Hosting friends, ranch style…

We’ve had company for a couple weeks and it’s been lovely to have new faces around to marvel at a place that has started to look more like work than love lately.

I needed that.

Thanks friends. I miss you.

Appreciating this rugged, imperfect place

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They left me with a plate of Snickerdoodles, a fridge full of half-finished dips, opened bottles of white wine, sheets to be washed and a heart full and lonesome at the same time.

A group of eight of my friends made their way to the ranch from Colorado, Minnesota and eastern North Dakota last weekend, fulfilling our promise to get together once a year, no matter what, since we first met 11 years ago during a hot summer spent moving picnic tables and cutting pies at a performing arts school.

Since then the group has grown to include boyfriends, spouses, babies, dogs and a cat on a leash, which I’d never thought I’d see on this ranch in my life. But I did, thanks to the eclectic and brilliant group of people I was honored to host for a few days in our rugged little mess of a life out here, surrounded by cattle, horseflies and bats swooping against the backdrop of a black and starry sky.

It’s funny the way the familiarity of a home changes when it’s full of people you love, some of them who’ve never set foot on the place.

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Before they arrived all I could see was the unfinished trim, the landscaping I thought I’d have done by now and the complete lack of Good Housekeeping magazine touches. We spent a half a year with their visit on the calendar thinking maybe we’d at least get the basement bathroom done, because anyone with a house knows that it takes impending company to get a long-planned construction project done.

But then we ran into haying season and I was on my own with a pressure washer, a lawnmower and a garage full of tools to do what I could around here.

Needless to say, we’re gonna have to wait until Thanksgiving to think about that bathroom project again, but I obsessed over it all nonetheless, because I’m my mother’s child after all.

And then they arrived and you couldn’t see the floor or the counters anyway for all the food and toys and bodies scattered about, talking and laughing. And not one of my friends inspected the tops of my light fixtures for dust, because we were too busy telling stories, cutting onions for guacamole and taking hikes around the farmyard, where I got a chance to see our place through their eyes.

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That was another gift they gave me that weekend: a gift of appreciation for our home. They picked wildflowers and rocks and marveled at the things we’ve labeled burdens or works in progress, like the old farm equipment and tumbled down fences that need to be repaired. In the midst of the overwhelming feeling that summer ranch work brings, I loved them for it.

And now they’re gone, leaving this place feeling a little electric, pulsing from the conversations and dropped forks and baby kisses, like it needs a moment to come back down to the quiet chaos of the life we lead, sending our love to them from this rugged, imperfect place.

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A country kid needs a town kid

me-and-ashley

Door always open to home of old friend
by Jessie Veeder
2-16-17
http://www.inforum.com
Fargo Forum

I used to go to her house in the time between after school and basketball practice. I would eat graham crackers with cheese, and we would sit at the table in her family’s kitchen, her mom popping in to say hi and get the scoop on our day.

I was a country kid in junior high, and I had a few years and a few tests to pass before I got my driver’s license, so the chance to participate in after-school activities meant finding town friends who would save me from roaming the streets between the last bell and the starting practice whistle.

She was one of those friends for me. In the fragile time between elementary school and being ruled adult enough to leave home, she played a role in my adolescence that not only helped me survive it, but made me feel like my quirkiness (weirdness?) was not only accepted, but also appreciated.

I could make her laugh, and she made me feel safe in a friendship at a time in a young girl’s life when friendship is often volatile, fleeting and prone to drama.

(Except for that time in eighth grade when we got the rebellious idea to walk down to the local drug store to pick up a couple boxes of hair dye and disastrously turn her perfectly blonde hair blaze orange and mine a weird color of navy blue, our 20+ years of friendship has been pretty clear of drama.)

I can’t speak for her, but I feel so lucky and sort of surprised by it sometimes. As childhood friends go, our stories are linked in many ways, but in many more ways we are completely opposite.

As a teenager, she was focused, practical and matter-of-fact where I was uncertain about fitting in. I was messy and disheveled; my car was covered in scoria dust and full of pop bottles and dirty socks. I was creative and in my own head, tentatively tipping my toes in the wild edge of bad decisions. She made her bed every day, washed her car in the driveway on the weekends and showed confidence in who she was — solid, studious and pretty well-behaved — no matter who approved.

She was long and lean with coordinated limbs built for sports. I didn’t have an aggressive bone (or muscle) in my body. And while basketball, volleyball and track turned into her high school passions, I traded sports for music, rodeo and high school love.

So our schedules and interests didn’t allow us to easily spend every waking minute together the way many childhood friends are often defined, but I hope she looks back on those days and says I was there when she needed me.

I know I can say that for her. Because if there was a quality I’d like to steal from her (besides those long legs and lungs for long-distance running), it’s that I might be as fiercely loyal.

I’m thinking about her today because we got to spend some time together last weekend as we often do when I head to the big town where she lives with her husband raising two sports-crazed boys between the sidewalks.

Whenever I make a trip there for music or shopping I give her a call and her door— just like it’s always been — is open for her friend who usually rolls up later than planned in a dusty car, plastic bottles and spare mittens spilling out onto the driveway.

Not much has changed as we tallied the years, except we’ve gotten closer. I’m going to give her most of the credit there. My loner and introspective tendencies don’t always make for the best phone-call-maker and catcher-upper. It’s a weakness of mine that I’m humbly aware of, one that’s disconnected me from some of my favorite people. But she’s hung on to me in the ways only people who really understand one another tend to do.

And when I called last weekend to tell her we were going to swing by to say hi on our way to go furniture shopping, she offered to watch Edie to help save our sanity and ultimately feed graham crackers to the next generation of country kid waiting out her time in town.

jessie-and-ashley

Hot Dish and Ice Slabs and how to stay warm in the winter

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Coming Home: Hot dish and ice slabs key to staying warm in the winter
by Jessie Veeder
1-22-16
http://www.inforum.com

Northerners. We like to boast that we’re hardy and resilient and can stand up against the biting, sub-zero, blizzardy cold without much consequence besides a bad case of hat head.

We can handle our feet and our pickup tires on icy paths, and we know how to hunker down and make it through on hot dish and hot soup.

We like to say this place isn’t for the faint of heart.

I say these things too, but sometimes while using up a good 40 minutes and all of my back muscles shoveling 200 of the 15,000 pounds of snow off our deck, I start making a list of all of the reasons people live closer to the equator.

You’d think I’d be used to it by now having lived up here for the majority of my life, but the truth is these North Dakota winters have always been hard on me.

The inevitable bitter cold and lack of sunshine starts to convince me that I’m doing all the wrong things in the wrong place and that life is harder and sadder and more desperate than it really is, sending me into a bit of a depression I’m always aware of but have never been successful at curing without help from the weather.

It’s a lonely feeling, but I know I’m not alone in it.

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No matter what we like to say to make ourselves sound tough and resilient I think we all struggle a bit with the deep freeze and endless white of this season. This is what I tell the new residents in my community with southern accents, trudging through the grocery store line in brand new muck boots and knit beanies pulled down over their ears wondering out loud how much colder and how much longer.

I’m not sure it’s hopeful or particularly helpful, but I try to stay as honest as the place that raised me. “It’s cold. It sucks. But we’re all in it together,” I say.

Maybe that’s the key to surviving it, but I think it’s something our ancestors might have been better at, perhaps because they didn’t have a choice between human contact and three billion television shows piped into our living rooms where you can watch other people live their lives in warmer places, like Antarctica or the moon.

But nothing warms your body and lifts your spirits better than living, breathing bodies eating, talking and laughing in a house together.

And lately I’ve been noticing more boots in the entryway and more dishes in the sink, a result of the invites, phone calls and drop-bys that have piled up as family and friends work to beat these winter blues by simply finding ways to be in closer proximity.

Because no matter the plot line, it turns out actually living your life is more interesting than watching pretend people live theirs.

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I suppose that’s what I was thinking when I agreed to be in a weekly curling league, a brand new endeavor organized in my hometown to give the community another cold weather weapon.

Curling is a winter sport that’s been explained as golf on ice, so I have no business being there really, considering it’s a combination of descriptors (ice/golf/sports in general) that have been known to torture me in the past.

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My team consists of my husband, little sister and brother-in-law, and between the four of us, we have about a solid 10 days of actual curling experience, eight of which reside with my husband. But it doesn’t matter, because knowing what we’re doing isn’t the point (although my husband suggested I consider working less on visiting and more on technique).

The point, I think, is the very reason a weird sport that sends you slipping and sliding across the ice yelling “sweep” at your teammates was invented in the first place — because they didn’t have Netflix in the icy tundras of medieval Scotland.

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But, just like us, they had plenty of ice and we might as well use it to get some laughs out of this long, cold season.

Because this place may or may not be for the faint of heart, but maybe by spring I can add curling to the list of reasons people chose North Dakota over Texas.

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Sunday Column: About an impromptu sledding party

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

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

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

We gotta stick together around here.

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

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

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There were rice crispy bars, 

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Snowball fights,

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Soaking wet mittens,

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Negotiated rides back up the hill…

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

It was just like old times.

Coming Home: Sledding quickly into the life we imagined
by Jessie Veeder
2-15-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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We’re not in Cabo anymore…

We’re not in Cabo anymore.

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Nope.

photo 2We’re home.

Home to the great white and frickin’ frozen north.

You know what that weather report up there doesn’t say? It doesn’t say that the wind is blowing 50 MPH, making the air feel like it’s actually -30.

Which would mean when I got on the plane in Cabo on Tuesday morning and landed in Bismarck, North Dakota on Tuesday night, my body was asked to deal with a nearly 100 degree temperature difference.

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CABO!

NOT Cabo.

I can’t help but feel the shock of the juxtaposition that was the result of a couple plane rides …

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CABO!

NOT Cabo.

But oh, we had a nice trip. We wore vacation hats.

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We got some sun our our pasty white skin. We played beach volleyball and drank ridiculous drinks,

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we swam in the ocean,

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and rang in the new year in a blur of tequila and club music.

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And while we were doing those things, the wind was whipping in a cold front up north, as it tends to do in January.

But you know what they do in January in Cabo? They ride horses in shorts and bare feet on the beach.

Yup.

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CABO HORSES.

NOT Cabo horses.

Dammit, it’s cold here. No more vacation hats for us.

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Beach Couple

Arctic Tundra Couple

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White Sandy Shoreline  

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Just a white line

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Cabo Husband.

Freezing Husband.

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Cabo couple

Umm,  no…
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Cabo Cactus

Not a Cabo Cactus 

IMG_403380 degrees and sunny sisters

30 below zero and windy sisters

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Vacation feet.  

Not on vacation anymore feet

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Warm weather pet

Jessie and Dogs

A more snuggly version

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A beachy drink

coffee

A blizzard-y drink

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A walk on the beach

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Ah, son of a beettchh…

And that’s it. No, we’re not in Cabo anymore boys and girls…

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But we’re not beach people really.

We’re pale and pasty northerners with a large collection of wool socks. And we’re home.

And no matter what the sky is doing in Mexico, or Jamaica, or Sunny California,  it’s always good to be here.

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Sunday Column: 100 years!

IMG_1995The party of the century took place in my hometown this weekend. I sit here this morning at the ranch, my cousins and aunt and uncle visiting from Texas likely milling around the cabin in the barnyard over the hill, getting ready for another day in North Dakota, just one of the many family’s who made the trip back home to celebrate.

It’s fitting then that they would be spending their nights in the very spot that raised my grandfather and then raised my aunt and dad and uncle, right above where the old shack used to sit, right next door to the old red barn, family feet still making tracks in this mud.

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I can’t tell you what it means to me to have them here and I’m sure they can’t explain that the miles and time don’t make a difference, that this is always home.

I am certain that among the thousand plus people who celebrated with us, most would say the same.

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There’s coffee at my desk and I’m nursing a sunburn and tired feet. I have the whole summer ahead of me now, packed with more stages, more cows to chase, more events to plan and more sun to catch, but what I’m thinking now is “phew, we pulled it off.”

And that I’m proud to have been a part of it.

Because for two years we’ve been planning the bands and the art show, the kids games and the sidewalk sales, the film festival and the magicians, the clowns and the books and the auction and the big free feed under the tent.

We didn’t plan on rain, but we knew it was inevitable. We didn’t plan for a party in the mud, but we had one and it was great.

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We’re a young establishment, this booming small town in America. Things have changed since the railroad made promises and the first little wooden store took shape on the desolate landscape. Every day time passes and residents make decisions to build, to come, to leave, to stay.

Within those 100 years there have been booms and busts and years spent standing still waiting for and making our own opportunity that might help keep the streets alive with young people and babies again…

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Within those 100 years land has been bought and sold and split and kept. Businesses have changed hands, closed doors or stayed right there in the family.

Kids have learned between the walls of schools and out in the streets, riding bikes to the pool or driving their first cars out to help with a branding at a ranch in the badlands.

I am one of those kids. This weekend I was surrounded by them, tapping their toes to the music on the big stage, dancing and laughing, buying each other a beer, swinging around grandchildren, sitting down with a roast beef sandwich and catching up, just like they’ve done for decades.

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And isn’t it refreshing to know that no matter how things have changed us, no matter how fast the cars can go now, how we can fly across oceans, no matter that we can see each other on computer screens though we’re thousands of miles apart, still after all of these years there’s nothing like celebrating shoulder to shoulder, embrace to embrace, laughter to terrible joke.

There’s nothing that beats a good old fashioned party together.

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Congratulations hometown. Here’s to another 100 years and more!

Coming Home: We call it a century. 100 years. The Centennial
by Jessie Veeder
7-29-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

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Sunday Column and a Holiday Re-Cap

I just had a sugar cookie for breakfast.

Ok. Two sugar cookies. And I’m contemplating a third.

But they were relatively small–little green and red churches–so like two equals one.

Anyway, don’t judge me. I am working on coming down from a whirlwind of Christmas festivities that started ten days ago with prime rib and presents at the in-laws and carried on with the eating and merriment until last night when Husband and I crawled into the house around 11 PM under the falling snow after a quick trip to Arizona to celebrate one of our best friend’s marriage.

Yeah, we get fancy when we need to…

There was still frosting on the counter from the sugar cookie and crafting debacle that ensued on Christmas Eve.

There was wrapping paper stuck to chairs, stale Chex Mix on the table, crusty pancake bowls in the sink and undelivered presents for the neighbors waiting to be unwrapped under our un-lit and lean-y Christmas tree. 

We dropped our bags at the door and trudged up the steps, swept the remains of our day-after-Christmas whirlwind packing episode off the bed and on to the floor and proceeded to fall into a Christmas Coma.

Seriously.

I have pillow lines on my face that will take weeks to fade, just like the dents in my feet from the heels I wore to dance the night away on Saturday.

But oh, we had fun for Christmas…




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And then…the extraction of a runaway remote control helicopter from the chandelier…

And oh, we have such great people in our lives. Between our Thanksgiving Disney Adventure,  my little Christmas concert tour in mid-December, Christmas with the family and wedding festivities with my best friends under the Arizona sun, we got to see and squeeze so many people we love this holiday season.

View More: http://thelivephotobooth.pass.us/131228-biltmoreAnd it’s that kind of squeezing, that kind of love and celebration that gets us through the deep-freeze of December and helps propel us and thaw us out a enough to bear with optimism the upcoming North Dakota January.

Unfinished houses and all…

That and an occasional glass of whiskey.

And so, while the snow is falling outside my window today in quiet little swirls, I am sipping coffee from my holiday mug, planning our New Year’s meal and warming up with memories of a holiday well spent.

View More: http://thelivephotobooth.pass.us/131228-biltmore

Because in a few days I will go on missing summer, but today I couldn’t be warmer.

Sunday Column:
Horses weather winter better than their human counterparts
by Jessie Veeder
12/29/13
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

This costume idea brought to you by breakfast.

Well, Halloween’s officially here, though we already celebrated the shit out of it last Saturday at a house party down the road.

This costume idea brought to you by Saturday’s breakfast.  It’s sort of an educational effort, a farm to plate demonstration if you will.

Just doing what we can to promote the agriculture industry, working hard to keep it as realistic as possible.

And, although it’s hard to believe, I’d like to tell you that not a stitch of sewing went into any of these creations. I mean, you wouldn’t guess it, the way those wings look like they could just take a floppy, chicken flight at any moment.

And that egg? Looks so edible, so delicious.


If there’s an award for a series of costumes put together entirely of staples, rubber cement and zip ties, I will gladly accept it.

Halloween. We take it pretty seriously around here.




So I’d really like to know who the hell spiked the punch?


Peace, Love, Bacon and a Happy Halloween!

He flies airplanes.

This is Adam.

Adam plays the bass for me.

Long, low notes ring out from his fingers, finding a rhythm in the melodies I created between the comfort of the walls of the old farm house. Adam’s bass is something I didn’t know my music needed until it was there.

And now I don’t know if I ever want to hear my songs without it.

Adam also plays the guitar.


And the harmonica and the banjo and probably a hundred other instruments.

Adam grew up between the sidewalks of our little hometown. While his limbs stretched toward the sky Adam was listening…to his mother’s singing voice and the beat of his big brother’s guitar, the way the waves of Lake Sakakawea sound when they hit the rocky shore and the buzz of his dad’s airplanes as they took off from the runway and into the sky above his home.

Adam is my little sister’s age, five years younger than me. I can’t help but look at him and think of him as a little boy, though I was just a little girl myself in some of those memories.

Adam doesn’t say much, so I’ll tell you what I know:

Adam plays the bass and the guitar and the harmonica and the banjo and probably a thousand other instruments. Adam sings songs about the North Dakota badlands and that big lake where he’s caught a thousand fish. Adam plays music about big trucks and dirt roads and whiskey with friends around campfires, on front porches, in bars and on stages, anywhere there are ears to listen.

Adam climbs mountains and rides the snow down. Adam balances on rope strung between trees. Adam brings his own beer to the party in a little blue cooler. He wears a green jacket and is waiting for me to bring him some garden tomatoes so he can make salsa.

Adam makes salsa and plays the bass guitar for me.

Sometimes I listen to those notes and I think the things Adam loves are too big for our little town.

Adam flies airplanes in the sky above his lake,

above his badlands

and above the oak groves of this ranch.

He buzzes over the landscape that grew him tall and lean.

And because Adam doesn’t say much I’ll tell you what I think:

I think if you asked him Adam would make you a jar of salsa.

I think if you wanted he would take you fishing and play you a song on his banjo.

He might even play the bass in your band.

And I think he would take you flying. If you asked, I think he would.

I think Adam likes the way his world looks up there.

Because  from up there, the things Adam loves are just the right size…

When you take the time to fish…

North Dakota summers don’t last long.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again as I take notice of the days getting a bit shorter, the grass a bit more golden, the heat a little more dry and nights that cool us all down.

Today the kids of my community will be packing up their book bags and climbing on school busses and I will have the feeling I always get as summer winds down as fall waits around the corner.

I will miss my favorite season before my favorite season is even over.

I will wonder where the time’s gone, why my skin isn’t more tan, why the work isn’t finished, why I didn’t pick more wildflowers, why I forgot to plant cucumbers and why my requirements of summer have not been adequately fulfilled.

I think husband was thinking the same thing as last week drew to a close. He’s been spending every waking minute hammering nails, wiring something, tinkering with plumbing, sawing, planning and wondering if we are ever going to eat a meal before 10 pm again…

Because while my requirements for summer include a sun tan, evening walks to hilltops, numerous cocktails on the deck, floating in the lake and popsicles, most of the men in this area only have one summer dream…

Fishing.

And husband was wondering last week if that dream was ever going to come true.

Up the gravel road a ways my friend has her own husband with his own fishing dreams, but it turns out he’s a little more serious about them.

Because he has a boat.

So on hot summer evenings she has found herself sitting alongside her dearly beloved as he trolls through the waters of Lake Sakakawea searching for a monster walleye to bring back to the ranch and fry up for supper.

And while he scours the lake, she quietly hones her own skills, innocently and unexpectedly pulling in nice sized catches off of the back of the vessel.

While her husband theorizes about bait and tackle and the relationship the two choices have on his ability to catch a trophy fish, his wife chooses the prettiest lure, attaches it to her pink fishing pole, drops it in the water and pulls out a giant northern.

And then a walleye.

And then a bass.

And another northern.

And another walleye.

And another bass.

Her husband finds this amusing at first, until the tenth fish begins to inhibit his ability to concentrate on his own catch.

He re-baits his line to match her concoction:  “A purple lure, one minnow and a half a worm.”

He drops his line in the water.

She follows.

He waits.

She yells “Oh, yep! Yep! Got one.”

He grabs the net, she reels in her catch and the cycle continues until the sun sinks down below the horizon and casts sparkling light on the waves of the big lake.

I’m not sure this story would have been told this way had I not seen it for myself this weekend when our friends offered to take us along on one of their epic fishing trips. Husband was glad to oblige and I quickly loaded up our Cheetos and cooler of beer while he dug around the graveyard of lonely and unused fishing tackle to find the poles we last touched on our unsuccessful May catfishing excursion.

We were happy to leave our work behind and glad to have friends willing to take us on out on the water.

I was prepared to lounge in the boat, soak up some sun, drink a few cocktails and probably not catch a thing.

Husband was prepared to do the same.

But three minutes into the fishing excursion, two minutes after we baited our hooks, my friend started her roll.

“Oh yep. Yep. Got one!” she hollered off the end of the boat just as I dropped my line in the water.

And she reeled in a great big northern.

I opened the bag of Cheetos and she caught another.

I took my first drink of beer and she reeled in her third.

We all changed our lures to match her sparkly green one.

And then we put on one minnow and a half of a worm.

And as her husband steered the boat along the banks of his favorite spots he worked to set the hook on his first nibble as his lovely wife reeled in her fourth catch of the day.

My husband got a bite.

She got another fish.

I got a snag.

My friend caught a bass.

Her husband caught a tree, my husband caught some bait…

and my friend caught another walleye.

I cracked another beer and her husband suggested that perhaps she should give it a rest so the rest of us might have a chance.

Oh, somewhere in there I caught a few fish of my own and so did the boys.

But really, despite the jokes about luck and timing and never taking his wife along again, it wasn’t about the fish at all, except I couldn’t help but hold my breath every time my friend dropped her line in the water. Because the excitement that flew out of her lungs with each nibble was bouncing off the buttes and energizing the water surrounding us. All I wanted was for her to catch more fish.

I think we all felt the same way.

Because the season is short and fleeting around here, the sun doesn’t shine forever and the fish don’t always bite. But watching my friend squeal as she reeled in fish after fish gave me something to keep in my pocket for those days when December feels like years.

So I think our neighbors have it figured it–that summer isn’t about the time, but how the time is spent…

And it turns out you just can’t go wrong when you take the time to fish.