Sunday Column: Why I won’t be hosting a garden party.

We’re in the middle of roundup season, and no, I don’t mean weed killing. I mean cow gathering. And when I say the middle, I mean it a couple different ways. Like, we’re in the middle of rounding up cattle.

And we are living in the middle of where we round up cattle.

So I have new neighbors these days, and no they’re not leaning over the white picket fence to say hello, because, as you know, there is no white picket fence.

And they’re not bringing hot dish either. Because last I heard cows were only good for one thing in the kitchen, if you know what I’m saying.

But it turns out neither one of us are really good in the kitchen these days, because we both know winter’s coming and we both want to spend the last few weeks of moderate weather and colorful leaves out and about checking on things.

Like cows.

Because even if they’re just fine really, cows are a good excuse to get on that horse when the basement needs cleaning, the dishes need doing, the laundry is piled up and the dust has turned to dirt on your floor.

Yes, I always choose the ride over a properly cooked dinner at a properly decent hour.

And so that’s the dilemma of the month: late night meals of leftover frozen pizza and cow poop lawn ornaments.

But still, I’m not convinced it gets better than this….

Coming Home: Living with an undomesticated yard
by Jessie Veeder
9/29/13
Fargo Forum
www.inforum.com

Like our singing neighbor to the north, Corb Lund, says: “Everything is better with some cows around.”

Happy Trails!

Jessie

Why I’m shopping for khakis and a house in the suburbs…

Last night I went on a ride with Pops to gather the cows. We were in a hurry because every day it gets darker a little earlier. It was 6:30. It gets dark at 7:30…or something like that.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, I have never been able to keep up with Pops on a horse, and I’m afraid no matter how much help I think I am, I’m quite certain he would be better off without me.

I mean, I could be riding a race horse. You know, one of those fast buggers that wins the races race horses win. It could have countless trophies, made jockeys famous and fans from around the world could be chanting his name. And that horse would take one look at me and decide that running isn’t his thing today.

And neither is trotting for that matter.

Nope.

Not until we’re pointing toward the barn anyway.

Or cutting a path through the thick trees. Yeah, in the trees he’d find his pace.

But Pops. Pops could ride a horse that was half-way to the light at the end of the tunnel and that horse would turn right around to give him his last breath.

So this is what I deal with when we’re in a hurry–kicking and pushing and working to find a pace on a lazy horse to keep up with Pops as he heads toward the trees, providing me with directions that I cannot hear because he is facing the hills and I am three horse lengths behind him.

I yell “What?”

And he says something about following a cow through the trail in the trees.

So I do.

Only there isn’t a trail.

So me and my suddenly-lightening-fast horse make one through the brush so thick that I lose sight of the cow I’m supposed to be following (and all forms of life and light for that matter).

I hear Pops hollering from what seems like twenty miles away and wonder how he got that far in what I’m certain has only been thirty seconds (I’m not sure though because I lose all sense of time as soon as I get into the trees, you know, because I’m focusing on trying to not die a horrible, mangled death now that my horse has found his first wind…)

“Jessss!!!” Pops’ voice echoes through the trees. “Wheeereee youuuuu attt?”

“Uhhhh…” I spit the leaves from my mouth. “Just, uh, cutting a trail here…”

…and bringing with me some souvenirs from the experience–sticks in my shirt, leaves down my pants, acorns in my pockets and twigs jammed nicely in the puffs of my ponytail as I emerge on the other side of the brush alone and searching for any sign of the cow I was supposed to keep an eye on.

Ah, nevermind, looks like Pops has her through the gate.

Shit.

Shit.

I kick my horse to catch up while I work on ridding myself of the vegetation I acquired on my “Blair Witch” journey through the coulee.

I catch up just in time to follow him to the top of a hill, down through another coulee, along the road and into the barnyard where we load up the horses and I wait to make sure Pops’ tractor starts so he can get home and get a bale of hay.

It does not start.

(Good thing I have patience, you know?)

So I drive him and the horses home.

Slowly.

Because I have precious cargo.

And because apparently I like to torture this man who is trying to beat the sun.

And the other man in my life who was still at work when I got in from “helping” and decided to make him a casserole, only to be asked, three bites into his meal, what I put in this thing.

To which I replied “cheese, noodles, hamburger…the regular…why?”

He gets up from his chair while pulling something from his mouth, looks and me and says:

“Because I just bit into a stick.”

Shit.

If you need me I’ll be shopping for khakis and a house in the suburbs.

Winter, roundup and my neckerchief.

Ok, ok, it’s officially that time of year. I just looked at my calendar and promptly felt guilty for making fun of friends and family and all of the department stores around me who were eagerly rolling out the Christmas wreathes, wrapping, lights, tinsel, candy canes, enticing seasonal sales and the waving, inflatable Santas, snowmen and baby penguins my momma would love to shoot with her B.B. Gun (that is, if we were dumb enough to allow her to touch a weapon, which we are not. So your Santas are safe).

Yes, the calendar says there are only six more weekends until the birthday of sweet baby Jesus, but there are many other clues around here that indicate there is no denying winter and we might as well get used to dressing in layers so thick we can eat all the kneophla we want, hat hair, maneuvering through tasks with mitten hands, car starters and for the not so fortunate, trips outside to start the vehicle in our robe and slippers at 6 am.

As I stare out the window of our cozy abode, I am made well aware of one of those signs—the second snow storm. See the second snow usually comes after the first snow has melted and we are all feeling really great about ourselves and convincing each other that yes, 55 degree weather, although it has never happened before, could indeed stay around until well into December.

And we were really lucky last weekend, because that is what we had. Beautiful, glorious, sun shining November weather.

The perfect weather for the first sign of the shift in seasons, and that is my favorite. Roundup.

Yes, roundup–a time to gather all of the cows and calves to get ready for the sale.

And for those of you who are thinking right now about cowboys whooping and hollering with bull whips and chaps moving cows effortlessly down the slopes of steep mountains, through raging rivers in the bright sunshine of the dessert, looking all handsome and regal and then breaking for a lunch served off of the back of a chuckwagon, coffee in tin cups, grits and a slab of said beef on accompanying plate before riding off into the sunset, the cattle in a perfect line moving effortlessly over the horizon, I’m going to have to tell you to stop right here.

Yup, stop reading this garbage if you want to keep that Hollywood image, because although roundup may look like that at those million dollar operations (and in Texas, where everything looks like the movies) I have made a promise to tell it like it is folks.

Now don’t get me wrong, around here there is adventure, there are fast horses, and water and cows in lines moving over the horizon…just most of the time the horses are fast to get to the cows that are moving over the wrong horizon and crossing the wrong creek.

When I was growing up, roundup was a big deal for me. It meant getting up early, bundling up in my chaps and warm jacket and thick socks and eating some toast before heading out to meet the neighbor girls who came over with their dad and their horses and their pink beanies and mittens to help. And we would take directions from our fathers as we trailed behind the line of cattle that the men would gather from deep in the coulees, the tops of hills, thick brush and creek beds.

And the neighbor girls and my sister and I would feel important and successful and extremely helpful as we pushed these cattle, hollering our favorite cow moving sound effects like “yip yip,” “Hya,” “c’mon cows” while we moved them along through the gate and into the pen.

Back then it was easy. It was fun. There was very little drama.

Because we were nine and ten and oblivious.

But time moves on and things change and now the real cowboy, my pops, has this to work with.

And only this:

Because while poor husband is working on the weekdays at a job that helps pay for my sweet neckerchiefs and giant glasses, ensuring that I look as much like Napolean Dynamite as possible, I am free to be around.

You know, that’s why I’m here.

To help.

So last Thursday, after assessing the situation, pops had a plan to wait for more help in the evening before we attempted to gather all 120 cow and calf pairs. But as the days grow increasingly shorter (another one of those signs of the season change) he realized that an hour and a half might not be enough time to get the job done.

So he came over to my place with a new plan and full confidence in his fully-grown daughter. We were going to get the cows in ourselves. All of them.

And why not? We had all day, and what a beautiful day it was.

So I put on my long underwear (it was a beautiful day, but still ND in November, so you know, gotta layer up), my beanie, my neckerchief, my long jacket (with my name embroidered on the chest, you know, just in case I got lost out there)  and my mittens, and headed out the door and into the Wild West.

Having forgotten over the summer how restricting it is to have all of your fingers crammed together under leather and fuzz with only a single thumb out to fend for itself, I quickly regretted the mittens. But pops and me and my mittens headed out to the hills and toward the cattle sunning themselves by road, grazing unaware, mooing and chewing and, apparently contemplating ways to make this really difficult for the real cowboy and the alien looking creature on the horse heading toward them.

And while pops ensured me this would be a piece of cake, I obliviously (did I mention I was on a high dosage of cold medication) snapped action shots as the cattle appeared to cooperate before giving each other secret-code bovine handshakes and promptly splitting off into four or five groups, each group heading for a different gate.

No group heading for the right gate.

So while most of our cattle moving is done slowly and surely, cow-whispering style, it was clear that method was not going to get the job done. Especially with one real cowboy and one woman on medication who was warm enough thanks the layers and mittens, but really, wasn’t quite what you would call quick, you know, thanks to the layers and mittens.

But despite the bundling and meds, we had to kick it in gear and run for the north hill to head off the first group, then to the south gate to head off the second and down to the creek bed to get the scragglers, and to the east clearing and back again.

The horses were sweating.

Now I was sweating.

Pops was calm, cool and collected.

Because, look, the cows are headed toward the dam, all of them, and he was sure they would gather there and take a little drink and then we would move them toward the home pasture and into the corrals.

No problem.

And there I was, back in my familiar position, behind the trail as pops walked atop the nearest hill, along the adjacent brush patch, plugging up the open spots and reading the cattle’s minds, anticipating their next move…

So I took off my mittens, snapped another picture and took a deep breath. Almost done. But as we made it to the dam, the cows’ next move became apparent.

And it wasn’t hanging out to take a drink.

It was breaking into a trot past the water and off into the bur oak trees and thorns and brush that grows wild and thick up the steepest hills around the watering hole, some of the gnarliest hills on the place.

Head groggy, perspiration dripping from my beanie, my congested mind hadn’t wrapped around this new turn of events as pops flew up the hill, calmly telling me to stay put, to watch the opening so the cattle wouldn’t turn back.

And as I sat there on a horse that doesn’t like to be left alone, we watched as the cattle moved out of the brush and to the top of the hill and turned to the west instead of back north. And when convinced by pops to move in the right direction, another batch poked through the trees and moved to the east while pops was busy correcting a couple strays.

And then I couldn’t see anything, but if you have never heard cattle moving through the brush after having been separated from their calves, I’ll tell you something, it’s the definition of ruckus: bellering, tree branches snapping, leaves crunching.

Ruckus.

And then no pops.

Where was pops?

I was transported back to my childhood when I would be left on a hill somewhere to wait and my dad would be out of site for what I was sure was hours and I would play through the worst case scenarios in my head: he got bucked off, he broke his leg or cracked his head open on a rock and I would have to find him and try to lift him back on his horse and get him to the hospital and, and, oh Lord, let him appear over the hill. Oh Lord, oh dear, oh man…oh

Oh, ok, there he is. He’s coming back.

Back with part of the herd and a sweaty, panting horse.

So, to make a story that is getting quite long a bit shorter, I’ll break it down for ya:

We moved the the cattle he managed to acquire quite effortlessly to the barnyard.


Pops switched horses.
We went back to get the rest.
We got the rest.
I got off to get the gate just as the cows were approaching their destination.
The cows saw me and turned a different direction.
My horse stepped on his reins.
My reins broke.
Some cows got away.
Pops got them in.

Pops got them in.
They were all in.
We high fived.

I unsaddled, went in the house, made a sandwich and took some more DayQuil.

I looked just like that...only without the fur.

Oh, and I made pops a sandwich too. And we talked about the ride and looked out the window of my kitchen where we could watch the bovines settling in, taking a bite of hay, a lick of salt and pooping everywhere. And as they were rehashing the events of the day I am sure they were feeling a bit defeated as they thought this time, this time, they were sure to make the great escape.

But, cattle or human, you can’t escape it.

Winter's here, and that's no bull...

So slap on your beanie and mittens. You can borrow my neckerchief if you need to, but you might as well hunker down.

Merry Christmas.

A lightning bolt and a cowgirl with a wedgie

Not all days are picture perfect around here. No. Not all.

Because sometimes you’re a cowboy, and then other times, well…you’re a D-

…no matter the outfit.

See, I had a couple days of meetings in town, which helped fulfill the polished career woman that sometimes finds it necessary to make an appearance, but also resulted in lots of car time, computer time, time in high heals and dangly earrings, planning time, hand shaking time, question asking time and one instance of cold coffee being dumped down the back of my dress shirt (don’t ask). So by the time I got home today I was feeling a little pale and clean-cut and itching to put my big girl pants on and whoop it up on a good ‘ol fashioned round-up…you know…get western on the world.

It turns out I should have had supper first…

So after a change from fancy print to practical flannel, the guys and I saddled up and headed out on a mission to bring all of the cows home.

Yes, all the cows that were grazing so oblivious, so innocent, so peaceful in greenish-brownish pastures–all the girls, with their hefty teenagers trailing behind them, blissfully unaware of what was about to shake their world.

Because just like that, over the hill popped two calm, cool and collected cowboys and one cranky woman with a wedgie and an empty stomach on the back of a wild, red bolt of lightning full of burs and oat fueled energy—not as much cool and collected as hot and uptight.

And we got right to it. Or at least the men did. After we parted ways to move the unsuspecting cattle from each corner of the pasture, The Red Fury and I began to have our differences.

 

With hair as bad as his attitude...

 

Because I needed to go left and Lightning Bolt Full of Burs most certainly needed to go right—right back to the other horses who were concentrating less on socializing and more on the task at hand.

For those of you who have had any experience with horses with strong wills and a bit of a spoiled streak, you know the drill. The shrill whinny. The stomp of the feet. The head flail. The snort. The spin around. The side-pass. The crow-hop. The ear perk-up. And, of course, the dead calm that occurs right before they go through the hissy fit process all over again.

Yeah, I’ve been there many times. And even if you haven’t been there with a horse, I am sure you can relate anyway: think child without the cookie he really, really needs, your sister during a fight over closet space or your worst boss on his worst day.

Anyway, some days you’re up for the fight. Some days you don’t back down. Some days you laugh it off and slap ‘em on the ass (the horse, not your boss…or your sister I suppose) and move on with your life.

But then some days you just want to rip off your big girl pants and snort and stomp and flail along with them. Or at least light a cigarette (the fact that you do or do not smoke is not relevant in these situations)

Well, contrary to popular belief, the Marlboro Man doesn’t just pop on over the nearest butte around here. At least I haven’t seen him anyway. And out in the middle of this country, the work just has to get done, no matter the mood. No matter the stomach growl. No matter the urge for a martini and a Virginia Slim.

At least that is what I told The Red Fury. And after a pops prompted swat on the lightning bolt’s rump and a forced gallop up the nearest butte and back, the two pains of the pasture straightened up a bit.

When Red Fury accepted that I was just a bitch today (more than likely due to the tight pants and the wedgie) and I accepted that Red Fury was going to take me across the landscape with an attitude that resembled the biggest jock in high school, we were fine.

Just fine, ok.

Yes, we did indeed fall in line and the cows made their merry way up hills, across cricks, through the brush and to the sweet gates of home with the two of us finally working together for the greater good. And I was glad I had the sense to “cowboy up.”

But I was also a bit discouraged.  Because these emotions, these frustrations, this uptight, scared to hit the ground, nervous and untrusting attitude I was exuding was not supposed to follow me out here. It was supposed to stay home on the pillow where I left it the night before when I couldn’t sleep because I was too busy counting my shortcomings. I was supposed to be something else out here…something resembling the scene from “The Man From Snowy River”—taking on the task with a bullwhip, a sweet hat and a passion. I was supposed to have confidence. I was supposed to have fearlessness. I was supposed to have skill and power and control out here in this wild space.

And instead I cowered a bit. I crumpled a bit. I gave in a bit. And the beast beneath me?  Well, he knew what he was dealing with and it turns out that made him nervous. My attitude, my body language, my frustration revealed to him vulnerabilities and weaknesses that don’t work too well in the important and magical beast-and-master partnership. Because when this animal panicked, so did this human–and all trust was lost.

I guess what happens in real life does happen out here after all.

And you know what. That’s ok. Because not all days are picture perfect around here, or anywhere else for that matter. Sometimes you feel like crying and eating macaroni and cheese from the pot and you don’t want to have to explain it. Sometimes you stub your toe and run a red light and get a ticket and come home to a pile of dishes and you don’t feel like looking on the bright side.

Sometimes you spill coffee down the back of your nice clothes and have no idea how that happened and then you say the f-word. Loud.

Sometimes you just want to run like the wind and don’t want any bitch trying to stop you or trying to hold you up.

And sometimes you’re just hungry.

But no matter how dramatically you lose your nerve, the cows always find their way home–especially when calm and collected cowboys have your back.

Thanks for supper pops.

Thanks for the ride Lightning (and making me feel better about my bad hair day.)

And husband, thanks for loving your wife, even when she is a hungry crab with a wedgie.

The art of cow cooperation.

I had the pleasure on this fine fall day of accompanying pops, just like old times, in bringing the cows home in fall roundup fashion.

My pops loves cows. He is first a horseman, but second a sort of cow whisperer. I am not kidding. It is, in its own way, extraordinary. His method for punchin’ cattle is not necessarily the bullwhips and whooping and hollering old western type of scenario most think of when visualizing a cattle roundup.

No, there isn’t even much swearing involved (unless I’m along. Then there might be a few slung here and there, I’m not gonna lie…) Anyway, the art of chasing cows with my pops is actually, I might stretch as far to say, a sort of “zen” experience, with the motto being, “slow and steady…let the cows think they are in charge.”

And really, they are. In charge that is. The cows. Because they will always outnumber us, no matter the strategy, no matter the brains and brawn you and the cow horse that is under you posses.  Most of the time things generally go as planned, with the cows catching wind of the horse at their backs and filing, nose to rump, on the trail to the gate. Just like pops had visualized. But then there are the days when the cows see that same gate open to greener pastures, and then choose, very casually, very snarky, to simply not enter and, you know, run as fast as their creaky legs can carry them to the nearest, most snarly, most thistle ridden brush there is on the entire place.

Yeah, I can see ya girl.

Then laugh and whisper to each other as pops and I discuss the idiotic fact that we own a pug, two labs and an old, crabby shepherd between the two of us and not one sense to possess a decent cow dog (whose job it is to correct these bovine attitudes). And then we proceed to dismount and walk into the critter and weed ridden brush to chase them out ourselves.

“Hya”  “Whoop.” “Come on girls.” “Yip. Yip. Yip.”

Arms waving, these are a few of the most choice phrases used by pops and me to encourage cow cooperation.

(I admit, I sometimes say “Dammit.” I know I shouldn’t, but I am passionate.)

Anyway, no matter the attitude, this type of situation is bound to occur on a cow-moving extravaganza, but it very rarely causes heart failure and hissy fits in the cowboy.  Because pops is a man who has been working cattle on this ranch his entire life, so he knows the drill.  He gets in their heads. He sees what a rebellious cow is thinking before she makes her move. He knows where all the gates are located in case the bovines get picky, he has been in all of the draws and has crossed all of the creek beds and has had to run damn quick to the tops of all of the clay hills. He’s got it down, so there really is no need to cuss, Jessie, geesh.

But for the last five years, pops has done this type of work, moving anywhere from 10 to 50 to 100 cows by himself on the back of his most savvy horse for years, being out here as the lone cowboy since his kids left home.

So he is really happy to have help, no matter how distracted that help may be by her camera and the lazy, spoiled pleasure horse she stupidly selected to take with her on the job.

Damnit.

Oops.

But it all worked out, like it always does on this fine fall day. After watching as a few surly strays decided to run down the steepest cliff with the most thorns and bogs in the entire pasture, with pops in the lead, saying “Well, if this is how they’re going to be, we’ll just follow them around the entire pasture until they find the gate,” we calmly rode in after them. And then I remembered why cowboys wear chaps as one of those thorns found a home in my shin. I might have said “shit” but I can’t remember.

And then, after a few “Yip yips” and Hya”’s, like well trained beasts, they came out of the brush…and proceeded to head for the other side of the pasture to a lovely spot where a deep creek winds up and back again through cliffs and washouts and lots and lots of thistles.

We followed.

We followed as the cows, with their rather large calves at their tails, waded in mud up to their knees to get away from us. And then proceed to swim across the deep creek and climb and claw and scramble out its steep, 90 degree bank. You know, to get away from us.

I shook my head, kicked my pokey mount along and scratched at the thorn in my leg. Pops laughed and commented on how gorgeous the view is out here. He said this is his favorite pasture. He pointed out the nicest calf.

What a beautiful day.

And it was, because just as I was sure these cattle were calling the Greyhound Bus to get the next ticket to NYC  (you know, to get away from us) we popped up over the hill and saw them file in line behind their girlfriends and their babies who were making their way through the open gate.

Just like pops had planned. Just like he asked them to.

And as they all gathered for a drink of water before their final destination, pops looked out over his spread, their shiny black coats glistening in the sunlight and said, “Look at those beautiful cows. What a herd. Take a picture of that Jess. Those are some great cows.”

So I did. I took a picture.

Then shifted my lens to snap a picture of a cowboy. You know, a real one.

“Happy Trails Y’all”…well we don’t really say “ya’ll” around here…let me try it again..

“Happy Trails You Guys!”

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Until we meet again.

Summer Flies

Clover blooming in the pasture outside my house.

It’s hot today at the Veeder Ranch. Not a smoldering heat, but the sun is beating on the scoria road outside my house and quite unexpectedly, the trees are standing relatively still due to the lack of push by the usually relentless wind. Which entices the flies to buzz  confidently at my front door and around our horses’ noses, sending them into a some sort of trance, bobbing their heads like a metronome in an attempt to keep the persistent insects away. They head for the hill tops to find a breeze.

The cows also have a ritual, which I’ve only noticed, but haven’t studied (as I don’t claim to be, at the present time, a cow expert. I am however, to my husband’s dismay, hoping to become a pig expert, but we won’t go there today). They gather together in a cluster, maybe near the corner of a pasture, or on a side hill, and at a sporadic pace, switch their wiry tails, slapping each other over backs, on faces, under bellies, forming a sort of jumbled up assembly of “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine.”  I imagine them saying to each other on these days,  after a long winter of trudging through the snow, “Really? We just can’t catch a break here can we?”.

These instinctual methods for dealing with the mites that come with the short North Dakota summer seem a bit more methodical than my form of extermination, which is cussing mostly, and a flyswatter made available on every table in the house. Oh, and Raid.

But the pastures are green. Like neon green. After a couple days of rains that poured down from the sky like God was

The paint catching a breeze on a hilltop.

throwing out his bathwater (and God, I imagine, has quite the large tub), the sunshine is working on drying the puddles and putting a nice crust on the gumbo buttes of the badlands and the ruts created in the gravel roads around here.

So I roll up my sleeves and my pants legs and, with my flyswatter in tow, I sprawl out on the porch. Because of course I love the warm sunshine. It is what I have been waiting for since it left us last September. I welcome it to come and brown my skin and entice the sweat-beads on my forehead and chest. I tilt my head upwards, squint my eyes and say “bring it on!” Because, in my sun-worshiping opinion, we don’t get enough of these kinds of days up here. And when we do, unfortunately for the office bound and car bound and truck bound and shovel bound North Dakota employees, they do usually land on a Monday or Wednesday, followed up with a nice rainy weekend, which doesn’t stop the hearty residents from loading up their fishing boats and digging out their Bermuda shorts anyway, because dammit, the summer is short.

Clay butte outside my window baking in the summer sun.

I found in my days touring the Great Plains as a musician that there are two things people want to talk about when you tell them you are from North Dakota (as if they didn’t already figure it out as soon as I open my mouth): your accent (say “You Know”) and the weather. And as soon as I got done explaining that yes, I know I have an accent, and that I blame it on my Lutheran Church Lady heritage, and yes, I know I say “Dakoota” funny, and haha, yes, I wish I talked more like you and said “ant” instead of “aunt” and “yes” instead of “yah,” the conversation always turns to weather.

“It’s cold up there isn’t it?”

“Yah, sure is”

“How cold does it get”

“Pretty cold. Sometimes like 30 below zero” *

“Holy Shit”

“Yah”

Yes, we talk about the weather. Ask us and we will proudly declare that it takes a certain type of person to live here.

Cows switching their tails near the water tanks.

That the winters keep the riff-raff out. That we hunker down and deal with it.

But we, from the humble stock we sprang, rarely talk about the summers here. Maybe because, in our minds, they are not so dramatic. They don’t incline us to use as many puns and metaphors and exaggerated stories about the neighbors nearly freezing to death in a blizzard or almost dying walking across campus at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks (which is the coldest place on earth I am sure of it), or how the wind could blow the snow in a flurry one thousand miles an hour over roads coated with sheets of ice and North Dakota schools would not think of shutting down. No, North Dakota summers could not possibly be that dramatic.

But I think we are wrong here. The summers here are not to be skipped over on your way to explaining yourself out of why we endure the bitter cold. I believe there is something to be said, I mean, really be said, about the season that was sent here to save us.

Hondo cools off in the dam

Because graciously summer unfurls itself from its cocoon ever so slowly for us, year after year, revealing its colors in soft buds of green on the trees, allowing the sun to shine for just a few more minutes every day, enticing the crocuses to poke through the earth on the sides of hills. It gently whispers to us to open our windows, to let the winter air out of our houses, to let the dirt creep in on the bottom of our shoes, to water our lawns and watch the blades grow, to throw something on the grill. To warm up already!

It eases us into the new, refreshing sensation,  like a mother coaxing her child to get his feet wet in the pool, to come in a little further, until he finally, after giddy squeals and nervous shakes, dunks his head under the water.

And although most North Dakotans don’t truly believe it’s summer until it’s half-way over, until we have complained

Pearl the mule going in for a drink.

enough about the rain and the wind and the tornado warnings, it is days like today we jump right in. We say to each other as we walk down the street “What a beautiful day!” “It’s gorgeous out there.” “Finally! The sun!” And we plop down in our gardens, and jump into the chilly lakes, and take our sandwiches to the park, and tend to our flowers. Because days like these allow us to completely and utterly forget about the long, frigid January, the snow we shoveled through to get to our garages and the white out blizzard on the highway we were stuck in during Christmas. We finally get a chance to thaw out enough to suck on a popsicle from the Shwan’s man.

In fact, show us a photo of the previous winter and it would be unrecognizable on a day like today when the sky is so blue and the birds are chirping and the dogs are panting and our children are covered in sunscreen and sweat. Those snow drenched houses were another lifetime. Another world.

My summer fly.

Because it is hot today at the ranch and North Dakotans everywhere are turning on sprinklers, nursing their first sunburns, opening their windows and feeling at least a little grateful for the flies.

And that takes a special type of person.

*just a note for those of you looking to take a visit, and don’t know me personally–I do tend to exaggerate, especially when it comes to the weather. 30 below zero has probably never occurred here.  I am included in the dramatic bunch.

Happy first day of summer you crazies!