Homemade surprises.


I spent a good two weeks away from this place. After our vacation with friends spent skiing down mountains in Colorado, I hopped a plane and met my mom in Minneapolis where we shopped at market for clothes and shoes and other fun things for her store.

It was a good hiatus from life that was sort of stressing me out, but it was sure nice to get home to the ranch to see how spring was shaping up.

Turns out it wasn’t really. Just snowing and cold. March went out like a lion, because, if you remember correctly, it came in like a lamb, so that’s what we get.

It took me a few days to get caught up on life around here, and then Easter rolled in and well, there it was, Tuesday afternoon and I had yet to take a look around the place.

Because it’s crocus season.

So after my work was done enough for the afternoon, I took a little walk out to see if I could find any that survived the melty snow.

But before I could even get outside our yard, I ran into these beauties…

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Yup, the elk came for a visit, down across the bottom of Pots and Pans, heading toward the dam right outside our door before they caught wind of me and this beast…

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And while I know the elk live around here, because I see there tracks on my walks, catch the places where they bed down at night or linger on a stray hay bale in the fields, it’s still quite something to see them right in your yard.

I took a breath and held it and watched as they ran away up over the hill, hoping that I didn’t ruin their plans for a drink. Hoping that they might come back later.

Then I took another few steps toward the little hilltops where my sister and I found the first crocuses last year. Searching the ground as I walked, moments later I looked up to find the rest of the herd following suit, another pleasant and quick surprise.

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These animals on this landscape are so imposing. In the mountains they look smaller, dwarfed by the magnificence of the peaks, but here on the rolling hills they are the kings, the largest wild animal you’ll find roaming free. And they take my breath away each time.

I wished there was someone next to me to witness it. And then I was glad it was just me.

I had been missing this place. Life and tasks and deadlines were getting in my way. I stepped outside to see what I could see and nature delivered.

But even after such an unexpected show, I was still thrilled as I always am in early April to see these pretty purple flowers again, reaching through barely thawed ground to promise me summer…

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Before getting rolled over by the gremlin of the farmyard…


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Oh well, to live out here you gotta be hardy. If anything, the crocus teaches us that…

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I’ve traveled all over the place, but home, at the beginning of spring, is still my favorite place full of the best sort of discoveries…

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A full life, a full freezer…

Heeeyyyyaaaa!!! It’s FRRIIIDDDAAYYY!

IMG_5109It’s been an exciting week at the ranch, beginning with this:

IMG_5538No, that’s not Ted Nugent, that there is my handsome, bearded husband with the bull elk he called in and shot with his bow in our favorite pasture.

Drawing an elk tag in North Dakota is a once in a lifetime experience, and being able to successfully harvest one in your own backyard with a bow and arrow is really a rare event.

To say I am proud is not quite enough. What I am is so completely thrilled for this guy, because in the past few months I have watched him immerse himself in a passion he has pushed aside for work and family and building us a house out here. And while all of those things are the responsible choices  people like him make, to see him take a breath and just be the man he is is just, well, better and more important than that fencing-the-yard-in-so-we-can-have-grass project…


Because he’s been scouting the animals for months, watching bulls like this chase each other around the hills, vying for the attention of the cows, getting themselves all worked up and crazy and quite the sight to see.

IMG_5458He’s sat and watched patiently. He has gathered the right equipment and practiced shooting his bow every night.


He knows what it means to take the life of a majestic beast that we admire so much off of our place. He understands the responsibility of it and he takes it seriously. And he took his shot quietly and alone and then called in reinforcements to get this animal home to be properly butchered, removing the hide to be tanned for leather, the horns for mounting on our wall and the meat to fill our deep freeze and our bellies for many months to come.

So that’s what we’ve been doing this week, ending our days by cutting and wrapping meat and answering phone calls from our excited sportsman friends and relatives looking for Husband to re-hash the story from the big hunt…because that’s part of it, the sharing of stories…

Oh, but we did take a break to take a drive to meet the newest member of our family who was born a week or so ago.

Be still my heart, I cannot wait to get this smooshy little creature home! And apparently I couldn’t shut up about it so Husband loaded me up in the pickup and took me for a drive to have a snuggle with him.

Four more weeks and counting. Hondo, get ready…you’re gonna love him I’m sure.

With all these distractions it goes without saying that there is enough dirt on my floor to plant carrots and laundry piled up in places where underwear shouldn’t be. Right now I am procrastinating working on making a dent in the dust an dirty shirts and then I’ll sit down and work on new music, getting ready to record a new album, sorting through songs like sorting through socks, matching up melodies and stories and rhymes.

There’s so much to do and the weather is hot, tricking us all into thinking that summer might linger like this good week we’ve had out here in our little piece of paradise.

Here’s to a beautiful weekend, full freezers and full bellies!

Peace, puppies and elk steak,




Wild, restless things…

It has been the kind of autumn weather sent from somewhere good. 65 degrees and sunny. No wind. The leaves are changing quietly and, if it weren’t for the magical mosquitos that somehow made it through a few overnight freezes, the animals would be as content as they can be.

I can hardly stand staying inside. I can’t. I sit at my desk and work and then get up and take out the garbage. I wander to see if maybe there are things that need picking up out there. I pet the cats just a little longer. Throw the stick for the dog. I just got in from checking the mailbox. And how the leaves are changing. And procrastinating life behind my desk.

Yesterday I called Husband and tried to make a plan to hit the hills when he got home. He thought that would be a good idea. He thought maybe he should be home at a decent hour. It was like 4:00 when I called him.

Three and a half long hours later he arrived…just enough time for me to walk down to the barnyard. Zig zag back to the house again, taking pictures of everything along the way. Taste a few of the biggest plums. Pet the cat. Pet the dog. Mosy back in the house to think about supper and decide I will decide later. Then out on the deck to lay face down in the sun and read a book while I wait and maybe, uh, I don’t know….fall asleep face down until the sensation of a missing limb wakes me up…

My armmmm…..myyy arrmmm fell asslleeepp…

Anyway, finally I heard the clunk, clunk of his boots on the steps and I grabbed my cap and camera and stood like a nerd without a life by the counter and proceeded to make approximately 23 suggestions on what we could do right at that moment, before the sun went down…

Take a walk, shoot at a target, check the game cams, take a 4-wheeler ride, catch the horses really quick if that’s even possible, take a drive, take a run, do pretty much anything but work, climb Pots and Pans and wait for the sunset and let me take photos of him …pick more plums…or chokecherries…or what’s left of the flowers…

In the end taking a ride on the 4-wheeler to the east pasture to check on the game cams won out and I was out the door on the back of that machine before the man could even find his hat.

I will tell you, I would always rather be on a horse, but there is nothing like sitting close to a man with your arms around his waist, under the quickly setting sun, moving through the coulees, talking and watching and just being out and about.

“Isn’t this quite the day?” I would say.

“Sure is,” he would reply as we rolled along, slowly, before stopping so I could take a photo and he could put his binoculars up to his face to see what he could see there on the skyline.

Turns out that the wild things were just as restless as I was that evening and we were in their witching hour, surrounded.

Husband killed the engine of the machine and I followed him on foot, up to the top of the hill where he would quietly hand me the binoculars so I could see up close what I was watching from afar…

A big muley buck making his way out of the trees to the north, and a white tail waiting on the other side. And then, in the corner of our pasture, a herd of elk milled around, the cows bunched up while the lead bull worked himself up trying to fend off his young competitors.

“You hear them bugling?” he asked and handed me the binoculars.

“Yeah,” I whispered, taking a look and handing them back.

And then he would turn back and watch the bucks, making a comment on their size and behavior before handing me the binoculars again.

And that’s what we did then, until the sun dropped below the horizon and we could no longer make out the animals as anything but shadows. We watched the other creatures end the day while we ended ours and it was nice.

Then we turned around and marched back toward our wheels, and I listened as he made plans for his hunt this fall and we didn’t even notice those damn mosquitos.

Yes, we’ve had the kind of autumn days that are made of all things good. And just as the leaves change, so our lives change quietly, from season to season. But I’d like to suppose, no matter how that time ticks, you will always find the two of us out there, when the weather’s good, together, with the other wild, restless things…



To be a human in winter.

Mid January in Western North Dakota doesn’t have the best reputation. It’s indecisive. One day it’s a kind, 20 some degrees,

the next a bitter, chilling 20 below.

Then, just when you find peace with your wedgie-inducing long underwear, it decides to warm up  enough to melt the snow. “How nice!” you think to yourself as you get in your car to drive to town. “I think I could get used to this winter thing if it stayed like this…”

But you know better and you should have never taken off those long underwear, because as soon as you get far enough away from home that turning back wouldn’t make much of a difference, the wind picks up and drops the temperature enough to turn that once slushy highway into a long and lethal ice-skating rink where a constant stream of semis and oil tankers are your competition.

And you’re no Nancy Kerrigan.

Ah, shit. I admit, January and I are enemies. I try to stay positive, keep my guitar out and my snow-shoes and neck-warmer handy. I try to do some sledding or walking or make a snow angel or something…

but mostly I wind up in my sweatpants under the John Wayne blanket reading a book about someone near the ocean before I turn out the light for the night and prepare to tackle mid-winter in the morning.

White knuckle driving, the “arms-out, it’s icy out,” sidewalk shuffle, an intimate relationship with Henry, the morning weather man, phone calls to Pops and Momma and Husband and Little Sister and my friend down the road about whether or not to believe the storm report, feet shoved in slippers and then in boots and then in slippers and then under the covers, soup and coffee and tea and some sort of disgusting warmed up cold medicine because everyone’s sick around here….and a constant craving for pastries.

Yup, that’s January.

And although it comes every year, I’m always surprised how this month seems to suck the creative light right out of me and makes me question the practicality of packing up the pug and heading south.

But I’m not leaving.

Well, there’s the Vegas thing in February, but as of today, I’m planning on coming back. Because I’m here for the long haul, and the longest haul of them all just happens to be winter.

I was thinking this last night as I sat behind the wheel of my four-wheel-drive and turned up the volume on some melancholy music, singing along soulfully and feeling frigid and uninspired and hungry for carbohydrates. I put my foot lightly on the brake to navigate a snowy curve, when up ahead, about five mils from home along the side of the road I noticed a large, tall, dark figure moving slowly toward the white ditch.

I slowed down as a few hundred scenarios whipped through my mind as they do when you see something unexpected on a very familiar path…to big to be a deer…

A grizzly bear?

A tall, scary, insane hitchhiker?


An alien? Probably an alien.




I pulled a little closer until the length of my headlights revealed the figure: two massive and stunning bull elk moving with ease and confidence across the road toward an oak filled coulee on the edge of the badlands.

I stopped in the middle of the road and looked around. Not much traffic meant I could relax and bask in this mysterious moment for a beat. And apparently those elk felt the same way, not the least bit intimidated by the flare of an oil well behind them casting light on their bodies and transforming them into beautiful silhouettes.

They stood still in that warm glow on a flat, snowy patch of ground and stared at the metal contraption lit up in front of them.

An alien.

I rolled down my window to hear them breathing, to hear their hooves squeak in the crust of the snow. As they moved along the highway I lightly pressed the gas pedal and moved with them, imagining I was on my way to the oak grove on the edge of the badlands, imagining my body was held up by a set of massive, hoof-clad legs.

Imagining my coat was thick and my head was held high and I could run like that.

Imagining I was one of them.

But people were made for houses I suppose. Houses and words and questions and the wisdom and thumbs to make wool caps to protect us from the cold.

And of all the qualities a glorious North Dakota elk possesses, I don’t imagine he can be inspired.

Although perhaps he is the definition of the word standing magnificently on a snowy flat, staring into my soul.

So I’ll take it. I’ll take the ice and the fur lined boots and the hot cup of coffee because being human on a cold January evening means the ability to become breathless and warmed clear through and falling in love, over and over again with our big, wide, white, frozen, wonderful world.

Cowboy Cooks: Hunting Camp Stew

In case you didn’t notice all of the pickups driving a little bit slower down the highway…or that blaze orange and camouflage have suddenly appeared as a fashion statement…or, you know,   your husband/boyfriend/significant other has been missing since last Friday come  think of it, I am here to remind you.

It’s deer hunting season.

It’s official.

I think I’ve mentioned it before here, but deer hunting season is a holiday around here with its own set of traditions. Kids get out of school, basement poker becomes a popular activity, beer gets a new, hunting appropriate look and clean-cut men grow beards, wear vests, drink whisky, wake up at the butt-crack of dawn to walk miles and miles in the whipping wind only to  sleep together in close, smelly quarters in the middle of nowhere, rain, shine or snow, in what is known up here as  “hunting camp.”

Now hunting camp seems pretty rustic and masculine for the city boys whose main outdoor chore is weed eating around the rose bushes. Those boys itch for the day they can pack up their duffles with camouflage, bourbon, bullets and only one change of underwear and head for the hills and to their manly roots. Somehow it doesn’t ring as particularly romantic to the man who chases cattle out of his yard on a daily basis and frequently finds deer legs on his front porch, a gift from the canine friends he feeds perfectly decent dog food every morning.

But regardless of the man’s living situation, hanging with the guys at hunting camp is a staple of hunting season. Because really, after the big bucks are stalked and spotted and the farting, burping and scratching is freely is underway, what the season is really about is camaraderie and fellowship and getting back to the primal need of man to hunt and gather in order to feed his people.

Yes, it’s about the food. It always comes back to the food. So what an appropriate time for Cowboy to whip out his famous and simply rustic hunting camp stew. Because the second best thing to the whiskey at hunting camp is, hands down, the chow.

Our family takes great care when a wild animal is taken from our ranch. We prepare and put to use as much of the meat as we can, so this recipe  is the perfect solution for those cuts of meat that aren’t as savory and tender, but still deserve a place on your plate.

I haven’t mastered the art of cooking wild game, but I tell you when I leave it to the men in my life, they do not disappoint.

The following recipe is made with wild elk meat from an animal taken by pops from our ranch earlier this fall.

Elk meat, when prepared properly, is tender and lean and can be ground up to make delicious burger, steaks and roast. We use the leftover cuts of meat that don’t fit in those categories to prepare stir fry, appetizers, fajitas, chilli and, of course, this stew, but this recipe will be equally delicious if you want to use beef or venison.

So let’s get to it shall we?

Cowboy Cooks Hunting Camp Stew

Step 1: Grab a glass

First things first, put on your snarky apron, neckerchief, sexy cowboy hat and pour yourself a drink…oh, and remember to not say the words “sexy cowboy hat” in hunting camp.

This evening’s drink of choice: Black Velvet

Which brings up another hunting camp rule: avoid singing Alannah Myles’s “Black Velvet” at the top of your lungs while pouring yourself a drink. That will go over about as well as “sexy cowboy hat.”

Ok, when preparing himself a glass of whiskey, Cowboy sometimes likes to make his own, manly version of the famous and classy “whiskey sour”. So he adds a splash of lemon juice and an ice-cube.

No, it’s not your gramma’s drink.

Alright, now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on.

Step 2: Gather the ingredients: 

Here’s are the simply, basic ingredients that you’re gonna need besides whiskey.

  • 2 lbs elk meat (or venison or beef) cubed into bite sized pieces…man bites
  • 10 whole cherry/Roma tomatoes
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • 1 cup of fresh or frozen corn
  • 1 cup of fresh or frozen peas
  • 3 large carrots
  • ½ large purple onion
  • 1 T black pepper
  • ½ t red pepper
  • 1 t thyme leaves
  • ½ t rubbed sage
  • 3 fresh garlic cloves
  • salt to taste (and don’t go easy on the salt ok)
  • ½ stick butter
  • 8 cups water
  • 2 cups flour

Now if you are a man in a hunting camp, you more than likely packed and prepared for this hearty meal. If you are a woman in a little house in the middle of nowhere who put “go grocery shopping” on the bottom of her to do list, right behind the laundry, you will have to run to the neighbor’s to get potatoes and onions…and then come back home only to realize you don’t have carrots either…

don't look at me like that...

Ok, now that you have everything, lets move on.

Step 3: Prep your ingredients

Bring your cups of water to a boil in a large pot. And when I say large, I mean it. We had overflow people…making this a two pot stew…for two people.

You heard me, now go scrounge up that giant pot you save for cooking giant things…

Ok, now while you’re boiling the water cut up some things:

Cube the meat into man-sized pieces

Dice three garlic cloves

I know what you're thinking...pretty fancy dish for hunting camp...

Dice 1/2 purple onion

Cube 4 medium potatoes

Dice three large carrots…take a bite—what’s up doc?

Ok, now your water should be close to boiling.

Drop the potatoes and carrots in there to get them cooking.

Step 3: The meat

Now we are going to deal with the meat.

Warm up your skillet on medium/high heat and add ½ stick butter (and a little bacon grease left over from breakfast ) and melt. Use olive oil too if you want..or just butter…or just olive oil…whatever…it’s hunting camp, you can do what you want.

Now we are going to prepare a little flour coating for the meat.

Measure 2 cups of flour in a flat tupperwear or open bowl. To the flour add the black pepper, red pepper, thyme, sage and plenty of salt.

Mix this concoction together with your hands because you are manly like that.

Then give your meat a little dusting of salt and then coat the pieces in the flour mixture.

Now make sure your skillet is nice and hot and add the meat…then grunt like Tim the “Tool Man” Taylor because that’s what you do at hunting camp.

Now add the onions and garlic too.

Cook the meat to very rare. You won’t want to cook it all the way because it will have more cooking to do when you add it to the pot.

Go ahead, give it a taste.

Good right?

Ok now you can add it to the boiling water with those delicious chunks of carrot and potato. Boil for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are nearly done.

Step 4: Finishing it up

When your carrots and potatoes are done to your liking (about 15 minutes prior to serving)  add the rest of your colorful ingredients:

In goes the corn…

and the peas…

and the tomatoes

*queue tomato dropping action sequence*

Sweat a little because it’s about to boil over….

Now add some of the leftover flour mixture to the stew and cook until desired thickness

Simmer for about 15 minutes or until everything is cooked to the proper consistency.

Also, don’t forget to taste your work. I like a little more salt in my stew, others might want a little more heat, so adjust the seasoning as you go along your merry, manly way. This stew is pretty basic, which leave room for any kind of seasoning your manly heart desires.

Oh, and while your waiting, have someone make biscuits to go along with your hearty meal.

I am pretty gifted as far as baking goes, so I took on the task.

Yup. Ah Pilsbury, making regular wives into Betty Crocker every day.

Alright, now we’ve found ourselves adequately whiskied up and things are smelling a bit better in the hunting camp, I think it’s time for our final step.

Step 5: Eat!

Now if you’re actually in a hunting camp instead of a tiny house with your wife, I would like to imagine that you would serve this up in some of those tin camping bowls. But my white dishes with the blue design will have to do for today.

Now stand back in your apron and not-sexy at all cowboy hat as the rest of the men at camp give you some grunts and thumbs up while they devour your stew.

There won’t be any left over for lunch I guarantee…I mean, playing poker and swapping stories around the fire is exhausting.

Happy hunting everyone!

The behavior of men and elk…

Out here on these acres of ranch land there are things I know are there and places I roam everyday. I know there are cattle somewhere between the east and west pastures, if the sneaky animals haven’t found a hole in the fence. I know that if I let the pug out too early in the morning without a bowl of food he will high tail it off down the red road to my parent’s garage where his girlfriend lives with one of those automatic dog feeders.

I know how to catch a horse and where the creek winds. I know where my favorite birch tree lives….and my favorite oak. I know there is a pair of geese that live in the dam in front of where we will put our new house. I know that they mate for life. When it comes to chokecherry picking, I know where to look. The same goes with plums, raspberries, tiger lilies and Christmas trees. I know who rides what saddle and to expect my pops, if he’s home on the weekend, down in the horse pens as soon as the light and weather will allow.

These things I know, these places I have shown you. I have taken you picking those berries, cutting that Christmas tree, down through that winding creek. I have introduced you to my favorite tree and shown you a photo of those geese. I have complained about the pug. These are things I can speak to, I can describe adequately and take you along through words and photos and feelings.

But on Friday evening as I saddled my horse and followed husband out of the barnyard and down the road to meet pops, I realized I haven’t successfully explained or portrayed to you my role out here on these rolling, rugged acres among the men of the Veeder Ranch.  Especially during a season that calls to their inner mountain men, that keeps their eyes wide open, their ears perked, their binoculars close to their sides and rifles tuned.

Yes, it’s nearing hunting season, and if I was ever a tag along, a nod and a “uh, huh” or “yeah, sure,” in their lives during the rest of the year as they explained to me where the fence was down and where the cattle were out, how to manage the water tank situation, how not to run over the biggest rock in the yard with the lawn mower, or where to stand and how to wave my hands when helping one of them back a pickup up to a trailer, ’tis truly the month for observation now, for quiet cheering, for watching these two men finally get a chance to play, to breathe, to flex their man muscles after a year filled with work and stresses.

So on Friday that’s what they did, we saddled up our horses and went scouting for elk–the elk that have been roaming in and out of our lives mysteriously all year, the elk that were behind our little brown house, across our road, by the cattle guard between the two places and then magically appear by my parents’ mailbox.

Because pops has his license this year, a kind of “once in a lifetime” chance at this majestic creature who he can hear bugling in his pastures in the evenings. But here’s the thing that I have learned about pops in my years of sitting next to him in the pickup as he leans his head out the window, his binoculars to his face…as much as the man is looking forward to the season and to the prospect of elk meat in his fridge for the winter,  what means more to him is the observation of this creature. He thrives on learning about their patterns of movement, where they water, where they bed down for the night, where they can be expected…or how they can be so unexpected.

And he wants to share in the experience, tell his story, see if he can show you the same thing. Which is precisely what we were doing on Friday as pops lead the way to the west pasture, talking quietly about how he came right up on these elk on Tuesday evening and got to watch them graze and hear them bugle from nearly 250 yards away. It made his month, that encounter, and he intended to find them again.

To watch.

To learn.

To listen.

And so I followed as the two men lead me down through the creek bottoms, up a rocky pass  across a grassy pasture and through a draw to the top of the hill where pops expected he might find the herd again. I followed as they whispered about guns and bows and where husband shot his whitetail deer a few seasons back. I watched them as they watched the hills, pulled binoculars to their faces, stopped short at the cracking of a tree branch or rustle of the leaves. They pointed things out to one another or stopped in a draw to whisper a few stories, pointers, to say what they expect or hope to see.

It as inspiring really as I moseyed behind, snapping photos and breathing in the fall air. These two men–one who raised me, one who I grew up with–have taught me things I may have never learned without them. Here they were, friends. Best friends out here under the sun that was setting fast and turning golden trees to dark shadows…best friends on an age-old mission, a ritual.

As we pushed our horses up to the top of the butte and dismounted, I watched as the two of them snuck to the edge of the hill, dark silhouettes of men out in an element that was made for them, silent and peering out into the big oak draws below.

My heart pumped hard as husband spun around with that expression I know means business and the two men nearly jogged back to the horses to get a closer look…they had heard the bulging and we were going to get a closer look.

Now here I would like to explain to you what that was like, sitting at the top of that hill with a herd of elk grazing and moving along the trees below us. I want to tell you what these men were saying and describe how the breeze was heavy, the light was low, how I was holding my breath nearly the entire time as the horses grazed behind us, listening for that unmistakable, mysterious bugle. I would have loved for you to be there, really, to learn a little about the behavior of elk in the men’s sporadic and enthused but quiet conversation about what they were seeing.

I could have sat there forever like that surrounded by good things, with the moon above and the grass under my body. I could have listened to these men in their best moments, watched these unsuspecting animals so far away in their habitat, doing what they do to survive out here.

I could have listened to those coyotes howl all night and fallen asleep under the stars at the feet of my horse.

That’s how I felt. 

This is what we saw…

And these are the sounds. They are something you may have never heard before so I wanted to share so badly. It’s nothing thrilling, no fast cars or complicated music, no political banter or celebrity gossip that you might typically find on an internet video. No. This is just the sound of quiet, of calm, of good men in awe of  nature, an elk bugling, coyotes howling and a woman listening…watching…observing the world through their eyes…

The sights and sounds of elk scouting with the men of the Veeder Ranch:

Better than television

You know at the end of the  CBS Sunday Morning news program, after the human interest stories, the witty commentary, the pleasant conversations with Charles Osgood and his equally pleasant bow-ties? You know, after the one or two cups of coffee you consume watching celebrities and do gooders and geniuses tell their stories about how they have and are going to save the world that get you feeling all warm and fuzzy about humanity and ready to go out and maybe save the world yourself  just as soon as you have a couple waffles, a few more cups of coffee and, you know, change out of your sweatpants.

And just before you switch off the t.v. to work on completing the aforementioned tasks, that damn program puts its little feel-good cherry on top of the sun-shining through your window by leaving you with a glimpse into a wild place somewhere in this world. They just leave the camera there for a few moments as pink flamingos stand on one leg and poke their faces in the water, or penguins slide down an iceberg, or the mountains just exist on your television screen in all of their glory.

You know what I’m talking about? Do you watch the program?

You really should watch the program.

Anyway, the end of the show is always my favorite–to see a piece of the world existing in front of me uninterrupted, no effects, no music or frills or voice-over telling me what to think about it allows me to  exist, for a moment, as a pink falmingo.

Or a mountain.

It’s television at it’s best.

So in the spirit of my favorite program I leave you this Sunday evening with a glimpse of the wild that passed through the ranch yesterday evening and welcomed me home by surprise as I zoomed along the pink road, singing a Steve Earl song at the top of my lungs.

I sucked in my breath as out of the corner of my eye I spotted ten bull elk with velvet horns lingering along the skyline.  I slammed on my breaks, kicked up pink dust, rolled down my window and sat with Steve Earl in my ears, my mouth hanging open wide and pure, unbridled, spirited beasts breathing and snorting and running before my eyes and through my own wild world…

And I was an elk for a minute…

which turns out to be more glamourous than a flamingo…and, you know, quite a bit better than television.

Want to get a little closer to these beasts? Click here for another wild elk encounter.

Life: one damn masterpiece after another

I have a theory about this world we live in. I know I’ve said it here before, but it just proved itself to me again on Monday evening and I feel I have to share it once more.

Because there it went spinning outside the windows and walls of this little home in the buttes and I found myself catching my breath again…

because life is just one damn masterpiece after another.

And that is my theory, in case you missed it the first time.

Because on Monday evening after my day was coming to a close–a beautiful, 70 degree day spent cooped up in the house answering emails, scheduling, making phone calls, organizing and checking things off my list–I stepped away from my desk and moved to the kitchen to shift the cans in my cupboard and pretend to think about dinner–the next task. But just as I was giving up on the idea that I would come up with some sort of brilliant meal and heading toward the front door to fling it open and splay my body out on the deck to catch the last afternoon rays, I was met through the window of the door by pops, wide-eyed and looking urgent…

the first human person I had laid eyes on for a good twelve hours.

“Whew…hey there…you scared me…whats up?”

“There are elk on the hill right across from the house…just saw them as I was driving in…a bunch of them…”


Here is where I will explain that before I even uttered the word “really” I was already heading for my boots, snatching up my camera and throwing on a hat…

…and pops was already in his pickup, behind the wheel and shifting into drive.

That was all the exchange we needed right there.We knew what we were going to do.

Because elk are still a rarity, a treasure, a bit of an oddity on this landscape and we needed to witness this, we needed to get in close and watch them pass through our world.

So as the fluffy clouds rolled on over the farmstead, creating patches of shade and sunshine on the brown ground, pops and I bounced along in the green Dodge, turning off of the road and toward the elk herd–a site that would have gone unnoticed by eyes less trained and in tune to the landscape.

See, pops is the kind of guy who is always looking. After years spent as a rancher the man is always scanning the horizon for something amiss, something important, out-of-place or occasionally, if he’s lucky, something spectacular.

And Monday he found the spectacular and chose to share it with me.

So in the green Dodge pops drove toward where the wind was right so the elk wouldn’t smell us. And when it wasn’t advisable to go any further with the pickup we stopped, opened the doors and stepped out into the landscape.  As soon as the doors latched, just like that pops was on the hunt and it was like I was twelve years old again walking behind his strides in his footsteps as he snuck up on a big buck–always so eager to come along, pops always so willing to allow me the experience.

Over the fence and along the side hill we reached a point where we had a spectacular view of the herd and I snapped some photos while pops counted and recounted under his breath…”three…four…ten…seventeen…I think there’s about seventeen, eighteen there Jess…”

We sat there watching the two bull elk as they moved toward the rest of the herd, discussing whether they had antlers, using my telephoto lens as binoculars. We watched them graze along the flat below the clay buttes as pops explained to me in a hushed voice the way elk graze and what kind of grasses they eat.

I am not sure how long we sat before pops made the decision to get closer, but seeing that the beasts didn’t suspect we were there he took off at his hunter’s pace down the steep hill and along the muddy cow trail before leaping, without pause, in his cowboy boots and spurs through the wide and moving creek.

I followed diligently, a good ten steps behind, wondering how close we would get, wondering if we would spook them, wondering if the herd would be there when my ponytail appeared over the clay knob.

Pops slowed his pace and stepped softer.

I did the same.

He crouched down.

I crouched down.

He stopped.

I froze and held my breath.

“The two bulls, they should be right over there. Right over that knob. Get your camera…go ahead…you should get some great shots…”

I looked at him, little sweat beads forming on my forehead, and for a brief second (because that’s all the time I have in situations like this) I wondered how he was so sure of the exact location. How was he so certain after a fifty-mile-an-hour trip through brush and mud and a raging creek?

But it didn’t matter. I believed him. Because in my experience with pops and things like this he is always right.


And he was right again as I flung my hat down in excitement and crouched and belly crawled and peeked my way over the knob to find before me something I had never been so close to in the wild of my backyard in all of my 27 years.

I was shaking as I pulled the camera up to my face, certain that the beasts were going to bolt at the first click of my shutter.

But it was as if I was just a little breeze, a bug in the grass as the mighty bull elk lifted their noses at the sound.

I clicked and took a few steps closer…

and clicked again.

The elk froze, looked me directly in the eye…and nuzzled each other.

I looked back for pops, whose black hat was peeking over the hill. He nodded.

Encouraged, I put my sites on a bald bump in the landscape, thinking if I could lean in on that I would be close enough to almost reach out a give their noses a scratch.

I snuck.

They stared and snorted a bit.

I crawled and crept until I reached my destination, laid flat out on my belly and clicked my camera in a panic, certain now that they were going to run from me at any moment.

But they stayed.

They looked.

I stayed.

I looked.

And although I know it wasn’t possible, even from my ideal distance, I swear I could feel their warm breath…I swear I could smell the dust on their shaggy coats…I swear I could hear them sniff the air as I held mine.

I swear I have never been so close to something so wild.

We sat there like this, the three of us looking at one another, and the magnificent elk posed for me, taking turns walking in an out of my shot until I exhausted all possible photo opportunities and the elk were no longer curious.

And after hours, or minutes, or seconds, slowly and reluctantly we turned away from each other, sneaking glances back over our shoulders, wondering what we had just witnessed…

…wondering what the other was doing out here in a world that, just moments before, belonged only to us.

When I was growing up out here I never laid eyes on an elk on this ranch and as pops and I walked back to the pickup he informed me that, until recent years, the beasts never passed through this place at all.

And it makes you wonder where they are going, what the grass was like where they came from, how many women with wild ponytails they have watched sneak up on them…

and how long they will stay.

But mostly it makes my jaw drop in awe that while I am busy living my life between walls and windows and the nook of the barnyard, these creatures are living their lives, grazing, snorting, shedding, pawing, living and moving on through my backyard, into my life and out again, free and magnificent as the wild wind.

I may never be that close to the nose of an elk for the rest of my life and I could have very well missed it, just as I have most certainly missed them passing through dozens of times before.

But I didn’t.

I was there.

Pops was there.

We were there.

Right smack in the middle of yet another masterpiece.