Only the crocuses know

crocus 1

Only the crocuses know
Forum Communications

A few days ago, I went out searching for crocuses.

The sun had been warm enough to dry the hilltops and gravel roads and so I thought a few of them may have been summoned. With my head down searching, I climbed to all the familiar places on the ranch where I know they live, just under the dirt, waiting for the right morning to take the risk and reach up.

I didn’t see a hint of that purple promise of spring.

The next day, I woke up to a blanket of fresh snow covering every inch of this place. It was April 1. I’d been fooled.

And so the snowflakes fell in big chunks outside our window all morning as my kids were slow to wake up for another day of playing mommies or monsters or dress-up. I shuffled around this house, picking up toys, kissing owies, taking phone calls, making food, cleaning up food and answering countless inquiries for Mommy to find it, Mommy to fix it, Mommy to come here, Mommy to hold me…

A few weeks ago, these tasks and countless requests from my children would have been competing with my sense of urgency to get my work done, to meet a deadline, to prepare for an event, to wake my kids up early to get in the car and leave the ranch with the sunrise. These days, the only place we need to be is home.

And aren’t we the lucky ones.

“Seems like we’re just living like we used to live out here,” my dad observed, recalling memories of his childhood on this place before the road to town was paved, before private phone lines, before he was old enough to know what he might be missing in that great big world that existed beyond these hills.

A few months ago, my 4-year-old started to ask me every night, “Where are we going tomorrow?” It was a question that snuck up on me, like somehow I didn’t think she would notice the rushed breakfasts, the late suppers, the weekends spent without me while I was on the road singing for that supper.

You all know we’re only in the beginning of this plea to retreat and distance ourselves from the lives we’ve grown accustomed to. And that looks like different things to different families, depending on situation and story.

But for us, even with the weight of worry heavy on my chest for all of the circumstances out of our control, I’m finding peace and strength in leaning into what is, like picking up toys, kissing owies, taking phone calls, making food, cleaning up food and answering countless inquiries for Mommy to find it, Mommy to fix it, Mommy to come here, Mommy to hold me…

And my walks to the hills, a daily reminder that to everything there is a season, and there’s no amount of worry and wishes that will make the crocuses grow.

Because only the crocuses know.

crocus bouquet

Spring: From the experts


Signs of spring come earlier for the experts
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications

The first calf of the year was born on the Veeder Ranch last week. That afternoon I went out on a walk to clear my head and to climb to the top of a hill to see if there were any mommas off alone on a hillside or in the trees, a pretty sure sign of some birth action.

But I didn’t see a thing.

Spring Thaw

But I struck out again.

Yes, to me the world was still brown with a few splashes of white snow in the deep coulees and, except for the dang hornets that have magically come to life to bang against the windows of my house, no sign of new life quite yet.

I strolled home with the dogs sniffing out the path in front of me, on their own mission for signs of spring, kicked off my shoes and went inside.

That evening my husband and I loaded Edie up in the pickup to go feed the cows, and just as we were pulling out of driveway, I got a text from dad.

“Got our first calf today,” it said.

First Calf

“Of course we did,” I said out loud to myself, wondering when the heck I will develop the sixth sense and laser beam eyes Dad has for things like this. We met him down the road a ways and Edie helped him unroll a bale by pulling out handfuls of hay and picking a nice strand to chew on herself.


We drove over to take a look at the new baby who was standing on wobbly legs, fresh, slick and black as a bean. When my husband came back with the tagger (because we never have what we need when we need it), all four of us lingered out there in the warm spring air, leaning against the pickup doors and letting Edie work the windshield wipers, radio knob, steering wheel and headlights of the parked pickup, certain she was accomplishing the most important task on the place that day.


After a half hour of solving life’s problems, we all went home for supper.


The next day while I was in town for a meeting, I got another text from Dad.

“Found them first!” it said, with a blurry photo of a bunch of crocuses attached.

Apparently he also knew we were in an unspoken contest.


I put my hands on my hips and huffed.

“Of course you did,” I texted back, thinking if it couldn’t be me, at least someone found the first promises of spring.

Thinking how different the world can look behind another set of eyes.


And so with the first calf, the first crocus, the frogs croaking in the dam and the birds flying home and the appearance of Edie’s garden hat, I think it’s safe to say spring is here.


Oh, thank goodness, spring is here.

Crocuses and how it could keep getting better…

It’s officially crocus season, and that’s good news out here on the edge of the badlands where we’ve all been patiently waiting for them to arrive, as if the blooming of the first flower gives us permission to pack away our sweaters and pull out the short sleeves.

Well, that’s what I did anyway. I made a mountain out of the sweaters shoved in my closet. I pulled them out ceremoniously flinging them to the floor, purging my room of winter before I stood back and seriously contemplated throwing them out the window and lighting a match on the whole damn pile.

But that would have been crazy, and, well, let’s be honest, I’ll need them again in a few short months. Anyway, I didn’t have time for that. Little Sister was coming over and she had plans to soak up the sunshine and I had plans to procrastinate painting the bathroom.

So we grabbed our cameras and the herd of dogs…





and went climbing around, scouring the ground for the purple flower.

Turns out we didn’t have to go far.

When you become familiar with a place in all of it’s seasons, you memorize where the crocuses bloom in the spring, where to go to pick chokecherries and raspberries in the summer, and to always, no matter the season, watch out for cactus.

We know these places because prairie people like us have vivid memories of hunting for crocuses with our grandmother, sisters, mothers or fathers, bending over to pull them from the tangle of brown grass while the warm spring wind picked up the loose hair that escaped from our ponytails.

I’ve been living back at the ranch for three springs and I will be here for the rest of the springs I am given. I will never forget what it felt like to climb to that hilltop and pick the first crocus of the year as I stood with my husband we looked down at our home.

And we were happy to be together, happy for summer to arrive and happy to stand on that hill for a moment that we were sure couldn’t get much better from here.

Then my Little Sister moved to our hometown and now the whole family is together and close and on Monday mornings I can expect a call asking me what I’m doing this weekend. Because my Little Sister plans ahead and I’m glad to be consulted on those plans.

So Saturday’s plans made room for crocus hunting in the warm sunshine next to a girl who used to follow me on my after school walks up the creek to my fort. I used to wish she would leave me alone then. I used to holler at her to stop following me and when we came in the house crying and fighting, our mom would promise us that someday, we would be best friends.

Funny how moms are usually, most likely, pretty much, always exactly right.

Funny how some things change, but I still haven’t mastered the art of convincing Little Sister to help me with my chores…like, oh, you know, painting the bathroom.

Funny how she still doesn’t listen to me.

Funny how the crocuses bloom on the same hill every year and someday we might have a chance to watch our own children run to the top and pick us a purple bloom.

Funny how it could possibly keep getting better.

Sunday Column: When the right words fail us.

It’s a beautiful weekend. The sky is blue, the wind has chilled out and the crocuses are in full bloom.

Words don’t do justice to the way 70 degrees feels after a long winter. And as a woman always searching for the right language, this week’s column is about how, when it comes to beauty, our words sometimes fails us.

Enjoy whatever sun you can find today!

Coming Home: Finding right words not always easy
By Jessie Veeder
May 5, 2012
Fargo Forum

Spring is springing…

Spring is slowly springing on the ranch and I thought I would send you off into the weekend to enjoy it.

Pick yourself some crocuses…

 Climb to the top of a hill…

Count the birds that are finding their way home…

Search for green things…

Follow the winding, thawing, crisp cold creek…

Catch the sunrise…

Stay out until sunset…

And just live in it.

Happy weekend

How do the crocuses know?

It’s official.

Deep breath in and out.


After a winter that dug its frozen fingers in, ate us out of house and home, turned our skin pasty and soft and all in all outstayed his welcome, peaking up from the once frozen ground is the first genuine promise of warmer days to come.

And when I say genuine I mean it, because this little signal that comes to us quietly on the hilltops has never failed to lift the dreary spirits of country people in the northern states.

Yes, the crocuses are here.

And if there was anything I needed to do upon returning to the ranch yesterday evening after a lovely day with family sitting out in the 60 degree sunshine–if there were chores or phone calls or words that needed to be said to you about Easter and family and the sweet memories this holiday stirs inside of me, all of that was trumped by husband’s and my deep desire to fling open the doors of the car, pull off our town clothes, change into our muck boots and climb the hills to find springtime treasures.

For anyone who grew up in a northern state or in the countryside where your world turns white for months you will understand this. You will understand what the crocus means to us here in rural North Dakota.

You will understand the sweet smell of dirt that accompanies the search and anticipation of spotting that first vivid purple petal emerging from the cold, damp, brown earth. And if you have patiently watched the snow drifts disappear and reappear outside your front porch as the months drag on, you will not laugh when I say at that moment you feel as though you have never seen a purple that deep, a petal as soft, a color so vibrant. Beauty has arrived.

And if you are from the prairie you will smile as you think of that first breeze catching your hair and the sunshine warming your shoulders as you fling off your spring jacket,  let the warm soak in your skin and fall down to your knees to inspect the new arrival.

You will understand how, at that moment, you are eight years old again and you have your grandmother’s hand and you can hear her voice through the breeze. You can hear her exclaim “Oh, now look at that…” as your eyes move from the first flower and across the hill to notice that there are purple dots are everywhere. Scattered.

And if your world has been white and you have been restless you will appreciate the challenge you face just then where your enthusiasm for the change of season begs you to grab the flowers up, collect them for your pockets, pluck them for your basket or your bucket and bring them home to proudly display on windowsills and kitchen tables and countertops.

But instead you pause as your fingers run over the fuzz of the fragile flowers that reach for the sky in groups, holding hands with a promise to face this uncertain sky together.

Yes, if you are from the windswept buttes, the wheat fields, the quiet streams that cut through small cow pastures you will nod your head when I tell you that yesterday, when I finally found what I was after, I made sure I only picked one crocus from each group, careful to not leave any alone out there, certain not to pluck the hilltop clean of this precious flower that enters this world so confident, the first bud of prairie spring…

because life is short and a little piece of me felt like, for all this flower has given me, there should be some left out there to live it.

Yes, if you are from the once frozen Dakotas, you will nod your head because you have done the same thing and returned to your home with a modest bundle of furry purple flowers, shaking off the tiny bugs that have made their home inside the petals before setting the bouquet on your table with pride.

This is the ritual, these are the emotions conveyed by such a small and simple gift from nature. And we repeat this ceremony year after year, our excitement builds, our childhood reinvented, our hope for a new season renewed.

We anticipate, we make time, we know it’s coming every year…

But how do the crocuses know?

How do they know the ground is ready and the sky won’t forsake them?

How do they know that momma’s desperately need flowers just as much as papas desperately need to pick them for her?

How do they know when children need a treasure hunt and grammas need to lead the way?

How do they know just when to make a quiet and brilliant entrance to come and finish thawing us out?

How do they know just exactly when we need them?