‘Til the cows come home…and they always come home…

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Here are some photos of the guys moving a group of cows from our pasture back east where they are supposed to stay but keep coming home because, well, they’re a pain in the ass and the fence is down in some mysterious place.

Like seriously, the guys have probably moved this little herd of cows back east like half a dozen times in the last few weeks, fix a patch of fence, call it good and low and behold, I wake up to cow mooing and munching outside the fence.

The other day Husband got home, moved the cows back east, went up to the hayfield to cut and, boom, there they were. It took them the time it took him to get from his horse to his tractor to decide where they now found themselves was not, in fact, where they belong.

Dad called today and told me he thought he had the fence mystery solved. A big patch down in the trees. But just to be sure, and because it was time anyway, the guys moved all the cattle one more pasture over tonight, so if the cows are back home tomorrow, I think it’s time they give up.

Not that we don’t appreciate the entertainment here at the house…

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Peace, love and fence fixin’

Jessie and Edie

 

How old stories help us hold on

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Coming Home: How old stories help us hold on

One of the best parts about sharing stories every week is that sometimes it compels others to share their stories, too, reminding me how closely strangers can be connected.

For the past few months I’ve been traveling on behalf of my new book, telling stories about crocus picking, old pickup driving and growing up on the back of my old mare.

Inevitably then, after the show, I get to hear a few of your own memories, the ones sparked by my recollection of sliding down the gumbo hill in the pouring rain in my pajamas, because—aw, you have a gumbo story of your own? One that started out with a pretty pink jacket bought to impress his family and ended with you and that pink jacket planted in the sticky mud after a too-close-for-comfort call with a rattlesnake den.

Yes, your boyfriend might have saved you from a nasty bite, but you never got over the ruined jacket.

I’ve never really thought about it before, but this is how I acquired a reverence for storytelling. It was all those afternoon coffee breaks I’d sit in as a kid, the ones where the neighbors would take their hats off after branding or a day spent fixing a stubborn part on the tractor again, and the recount of the things that went wrong during the day would spark a story about another time, a few years back, when a new spring opened up on the flat over the winter and he was loping along across that stretch and the ground just disappeared beneath that horse …

And that would remind my neighbor of a time they ran the outfitting business, and they were taking some guests on a ride through a narrow trail of the badlands and down slid their best horse with a dude on his back. It’s a story we all might have heard before, the ground becoming a little steeper with each re-telling, all the could-have-beens recounted over and over as they rehashed their gratitude that it all turned out OK in the end.

Good grief.

Thank God.

Can you imagine?

Last week I got a letter in the mail from a woman who used to help out a family friend who ran trail rides in the badlands for years. This is the ranch where our old Stormy spent years working as a trail horse, and after reading about how we recently lost him to the years, this woman felt compelled to write me to share with me her own memories of that spotted gelding. Included among her recollections was a photo of Stormy in his younger days, taking that cowboy through the sagebrush badlands. I put my hand to my mouth, surprised by the tears that caught in my throat as I folded up that letter, remembering that Stormy was someone else’s coffee-break story once.

Reminded, in a world that spins too quickly, stories are the only way we can really hold on.

Keep telling them.

On horseback…

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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.

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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,

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Here, hold my horse…

chased cooperative cattle through open gates,

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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…

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Sometimes, you wind up finding yourself again too.

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Sunday Column: The boy on the hill

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Longtime blog readers might remember this story. I stumbled across it in the archives last week while I was revisiting some of my writing as I contemplate putting together a book.

Yes.  A book. Because I’m not sleeping anyway, so I might as well start another project.

Anyway, in those archives there’s lots about the weather and family and what the landscape looks like as it goes on changing every day.

And then there are little snippets of conversations, glimpses into our lives, past and present. These are my favorites.

Sunday Column: Family lore lingers around Sunday dinner table
by Jessie Veeder
3-20-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Most Sundays we get together with Mom and Dad for dinner. After a week of work and crazy schedules, one of us decides that someone should cook a decent meal, pour some wine and make us all sit down.

Recently, Dad shared a story about his childhood that I’m sure I’ve heard dozens of times before. But it doesn’t matter.

I want to exist in this 10-minute vignette of my father that somehow sums up everything he became here on this landscape.

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I love the way he tells it, sitting at the end of the table, plate pushed forward, arms folded, coffee brewing for dessert. He looks to the ceiling as if he might catch a glimpse of that little boy, 4 years old with curly black hair riding bareback on a paint pony alongside his father. He throws his head back, squeezes his eyes shut and laughs.

It’s fall or summer, he can’t remember, but I imagine the leaves were just starting to turn as the pair trotted out of the barnyard, the little boy on his father’s trail moving east toward the reservation where the cattle graze in the summer.

He’s not sure why his father took him along for an almost 7-mile one-way cross-country trip. He thinks now that it might have been a little extreme, but ask him then and it was all he wanted to do. Leave him behind? He would have tried to follow.

The pastures out east, even today, are some of the most isolated and untouched places out here. The rolling buttes rise and fall for miles between fences into creek bottoms with black mud and cattails. The oak groves, bordered by thorny bull berry brush and thistle, begin to blend into one another and look the same.

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So there he was, a little boy clinging tight to that pony as it jumped over the creek and raced up side hills to keep up. And it was at the top of one of those rocky hills that he was told to stay and wait.

“Don’t move,” his father said as he made plans to check the tricky creek bottoms for cattle. “I’ll come back for you.”

So my father waited on his pony, wind flopping his hat and moving fluffy clouds over the buttes.

Dad searches for more recollection in his coffee cup and then rests his chin on his fist. He remembers he didn’t move, he just scanned the hills and squinted into the oak trees. And while he was peering into that horizon, holding the reins of his pony, someone did come over that hill. But it wasn’t his father. It was a girl with long black hair and legs dangling on each side of her bare-backed horse.

“Can you imagine what she thought?” my father chuckles at the memory of this girl, who he recalls was a teenager, but was probably only about 10 or 11 years old.

She asked him if he was OK and if he was lost. He told her that he wasn’t supposed to leave this spot. That his dad was coming back for him.

So she stayed with that little boy with curly hair on that hilltop, likely joining him in holding her breath and scanning the horizon for any sign of a cowboy hat.

He doesn’t remember how long she sat with him. When you’re 4 years old, 10 minutes can seem like hours.

But it doesn’t matter. She stayed until that little boy had an escort through the valleys and over the creeks, back west to the barnyard and to his mother waiting with canned meat, biscuits and a report of the day’s events.

So he told his mother his adventure, and for years to come this would be one of their family’s stories shared over and over again at Sunday meals, about a little boy who found a girlfriend out east on the hilltop.

And as my father protested, they would throw back their heads, close their eyes and laugh.

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Sunday Column: A new season…

Screen shot 2015-09-21 at 12.02.21 PMYesterday was cow gathering day on the ranch. I helped pull burs from the horses’ manes and sprayed flies and waved as my sister, husband and dad loaded up the trailer and headed for the hills.
It’s roundup season and I’m in my stretchy pants working on the finishing touches of growing this baby (and online shopping and eating everything I can touch).
It’s been a beautiful fall with temperatures in the mid 70s and the colors changing nice and slow. And while the best way to experience it is on the back of the horse, I’m happy staying on foot, wandering the hills and looking forward to the day we can get this baby up on his own horse.
So that’s what this week’s column is about. A little reflection on roundup season and spitting wild plums at my little sister as we followed behind our dad. She used to have a white pony named Jerry who would, every once in a while, decide he needed a break and spontaneously lay down and try to roll her and the saddle off his back.
He was a shit.
But so was she sometimes…so they were a good pair.

Ah, I love this time of year.

If you need me I’ll be out taking pictures…

And if you have a reliable pony to sell, well, we’re in the market…

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Coming Home: Ever-changing seasons make me feel alive
by Jessie Veeder
9-20-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com 

This season change is so predictably unpredictable, sneaking up on us slowly in the middle of a hot summer day and leaving with a strong gust of wind.

This year it seems to be settling in despite the heat. The trees that were first to display their leaves are the first to change their colors this September. I’m reminded it’s nearing roundup season, and I have a flashback of spitting plums at my little sister on her pony, Jerry, as we ride side by side toward the reservation.

I’m bundled up in my wool cap and my dad’s old leather chaps braving the cool morning and a long ride through coulees, up hills, along fence lines and under a sky that warmed the earth a little more with each passing hour.

I would strip off my cap first, then went my gloves and coat, piled on a rock or next to a fence post for easy retrieval when the work was done.

Moving cattle, even then, never felt like work to me. Perhaps because I was never the one responsible for anything but following directions and watching the gate — a task with the perfect amount of adventure, freedom and accountability.

It was during that long wait from when the crew gathered all the cattle in the pasture and moved them toward my post that I would make up my best songs or find the perfect feather for my hat.

And while this year my growing belly and precious cargo have kept me from the back of a horse, my adult role working cattle hasn’t changed much.

I’m the eternal watcher, the girl who makes sure the cattle don’t turn back or find their way into the brush or through the wrong gate, left to my own devices while the guys head for the hills.

And even if it all goes awry, even if the cows head for the thick trees or go running the wrong way past the gate and down a hill and the plan morphs depending on the attitude of a herd of bovines, around here I’ve always found it a pleasantly hectic adventure.

And I’m feeling compelled to live it in my head today, knowing it’s a ritual I’ll miss this season, pulling on our boots to sit on the backs of horses swatting at the sticky flies with their tails on a calm and sunny morning that promises to turn into a hot afternoon.

Each month the pastures change — a new fence wire breaks, the creek floods and flows then dries up, the ground erodes and the cows cut new trails, reminding me that the landscape is a moving, breathing creature.

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And I’m the most alive when I’m out here. I follow behind the guys making plans for the day and look around to notice the way the light bounces off of cowboy hats and trees slowly turning golden.

I find my direction while my husband cuts a path through the trees and Pops lopes up to the hilltop to scan the countryside.

I move a small herd toward the gate and wake a bull from the tall grass at the edge of the pasture.

Pops comes up off the hill to join me, the cattle he’s found moving briskly in front of him. We meet up, finding my husband waiting at the gate with the rest of the herd.

And that’s how it goes, the three of us pushing the cows along: Pops at the back of the trail counting and taking mental notes, my husband on the hillside making sure they turn the right way, and me watching the brush.

The sun warms our backs and sweat beads on our foreheads as we head toward home, talking about lunch and the fencing that needs to get done that day.

And the deer population.

And a pony for my nephew.

And the weather and the changing leaves and all of the things that need discussing when you’re on the back of a horse, on the edge of a season, on a piece of earth that’s constantly changing, even though, year after year, out here, I always feel the same.

And the weather and the changing leaves and all of the things that need discussing when you’re on the back of a horse, on the edge of a season, on a piece of earth that’s constantly changing, even though, year after year, out here, I always feel the same.

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Sunday column: Two-stepping in the kitchen…

This week’s column is on dancing in the kitchen with my big sister and learning the two step in country school gym class.

It’s about being in a band and watching from the stage the different ways old cowboys two step and waltz and how the tradition of that sort of dancing, in this neck of the woods anyway, seems to sort of hang in there.

It’s about how I’ve been dancing with my husband since shuffling across the gym floor in phy-ed class in 7th grade and how we still argue about who is really leading (because my big sister always insisted that I be the boy).

I wrote the column after a Saturday spent playing a college rodeo dance and watching the couples spin, lift and swing each other around, packing the dance floor on the more traditional country songs that we played, and dispersing to the sidelines until we played another they could dance to.

Photo by Annika Plummer Photography

Watching all those young people in cowboy hats and cowboy boots out on the dance floor was so refreshing to me. I couldn’t help but think how they might have learned their skills dancing in the kitchen with their moms or dads or sisters.

I couldn’t help but think of this Ian Tyson son my dad used to sing as I wrote….

Ian Tyson: Own Hearts Delight

Coming Home: From country schools to country bars, dancing endures
by Jessie Veeder
5-17-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Catch me on my North Dakota tour this summer!

Watch an interview where I talk about the process and my time in Nashville.

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Happy Birthday! Love, Your Biggest Fan…

Today this guy here celebrates another year of living.

I just spent part of my morning writing about him, my husband, the man I’ve celebrated sixteen or so birthdays with in our lives together.

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I included photos and everything. I said something about the awesome birthday gift I got him that he picked out and purchased.

Kinda like the boots I told him he bought me a month before my birthday.

It was a good post. Real heartwarming.

Funny even.

Then my internet crashed and all that I wrote is lost in the abyss…

And I yelled, COME ON!

But it doesn’t matter now. What I really wanted to say is today we are celebrating the birth of a good man.

A patient man. Master of the grill. Master of the kitchen.

Folder of my underwear.  Fixer of broken things.

Troubleshooter of our lives together.

Caregiver.

Kitten

Terrible singer.

Yeller at stupid TV shows.

Wearer of a great collection of snapshirts.

Watcher of westerns.

A good shot.

Lifter of heavy things. My roadie.

Handyman, fisherman,

sportsman,

Huntingthe most handsome man in my camera lens.

I said all those things, eloquently. Was just about to send them out into the world…

And then…

CRASH.

But it doesn’t matter.

He knows who he is.

And what day it is…

Happy Birthday Husband,

Love,

Your biggest fan.

Tangled.

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Out here on the ranch there are people and animals and machinery and water and buildings and growing things and plans thought out but maybe not discussed with one another…

When you combine all the moving parts sometimes things can go kinda weird, get tangled up so to speak.

Like last week I came home from something or other to Husband pushing dirt on the Bobcat, just like every other dry summer day. We have been working on landscaping and planning for a fence to keep the cows out of yard, so getting the dirt in the right places has been the longest and first step in the process.

Anyway, so I get home and I drop my bags, shuffle the mail pile on the counter and look out the window at the hill where the horses generally graze, and then down at the plum patch on the edge of what will be our fenced in yard one day.

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Then I notice a piece of wire or string or something stretched across the edge of the yard, from the plum patch, across the open toward the dam, with no end that I could see…

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With Pops and Husband involved in this place, a few scenarios run through my mind about the existence of this piece of wire or string or whatever.

1) Maybe Husband is staking out where the fence will go, which is good, because I think he’s right on in the placement.

2) Could Husband have strung a piece of electric fence or wire or something to temporarily keep the cows off his dirt moving masterpiece?

3) But it sorta looks like a piece of twine, and Pops was out here on the 4-wheeler the other day driving up the hill to check on things. I bet a peice got stuck to the back of his machine and he drug it a ways…that’s probably it…

4) Who the hell knows…these boys never tell me anything…I gotta call Pops, I’m too lazy to try to catch Husband on that Bobcat right now…

I dial…it rings…he answers.

“Hello.”

“Hi, it’s me. Yeah, did you like, string some twine across our yard, or like, maybe drag a piece on your 4-wheeler when you went by the other day…”

“No. No I didn’t. I noticed it too. It was there when I drove past…piece of twine, goes all the way up to the dam as far as I can tell…a cow musta drug it I think…”

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“Well that’s a theory…really? Weird…I wonder how far it goes?”

“Yeah, I don’t know…”

“Well, ok, just checking…I guess I’ll go investigate…wrap it up…”

“Yeah, ok bye.”

I hung up.

Wonder where a cow picked up all that twine? Wonder where it got hooked? On her foot? On her ear? On a tooth or something?

How did she pull it all that way without a snag or a snap?

I headed down to the plum patch, which seemed to be the middle of her destination, twine strung up in the thorns and heading toward the dam in one direction, to oblivion in the other…

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I grabbed it and followed it along the cow path that lead to the dam…
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To the edge of the dam where she grabbed a drink…

IMG_4185and then literally into the dam where she must have hung out to cool off.

IMG_4187And then turned around IMG_4188Then turned around to head to the shade of the trees up by the fence…

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But that was only the beginning. because there I stood with a pretty substantial roll of twine around my arm looking for the end, which seemed to be trailing back toward my house again, up the hill and toward the barnyard, with no end in sight.

I backtracked, to find the source, coiling as I went…

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It was going to be a long trip…

Back past the plum patch, up along the cow trail that turns into the road on the top of the hill. Past the old machinery and the broken down three-wheeler and lawn mower that we need to move for crying out loud. I have to get on that.

Then down toward the shop where the cow seemed to have gone back and forth, back and forth, zigzagging in front of the old tractor and little yellow boat. IMG_4217Then up to the old combine to scratch her back or something…

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Then back up to the top of the hill, across the road, to the scoria pile we’re saving for a literal rainy day, then back down through the brush on the side hill toward the old combine again, tangling up in the thorns of the prairie rose patch somehow…

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Then over toward the barn yard…wait, turn around, not yet…back in front of the shop, hooking on every stray weed and grass along the way, but never coming undone…no…where the hell did she pick this up?

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Why did we leave a big-ass roll of twine just laying around for some creature without opposable thumbs to go dragging for miles and miles across the countryside?

Why can’t we get our shit together around here?

How long is this damn roll? How long is this going to take?

Do you know how long this is going to take!!!

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And how does this even happen?

Where did it even…

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Begin? …

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The golden hour…

IMG_9124Summers don’t last long enough here. But the days are long and so we make up for it by squeezing every last inch of sunlight out of our waking hours.

We have supper at 11 pm. Quick. Whip something up. We need to sleep so we can wake and do it again.

I like every inch of this time of year, but I like the witching hour best, the time right before sunset when everything on earth is bathed in a golden light and the creek bottoms cool and the clover smells fresh and crisp and like every childhood ride I’ve ever taken.

IMG_9099Last night I rushed home from meetings in town to meet up with Husband to push some bulls and a few cows through the gate to the west. I ran inside and switched from my sandals and fancy shirt to boots and jeans and jumped in the old green pickup and on down to the barn. I rearranged the tack room and swept away dust while I waited for him and the horses to come down.

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It would be a quick and easy ride, the cattle right by the gate. We saddled up and admired our animal’s sleek backs. They’re summering well, we said. Fat and sassy, full of gas.

We swung on and out of the barnyard and pushed those cows with their new boyfriends toward the creek. And they went well and so did our two bays and when they were through that gate we decided to keep going ourselves, to check the dam on the other side of the pasture. To just ride a bit and be out in it.

To make sure all the other cows were in between the fence lines.

I wish you could have seen it, the way the green looked neon and the purple flowers popped from the earth in the bask of the 9:30 sun sink. On a different Wednesday evening I might have brought my camera, but I left the house on a deadline and, sometimes it’s nice to just be there without the burden of trying to capture it the way I see it, because sometimes it just isn’t possible.

And sometimes it’s nice to just talk about nothing really and ride along.

IMG_9112Sometimes it’s nice to just say, “What a night! What a night!” and believe it between the two of you.

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We made our way to the dam, spotting a hawk and a coyote and a couple deer along the way. Oh, and some cows. There were cows too.

Good thing there were cows.

And then the sun that was kissing the top of my husband’s hat, filtering through his too-long hair, making him look like a western movie poster, sunk down over the horizon, chilled my skin and turned our stroll into a trot, back across the new spring on the hill, down through the valley where the plums grow in the fall, up along the deep trails, across the flat, to the creek and through the gate we left open.

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Feeling proud of our accomplishments and hungry for our 10 pm supper, we popped up over the hill that would take us to the pink road, past the grain bins and down to the barnyard.

But not before we came upon the cows and their boyfriends, the same ones we just pushed through that gate, munching and strolling exactly where we found them an hour or so before.

“Cows” I exclaimed as if my husband didn’t have eyes.

“Yup,” he replied in typical Husband fashion. And then, “Shoulda probably shut that gate…”

But if there ever was a night to do a chore like that twice, it was that night. Because in the golden hour or in the dark, we would rather be out there than anywhere…

And anyway, tacos taste best at 11 pm.

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The way it should be

This week the cows came home, and so did 70+ degree weather.

When there are cows around in 70+ degree weather it’s next to impossible for people like us to stay inside, or do anything other than find the horses and ride around.

Of course there are things to be done, fences to be fixed, etc. etc. and that’s why we ride. Because on the back of a horse at least you can look like you’re working.

And when the cows are home and it’s 70+ degrees things that might have annoyed you, like opening one gate to let the horses in only to watch them run wide open out the open gate on the other side of the corral, make you cuss for only like five to ten minutes while you rush to wrangle the animals off the green grass on the other side of the fence and back to the barn.

Even the bird that shit on your head and the wood tick(s) stuck behind your ear are taken as a small price to pay for the arrival of summer

Because the wild berries are blossoming and it smells like heaven. 

This is my ride.

The man beside me is telling me things that make me laugh and he’s handsome and he’s getting all the gates and I get to go home with him tonight.  

The calves are adorable.

And the cows are home and it’s 70+ degrees and weekend’s here and life is the way it should be back at the ranch.