Wilderness Dreams

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Coming Home:Wilderness dreams come back on days like this
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When I was a little girl all wrapped up in the magic of this place, my favorite book of was “My Side of the Mountain,” a story about a boy who finds himself living alone in the wilderness inside of a giant hollowed out tree.

I still have the book buried somewhere in this house, holding all the secrets to adventure like all the books I loved about kids taming horses and dogs and braving wild prairie storms. Forget after school microwave popcorn and “Super Mario Bros.” — I wanted real adventure!

I’m sure I wasn’t unlike most kids at 9 or 10 years old. We all had a little more confidence than we had experience, so maybe it wasn’t unusual that I was convinced I could survive out in the wilderness alone. Without a house. Or a toilet. Or my mom’s cheeseburger chowder. Yeah, there was a time that was my plan.

In the evenings, I would step off the bus and head up the creek behind our house to work on building what I called “secret forts.” In the oaks and brush that grew along the bank, I would I use every muscle in my spindly body to collect and relocate every fallen log within a 200-foot radius to lean against a bent tree, creating a leaky little tent. And when it was complete, I would look around to make sure my little sister hadn’t followed me here, ruining the whole secrecy thing.

And then I would lay down under the flawed “shelter” of 50 logs to think about my next step. Make plans for a door. And a blanket. And rocks for a firepit.

But as the dark crept in, I would decide I wasn’t quite ready to spend the night, emerging to follow the cow trail back toward the house where supper was warm and waiting. For months, this was my daily ritual, and one of my signature childhood memories.

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I thought I wanted to be alone out there, left to my own survival skills, but it turned out that having company was a nice addition. So eventually I gave in and helped my little sister build her own fort. A much smaller fort. Across the creek. Out of site.

We built a tin-can telephone that stretched from my fort to hers and brought down old chair cushions from the shed, tried to catch frogs and spent our evenings planning our next move — spending the night. But we never did it.

Summer gave way to fall, and the leaves fell and covered the floor of our paradise. We would pull on our beanies and trudge down the freezing creek to clear out the fire ring we weren’t yet brave enough to use. And then the cold set in and the snow came and the neighbor girls called us to go sledding, and our wilderness dream waited on a warmer season.

I can’t help but think about those girls on days like these. Days when the cold sets in, burned casserole from the night before sits waiting for a cleanup on my countertop and the dark, naked trees behind my grown-up house seem to call to me to come out from behind these walls.

Come have an adventure, girl.

I step outside and let the frozen air fill my lungs and bite my cheeks. I step outside and miss my sister. I step outside and I’m alone with a woman who used to be a girl I knew, a girl who thought she could tame coyotes, break unbreakable horses and live alone in the wild.

I step outside to look for her. I know she’s here somewhere, waiting for me to come and play.

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.

What’s normal anyway?

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What’s normal anyway?
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On the evening of Christmas Day, after all the gifts were opened, the leftovers were boxed up and the goodbye hugs were given, we arrived home to our house in the middle of nowhere to discover an open front door, a bag of scattered garbage and every boot in the entryway missing.

In another setting, I imagine one’s mind might have automatically thought “burglar.” But in my life, my husband just mumbled, “Apparently the dog can get our new front door open” as he trudged with his arms full of bundled-up babies through that open door.

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As I wandered around my yard the next morning, shielding my eyes against the sun reflecting off acres and acres of fresh, sparkling snow under which any one of my boots could be lying (and hopefully not shredded), I couldn’t help but think that these are not the sort of problems normal people have.

Unless, of course, you live on a ranch in rural North Dakota. In that case, I’m guessing you’re with me here. You’re also with me on the thrill of the weekend morning drive to town without the kids so that you can stock up on a grocery supply that fills the deep freeze and hopefully lasts a few weeks.

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And if you’re from rural North Dakota, or maybe anywhere up here in the great white north, please tell me I’m not the only one who has found herself and that overfilled cart stuck wheels-deep in the snow-packed parking lot on the way to the car. Like, so stuck I needed assistance from the nice lady who just pulled into her spot to witness me spinning out and grunting profanities under my breath in failed shove after failed shove to free it.

“No, these are not the sort of problems normal people have,” I thought again as I unwrapped the celebratory doughnut I purchased to eat on the 30-mile drive home… and then the second one because I was alone in my car with no one there to judge me…

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And, when I arrived home, I muttered it yet again, because after all that effort I forgot the milk and had to call a neighbor on the hunt for an ingredient I needed for my New Year’s Eve party dip. Because I swore I bought it, but it could have flipped out of the cart in my efforts to free it from the grips of the winter parking lot, or maybe it is in my car, just living in the black hole of space where the sippy cups, Froot Loops and missing gloves go to die.

Next time I accidentally lock the barn cat in my car while unloading the kids, I’m sure she’ll find it and have a front-seat feast, just like she did with my missing package of cashews a few weeks back — which was a welcomed clue to her existence before I accidentally drove her to a meeting in town.

Which, judging from the cat in a sweater I saw being pushed around in a stroller at the airport last month, showing up to a meeting with a cat might actually be normal everywhere but here. I don’t know anymore.

Happy New Year, you weirdos!

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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.

And the sparkle of childhood followed us home…

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The light of childhood reminds us to embrace life
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It’s no secret there are things in this life that are ruined by adulthood.

I remember thinking this as a kid when I was jumping into the cold water of Lake Sakakawea on a hot summer day. The water couldn’t be too cold. The sky too gray. The wind too wild. None of those elements existed to me at 7 or 8 because there was the water and I needed to swim. And so I did. And when I emerged and looked over at my parents visiting with friends on dry land, I wondered how anyone could be so close to a lake and keep their hair dry.

When does it shift in us? When does that water become too cold? The sky too gray? The wind too wild? When do we decide that in order to have fun, the sun must be shining in the most optimal way?

I wondered this again as I watched my 3-year-old daughter put her nose down to the freshly fallen snow, stick her tongue out and lick it up. I laughed as her little sister mimicked her, sitting up to look at me with pink cheeks and a kiss of frosting on her lips, and I remembered then how fresh snow tasted, although it hadn’t hit my lips for years.

And neither had an icicle, even though every time I see one hanging sharp and crystal clear off the eaves of a house, I think about pulling it down and having a taste. But I never do it.

At least I hadn’t for years, until I became a mother, and then slowly, the magic of the world that seemed to have faded out to dull tones of beiges and grays started to glimmer and pop and shine again in the little fluffs of light and sparkle that follow in my daughters’ wakes.

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Last weekend, I wrestled my girls into their snowsuits and loaded them up in the pickup for a drive out into the pastures of our place, determined to get our Christmas tree cut, in the house, thawed out and decorated before the weekend was over. I was on a deadline. My husband was on a deadline.

But that morning, we stepped out into the bright sunshine after days of fog to find our whole world sparkling. We couldn’t make out a cedar tree from an oak tree in the hills because of the glare, so we got out and walked into the hills to take a closer look, to lift Edie on her daddy’s shoulders, to let Rosie eat snow. To come up for air.

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And when we were trying to find a way to get us all back to the pickup with a tree just a little too big for the space, looking down at a steep icy slope of a hill, I think it was the 8-year-old version of me that whispered, “Let Edie ride on its branches, like a sled! Her daddy will pull her down!”

And so that’s what we did. We stepped off the shore and let the fluffy, glimmering light of childhood follow us home.

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A chance to warm up

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Baby Edie rides her horses

Here’s Edie, doing what we do in the morning.

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Rolling and flipping and grabbing and smiling and screaming at her toys because they aren’t doing what she wants them to do and I have no idea what that might be but it sure pisses her off.

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But mostly she’s plain happy, as long as there’s action.

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So when she’s done rolling and flipping and screeching I put her on her horse.

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And as you can see she likes it.

So you can imagine her delight when we put her on a real horse yesterday.

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Yup.

We had a branding at the neighbor’s and Pops brought the horse around before he rode it back home.

I wish we had a video camera to record what she moved like when we put her close to the nose of that bay and then up on his back. It was one of my favorite moments with her.

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All of the sudden I had this flash-forward moment to all of the things I dreamed about doing with our daughter out here on this place someday. I saw her up there so tiny and excited, reaching for the horn of the saddle and squealing and then reaching further to grab the black mane and I saw her at five years old, blond hair and curls, riding a pony while I lead her around the pen in front of the barn. And then I saw her at ten years old, on a big horse, following behind us across the pasture in the warm glow of a sinking summer sun, her face flushed and dirty, her hair windswept.

And then she’s sixteen and I’m holding my breath, her ponytail flying and bouncing under her straw hat as she rounds the last barrel at a rodeo and I let out a sigh of relief…

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Maybe it was watching the neighbor girls that I used to babysit all grown up and beautiful, helping to ride and wrestle calves, or maybe it was the light of the evening casting long shadows and reflecting off the dust in the air, making everything soft and dreamlike, but I was nostalgic for a future with this tiny little human who could just as easily grow up to prefer video games to horses.

But for now she seems delighted by it all, by the big outdoors and the blue sky and the grass and especially the animals.

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She has a physical elated reaction to them. She sucks in air and reaches out her hands and grabs their fur. When we go to feed the calf she has a mini hyperventilation spell. When she’s crying for no apparent reason all I have to do is open the door and walk out on the deck and a smile spreads across her face.

She leans down from my arms and tries to get closer to the dogs.

She reaches out for the kitty’s fur.

The wild world is hers…

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Yes, this is Edie. Our daughter. Our baby discovering that the fun is just beginning.

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Under Pots and Pans

We have a hill that overlooks our house. It’s sort of a landmark on the Veeder Ranch. I’ve written about it before. Pots and Pans. IMG_2008 Every cousin, brother, sister, aunt, uncle or friend of a friend connected to this place has likely taken the hike to the top of this hill to check out the view and see what sorts of treasures are at the top. IMG_2012 See, it’s called Pots and Pans because at some point, somewhere in the 100 year history of this place, someone decided to drag old pots and pans, sifters, ladles, bowls and plates up to the top to sit on the rocks and wait for the occasional adventurous kid to take a hike and play house up there. IMG_2006 My memories of Pots and Pans growing up are a big plan on a hot summer afternoon to take a hike with the cousins. The plan included fanny packs, juice boxes, fruit snacks, scratchy legs, and the inevitable run in with a cactus or a potty break in the grass before maybe, eventually, making it to the top. IMG_2018 Because it was actually a long ways when I look at it now. From the farmhouse by the barn to the top of the hill there is at least almost a mile of treacherous terrain. And when you have short legs it’s quite the feat. IMG_2000 But it was also quite the memory that we all share now. Who would have thought at the time when I was picking cactus from my cousin’s legs that I would have built a house right under that place? Who would have thought that I would get to watch the sun come up in the morning and the moon come up at night every day over Pots and Pans. IMG_2038 At least once a week on my walks I take a trip up there to exercise my legs and see how things are blooming at the Veeder Ranch. IMG_2024 IMG_2022 IMG_2020 IMG_2001 There’s still a pot or two up there and every time I make it to the top I think of my cousins and orange Hi-C juice boxes and what an adventure this place was to us. Unexplored and wild. IMG_2014 I still think that way sometimes when I find myself on an old trail or discover a deer horn dropped in the trees or an elk standing on the top of a hill somewhere. IMG_2034 IMG_2002 IMG_1998 And I think, when my kids are born I’ll have to trek up there with some old pans of my own to continue the tradition and the mystery so that they might take their cousins and their fanny packs up to the top someday to acquire a cactus and a memory or two… I mean, I’ve set it up perfectly for them…the walk is much shorter from here 🙂 IMG_2013

My new album, “Northern Lights” is now available!  Watch an interview where I talk about the process and my time in Nashville.

Get a signed copy at www.jessieveedermusic.com
 Download at CD Baby
Download on iTunes

Sunday Column: About an impromptu sledding party

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Last weekend we had an impromptu sledding party with the neighbor kids.

I just happened to be hanging out with my nephew building a snowman in 50 degree weather, so it was perfect timing.

Impromptu is always perfect timing for me. Especially in the winter when the days can get sort of long without a project or a visit or two from the neighbors.

We gotta stick together around here.

Stick together and then, you know, let small children push us down an icy hill into a quickly melting crick below.

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It was fun watching my friends’ kids playing on the same hill where we used to play, sliding down with their dads, squealing the same kind of screams, laughing the same kind of laughs and pushing it to the limit they way we used to, you know, trying to see how many could actually fit on a sled at once without crashing into a pile of tears and bloody noses at the bottom.

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There were rice crispy bars, 

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Snowball fights,

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Soaking wet mittens,

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Negotiated rides back up the hill…

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It was the best way to spend a winter afternoon out here in the middle of all this snowy hills.

It was just like old times.

Coming Home: Sledding quickly into the life we imagined
by Jessie Veeder
2-15-15
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Frosting

Last week our world was covered in ice.
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This week, just in time for Christmas, it has turned nice and white (and rather slippery).

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The beautiful thing about this place and its erratic weather is that every day it looks a little bit different out there.

Every day it’s a little bit new.

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So I like to explore it. And when the new pup is involved in my little quest, it’s even more fun.

He’s just a ball of energy jumping around, licking the snow, biting the heads off of weeds and bouncing his way around, discovering his world.

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So take a break from what is hopefully your last working day before Christmas, sit back and watch my home transform from icy brown to white.

Because who doesn’t love a little frosting, especially on the holidays.

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Peace, Love and Merry Christmas,

Jessie

Girls, their dogs and Music City…

So I made it home safe and sound from Nashville (and managed to steer clear of the Nude Karaoke).

I’m going to tell you all about it this week when I have a minute to gather up the clothing explosion that happened in my room upon my arrival, and then maybe think about the whole Christmas cards and gift thing, but if you’re curious, here’s a little write up the Fargo Forum did on my trip. They called me up on day two of my visit to see how things were going.

They were going swimmingly, I tell you. It has been such an awesome experience and I can’t wait to get back there and finish it up!

Jessie Veeder recording forth album in Music City

But there was more work to be done as soon as I got home. We had to get started on the video for “A Girl Needs a Dog” before Santa starts making his way across the sky.

I received so many wonderful photos of you ladies and your dogs, I can’t even tell you. This has been one of my favorite projects, getting to see you and your pooches, and hear your stories about what your furry friends mean to you.

So I got home on Saturday at noon, threw on a flannel and made sure I didn’t have any boogers in my nose and went out with my friend Nolan with Quantum Productions to get some footage of me singing and playing with my hounds out and about in the barnyard

There was mud. There was ecstatic and obnoxious jumping. There was barking and stick chewing and running and howling.

Yes, there was howling.

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It was a great time. I can’t wait for you all to see how it turns out. Funny thing about this place I’ve created here, seems from Australia to Alaska, we all have more in common than we think.

And our love of our pets seems to be one of them.

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I’m expecting the video to be done before Christmas. Until then, enjoy the live version filmed from the back pasture at the Red Ants Pants Music Festival this summer.

Learn the words so you can sing along!

Thanks for all of your support and love.

I’m off now to tackle that pile of dirty socks strung out on my bedroom floor…

The Christmas Tree Plan

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This is what -2 with a -100 wind chill looks like.

Don’t let the sunshine fool you.

And so the scene is set…

Ahem…

‘Twas the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and one of the last free weekends Husband and I have in December to spend traipsing around our countryside on the hunt for a tree.

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So it didn’t matter that our blood could freeze right there in our veins, or that our eyeballs could turn to ice cubes, our snot into icicles dangling from on our nostrils. It didn’t matter that our very lives were in danger of being taken by Jack Frost himself, we were gonna get my darn tree.

We were gonna put on 37 layers of clothes, load up in the new/old feed pickup,

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turn off of the gravel and onto the dirt/compacted snow/ice trail, drive really slow and discuss our options while looking out the window.

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We were going to spot a couple potential spruce bushes relatively close to one another on the side of the buttes, park the pickup, avoid a puppy-cicle and leave Gus inside, grab the saw from the back, trudge up the hill to the first option

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and mumble into our scarves with our eyes half open (you know, to avoid the whole icicle thing) about the potential of a tree that is a 10-foot tall version of Charlie Brown’s, but has possibilities really, because, well, it’s here and we might freeze to death if we stay out much longer weighing our options.

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But then we’re going to decide to risk it, spot another tree down the hill, walk over to discover it’s the same size as the one in Rockefeller Center and consider the possibility of building an addition to accommodate, because, well, there’s that whole freezing to death thing we’ll still be dealing with before I will turn my face toward the sun to discover one last option blowing in the wind among thorn bushes a quarter mile away.

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So I’ll decide we’ll never feel our legs again anyway and we might very well lose our noses to frostbite, but we might as well assess the bushy little tree, decide it’s not so bad, decide it will work just fine before Husband will stomp down the thorn bushes and start after the trunk with his battery-operated saw with a battery that lasts approximately 3 seconds at a time, you know, apparently death-defying cold applies to power tools too…

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And we are going to finally get the thing down after one big push, drag it to the the pickup a half a mile away,

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decide we might be dying, throw the tree on the flatbed, open the doors, get back inside the pickup, crank up the heat, blow our noses that will be miraculously still attached to our faces, and head back down the road toward home.

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Then we are going to get one mile from home and Husband is going to stop the pickup in the middle of the road, get out, run to the ditch and drag the tree back on the flatbed.

And when we arrive at home, we are going to put the tree in the basement to thaw out, I’m going to say goodbye to Husband who is crazy enough to put on one more layer and sit out in his hunting blind for the rest of the day, then I will pour myself a cup of coffee, consider adding whiskey, make plans for an evening decorating mission, because it will take me a good three to five hours to feel my fingers again and call it a Merry Merry Christmas.

That’s the plan.

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Fa-la-la-la-lahhh-la-la-la-laaahhhhhhhhh!!!!!