tell us how you’ve been while we dish up some slush burgers on paper plates and tell stories while we talk with our hands, spill things and laugh about it all.

Because in all the ways we can connect with one another, I like this one the best.

Turns out I’m not the only one. Turns out the art of a good get together has not been lost, and some souls are spending time preserving the oldest traditions. I know this, because we’ve been invited, to sing so they sing along…

Down the road a couple hours a family has fixed up a barn specifically for dancing,



across the state communities have been celebrating centennials and milestones and summer with gatherings in parks and on the streets,

along the river in the big town a friend hosts a dinner at a farm…

And I sing on a horse drawn wagon…just because…

(Beth from Rhubarb and Venison hosts a dinner at Riverbound Farm near Mandan, ND)

Down my road my neighbor hosts a bonfire, in backyards and garages along neighborhood streets in town, people stop by to chat and have a beer…

In some of these cases social media, texting, Skype and telephone calls were all ways to get them there…in others, it was a whim, a neighbor missing a neighbor, a family hosting supper, an aunt needing to squeeze her niece, sisters needed to catch up, brothers off to site in their rifles or make plans for a bowhunting trip.

This week’s column is about these things we still hold on to, traditions, heartbeats, one another.


This week’s column is on sipping coffee from a big mug, talking and sticking around long enough for another cup…

Coming Home: Get to know your neighbors and strangers
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

Jessie’s column, Coming Home,  can be found weekly in newspapers across the state, including the Fargo Forum (Sundays), Grand Forks Herald, Bismarck Tribune and the Dickinson Press.

When the thaw comes…

When the thaw comes

I’ll rip off these clothes

burn my wool sweaters

and boots with the fur

hide the blankets away

and cool down the tea

let the sun touch my bare skin

set the animals free

drown my scarves in the water that rushes the draw

and scream all the cold out my lungs…

when the thaw comes…

when the thaw comes…

when the thaw comes…

There’s nothing wilder…

There is something about a girl and a horse.

Yeah, boys have their toys with wheels, their guns, their tools, their dogs and they look noble and masculine (and a bit like a western movie if they’ve got the outfit right) on the back of the beautiful beasts….

But it’s not the same.

I was reminded of this phenomenon this week when my twelve-year-old cousin from The Cities (yeah, we’re in Western ND, so even though Minneapolis/St. Paul is an excruciating 600 plus miles to the east, those are our cities ok…) came to visit the ranch for the first time (without her two brothers). My cousin is a fiery, sweet, smart redhead who has spent much of her childhood on the pavement giving all of that animal loving heart to her declawed cat who moves, like city cats do, throughout their beautiful home from sunny spot to sunny spot until he is let loose in the night to lurk through the neighborhood, exercising his wild side.

I love this girl and have spent time with her when she was younger, but never, I realized, one on one. So I admit I was a little nervous to have her out to this wild place, so far removed from the Super Target that is located down the street from her house, so far from the structured entertainment and the embracing neighborhood full of friends and swimming pools and a bike rides and movie theatres at your fingertips. I was worried she would be bored. I was worried she was going to miss her friends. I was worried that the things I liked to do when I was twelve (and let’s just admit it here, still do) would not appeal to her.  And to top off the unexpected anxiety, it occurred to me that this pre-teen might never survive without cell service!


So the plans I made to walk through the creek beds and pick wild berries and go fishing in the big lake and ride bike were on a list right next to the back-up plans of movies and swimming pools and manicures…you know, just in case.

But sweet Red was not nervous at all. Red packed her bags diligently in her room in the suburb of Minneapolis at the end of her summer with sweet adventure in her sight. She was on a quiet mission as she endured bravely the ten hour trip out west in a car with nothing on her mind but exploring every inch of this place on the back of a horse.

As soon as the car pulled through the breaks of the badlands and down into the valley of my parent’s home, Red stepped out and sucked in the fresh air and immediately buried her face in the necks of the two dogs rushing, tails wagging, coming to greet her. I’ve never seen a smile that genuine. I’ve never seen a heart open that wide.

And in that moment it was quite clear that this girl, with the freckles and the blue eyes and the beautiful, straight, long red hair–a girl so far away from me in miles and looks and lifestyle and years, did indeed share the same blood.

I should not have been surprised.  I should not have doubted this wonderful, curious, adventurous child.  With the perfectly placed ponytails and the cowboy hat and boots I lent her she even reminded me of Annie Oakley!

So I took this as my cue and I shredded my backup list and made plans to check off everything on the first one—the real one.

We had two days.

So we scoured the hills for chokecherries and plums, got her shoes muddy in the black mud of the crick (“do you say creek or crick?” “Well, I guess we say crick around here…”), threw the stick for the dogs to fetch and caught a frog. And because she is a Minnesota girl, I thought she should see a lake completely different than those in her backyard. So down the road we went to big, rugged, untamed Lake Sakakawea to fish for walleye against the clay cliffs that border the shore. And damn if Red didn’t catch the only fish. Big Fish.

Oh, her brothers would be jealous.

She swam with the lab in the cool North Dakota lake, she shot a Pabst can right off of the fence post with the .22, she rode the 4-wheeler, she tamed the wild cat, she sat out in the yard with the four dogs as the sun went down on what I hoped was a day of her dreams…

And she rode horse.

And If ever there was a moment that needed to occur in the life of a twelve year old girl—a moment that makes all of the annoying troubles of the world disappear (like puberty and high-water pants and friends who betray you and parents who just don’t understand), a moment where complete innocence and trust and hope appears again in the eyes of a girl on the verge of womanhood, it was this one.

We walked into the corrals and I pointed out her horse. Her eyes sparked.  I slowly and carefully showed her how to bridle the creature. She listened intently. I gave her the currycomb and she brushed his coat and mane. She asked where horses like to be scratched and her hand reached up under the chin of her animal and he answered her question as her new four-legged friend showed his appreciation by stretching out his neck and nuzzling her shoulder.

And if I thought Red’s heart was open as wide as a heart could be with her face nestled into the necks of the labs and the pug and the shepherd, I know now that I was strongly mistaken about how big hearts really are.

But I should have known. I was that girl.

I am her.

Because there is nothing like a girl on a horse. And until now, I guess I must have thought I was the only one who lost myself completely on the back of an animal who takes your life and carries it across the rugged prairies, through fields of clover and snakes and wild, wild things. I guess I thought I was the only one who threw my heart wholly to a beast who could launch you high in the air with one kick and send you tumbling to the ground, but mostly chooses not to (mostly…but sometimes you need to learn a lesson or two) and instead listens as you ask him to climb a hill

or go fast around a barrel or get up close to a raspberry bush so you can have a sample and then help you bring the cows home.

See, there is a certain amount of trust, a special trust, a different kind of connection between a girl and a horse. And bear with me because I think there is an amount of truth here…

A boy, a man, and his horse have a different agreement. There is a certain amount of power a man, whether physical or mental, is not willing to relinquish to a beast. There is an understanding between the four legged animal and the two legged creature on his back that they will indeed accomplish a task, together, successfully, the way it was meant to the man. And the man thanks the horse for his assistance.

And this is a wonderful thing.

But a girl loves her horse with the kind of tenderness only a woman can give. She longs to understand the animal and knows there are days when all you can do is walk slowly together down the road, no matter how pressing the issue. A girl wants to ride just to maintain a connection with her animal, to let him know that he is hers, she is his and she is here. But when the time comes to run, there is nothing more untamed, there is nothing wilder, there is nothing closer to the wind than a girl, hair tangling behind her, face close to the neck of a her beast as they reach for the horizon.

And up until now it didn’t occur to me that maybe that sort of wild is in every woman, somewhere.

So thanks Red. Thanks for coming over and showing me that even city girls can open their hearts and let go of their fear and their life and the world as they know it and….

ride like the wind.