A Spring Dinosaur Hunt

As the weather’s warmed up a bit, we finally get to spend some time outside. And it seems I was given the right baby because Edie loves it as much as I do.


And as much as the dogs it seems. Every time I put her in the carrier, eyes facing the world in front of her, she calms. She looks. She kicks her legs. She laughs at the dogs running in front of her. She looks up at the sky and smiles.

I wish it were spring and 70 here forever, and maybe that she would stay little, so that I could take her out like this every day.


A few weeks back on a pretty nice day (yeah, these photos are from a few weeks back…I’m not as quick on the updates as I used to be) Little Man came over to visit and we all went out on a walk, Little Man, Little Sister, Pops, Edie and I.


Little Man wore Husband’s cap to keep the sun from his eyes and Little Sister wore Edie because when she’s here the two are stuck together like glue.


Edie wore her hat and and sunglasses and other hat and snowsuit of course. Because it was  warm but not that warm. And windy. And sunny. A typical North Dakota spring day and a girl’s gotta dress the part.


Pops grabbed a walking stick.


I grabbed a camera and we were off on a hike up the hill and past the dam and through the trees.

A hike that soon turned into an imaginary dinosaur hunt where we all got assignments and duties from the Pre-schooler.

Pops was the hunter, Little Man was the scientist, I was the photographer and Little Sister and Edie needed to be on the lookout.


Maybe when Little Man grows up he’ll be an actual scientist, but he’d also make a pretty good movie director.

And while we were hunting for bones we looked for spring.



The weeks that passed since taking this walk and taking these pictures has greened things up considerably. Edie has even gotten to go on a walk without her second hat and snowsuit, so summer’s just around the corner.

And I have so many things to say about spring out here. You know me.  I want to tell you how I got back in the saddle for the first time since finding out I was pregnant over a year ago and it was the best therapy in the world. And how I saw and heard a rattlesnake outside our fence the other day while I was on a walk and it scared the shit out of me. And then how we watched two elk come down to water in the dam outside our house and no matter how many times we see them it’s still pretty magical.


And how the blossoms smell and how, when I call Gus back, Dolly crouches down beside me and waits to tackle him when he arrives. Every. Singe. Time. And it’s hilarious and Gus deserves all the pestering he’s receiving.


I want to tell you how I love this little boy, who just graduated from Pre-school and is on to Kindergarten in the fall, who wants to be a cop and a scientist and a cowboy and everything, he can’t pick just one.


And there’s more I have to say, you know there is, but the baby is waking in her crib an it’s time for our morning snuggle. So I’ll just leave you with this…


And this.


Happy Thursday and Happy Spring. May you find time to get out and enjoy it with your nephew and Little Sister and your Pops and your baby and your dogs…or whoever you love who you can convince to go dinosaur hunting with you…




A walk with a baby, ranch style.


So we’re not really into sleeping at night these days, but the nice weather lately has gotten us really into walking, especially since Edie is big enough now to face out and see the world.

A world that looks like this.


Brown and muddy and full of puppy slobber.

And, it turns out, cactus. Of course cactus. Because here in Western North Dakota if it isn’t the cold it’s the mosquitos. And if it isn’t the snow it’s the damn cactus.

As I type this I have a few little wounds on my hands as a reminder. Because as peaceful and angelic as this little scene might look from the still capture of the camera, it turns out taking a walk across the pasture with three dogs, two puppies and a baby strapped to you looks a little like, well…

Finish eating lunch. Finish feeding the baby lunch. Look outside and notice the blue sky. Check the temperature gauge to make sure the blue sky isn’t deceiving. Decide that 50+ degrees calls for a walk. Decide to take a walk. Change the baby’s diaper and put on her leggings and socks under her footie onsie. Add a fleece jacket on top of that. And a hat. Tell her not to cry about the hat. Tell her this is going to be fun. Go find your hat. And sunglasses. And sweatshirt. Make sure your shoes are by the door. Detangle the baby carrier. Adjust the straps the way you’ve practiced and latch them together the wrong way first, of course, and then the right way. Cuss a little and wonder how you can make this so complicated. Go get the baby. Make sure the pacifier is clipped to her fleece. Put wiggly baby and dangly pacifier in carrier. Adjust those straps so you’re both nice and snug and cozy. Walk toward the door and realize you forgot to put your shoes on first. Say shit. Grunt and groan and remember what it was like being pregnant as you try to squeeze on your shoes without fully bending over or seeing what you’re doing. Sweat. Get shoes on finally. Kinda. Good enough.

Open door and go outside. Yell for the dogs who come barreling at your legs. Try not to step on the little ones who are rolling and frolicking around your sorta-half-tied shoes. Decide to take the trail to the east pasture. Maneuver your body and the baby strapped to it under the fence. Because around here you have to cross fences. Wonder if that’s in a baby book anywhere. “How to cross fences carrying a baby.  Find the trail with the least cockleburs. Stop to remove cockleburs from your shoe laces. Try not to step on the pups as the gray one grabs the brown one’s tail.

Laugh. Try to take a picture. Fail at the picture. Wish you had your big camera. Or another set of arms.


Accidentally step in a mud puddle while laughing at the puppies. Notice Gus is out of site. Call for Gus. Notice the baby’s sleeping and the sun is in her eyes. Use one hand to hold her head and the other to shield her face.

Keep walking. Sweat. Sweat. Sweat.


Make it to the gate and decide to go off trail to stay out of the wind. Immediately regret it as you lead the puppies through a patch of cactus. Hear the gray one cry. Bend down. Grunt and attempt to fling the cactus from his wiggly paw with one hand while holding the sleeping baby’s head with the other.

Wonder if you strapped her in the baby carrier and sat with her in bed if she would sleep through the night.

Figure it would be likely, but also likely cause neck issues.

Cuss because now the cactus is stuck to your hand.

Grunt as you get back up. Keep walking. Pet momma dog. Find a trail. Avoid mud. Call for Gus because he’s chasing a rabbit in the trees.

Pet big brown dog. Notice little brown pup is limping. Say shit. Lean over to try to grab her wiggly leg with one hand while holding the sleeping baby’s head with the other. Get another cactus stuck to your hand.

Decide you’re glad your almost back to the house.


Step in horse poop. Go through the gate. Try to take the least muddy path. Get a lot of mud on your sorta tied shoes.

Pick up some more cockleburs and start planning the spring bur eradication process.


Make it to the driveway. Wonder if you can put the baby down and she’ll stay sleeping. Think it’s highly unlikely. Try to get in the garage without a puppy following you. Get one puppy out of the door as the other one runs in. Do that about three times and notice that momma dog got in the garage someone. Get her out.

Open the door to the house.

Go inside.

Sweat while you try to quietly maneuver the sleeping babe out of the carrier and into her swing without waking her up. Curse the sound of velcro and the burs still on the back of your pants.

Set the baby in the swing. Notice her eyes are still closed. Pat yourself on the back. Head to the bathroom because you had to pee that whole time.

Come back to the living room to find the baby smiling, eyes wide open just hanging in her swing.


Because we don’t sleep much around here.


Under Pots and Pans

We have a hill that overlooks our house. It’s sort of a landmark on the Veeder Ranch. I’ve written about it before. Pots and Pans. IMG_2008 Every cousin, brother, sister, aunt, uncle or friend of a friend connected to this place has likely taken the hike to the top of this hill to check out the view and see what sorts of treasures are at the top. IMG_2012 See, it’s called Pots and Pans because at some point, somewhere in the 100 year history of this place, someone decided to drag old pots and pans, sifters, ladles, bowls and plates up to the top to sit on the rocks and wait for the occasional adventurous kid to take a hike and play house up there. IMG_2006 My memories of Pots and Pans growing up are a big plan on a hot summer afternoon to take a hike with the cousins. The plan included fanny packs, juice boxes, fruit snacks, scratchy legs, and the inevitable run in with a cactus or a potty break in the grass before maybe, eventually, making it to the top. IMG_2018 Because it was actually a long ways when I look at it now. From the farmhouse by the barn to the top of the hill there is at least almost a mile of treacherous terrain. And when you have short legs it’s quite the feat. IMG_2000 But it was also quite the memory that we all share now. Who would have thought at the time when I was picking cactus from my cousin’s legs that I would have built a house right under that place? Who would have thought that I would get to watch the sun come up in the morning and the moon come up at night every day over Pots and Pans. IMG_2038 At least once a week on my walks I take a trip up there to exercise my legs and see how things are blooming at the Veeder Ranch. IMG_2024 IMG_2022 IMG_2020 IMG_2001 There’s still a pot or two up there and every time I make it to the top I think of my cousins and orange Hi-C juice boxes and what an adventure this place was to us. Unexplored and wild. IMG_2014 I still think that way sometimes when I find myself on an old trail or discover a deer horn dropped in the trees or an elk standing on the top of a hill somewhere. IMG_2034 IMG_2002 IMG_1998 And I think, when my kids are born I’ll have to trek up there with some old pans of my own to continue the tradition and the mystery so that they might take their cousins and their fanny packs up to the top someday to acquire a cactus and a memory or two… I mean, I’ve set it up perfectly for them…the walk is much shorter from here 🙂 IMG_2013

My new album, “Northern Lights” is now available!  Watch an interview where I talk about the process and my time in Nashville.

Get a signed copy at www.jessieveedermusic.com
 Download at CD Baby
Download on iTunes

How it goes with trees

IMG_7603 There’s miles and miles of trees out here behind our houses. Just trees, yes, but trees in these parts are hard to come by.

This season is about all run out as we find ourselves at the end of October. The leaves are brown, the wind has taken most of them, swirled them around, tossed them up and let them fall.

But yesterday there were a few stragglers, a few trees that held out to stand out above the crowd. So I went out looking for them.

IMG_7604IMG_7608 IMG_7610 IMG_7612 IMG_7615 IMG_7619 IMG_7621 IMG_7624 IMG_7628 IMG_7634 IMG_7639 IMG_7642 IMG_7645 IMG_7647 IMG_7649 IMG_7654 IMG_7656It’s funny how the colors seem brighter when we know they’re fleeting. In these same spaces today, with the wind and the gray skies, most of these leaves I admired yesterday have now hit the ground.

IMG_7665I knew it would happen. That’s the thing about this place. The trees, they are the reason it looks different here every day. 
IMG_7675 IMG_7677The trees and that sky.
IMG_7680So except for that sky, it will be brown now, until it turns white.

And it will be white until it turns brown again.

Then it will be brown until it turns green.

Green until gold…and so on and so on because that’s how it goes with trees…


Spring, up close.

I left the house yesterday looking for signs of spring. The wind and sun had dried up that last late April snow storm pretty well and I wanted to see what was emerging under that warmer sky.

It took some looking, but I’ve learned out here that while the big picture can be quite beautiful,

sometimes it’s the smallest things that are the most intriguing. Like a bud on a tree and how it knows it’s time to emerge from once bare branches, in perfect form. 
Or how grass seems to turn from brown to green overnight.

How something so soft can emerge from brown thorns.

Or how a bright color can thrill me here at the beginning of spring, before I’ve grown accustomed to the vivid landscape that comes with summer. 

Or how this blue, clear sky was pouring down ice only 24 hours before.

And that we all made it through, softer and alive…

like the crocuses on the hilltops, because it’s what crocuses do.

A winter breath in Theodore Roosevelt National Park…

I took a moment on a regular weekday morning, a morning when much of the state was preparing for one of our first winter storms of the season, to find some magic in the winter.

I knew just where to go to find it. A place that was set aside just for us when we need magic moments like these.

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

It’s right in my backyard really. I’ve shown you before. It’s just down the road from the office that was waiting for me to take phone calls, finish some reports, and stay caught up. But it was snowing ever so lightly, frost was hugging the branches of the trees and the wind was calm enough to for me to hear something calling me out to explore, to look, to listen.

I needed to see what it looked like out there in its winter outfit.

I needed to listen for silence because in the absolute quite, everything inside of me quiets too.

I needed quiet.

I needed quiet enough to remember that I was in there all along. I needed quiet to tell me I was in there with all of that noise and static and voices drowning out the sound of those young deer on the trail ahead of me, cutting a path with their hooves, leaping over fallen branches and stopping to check out that creature behind them in a puffy coat and mittens. They don’t miss a thing and if I hadn’t stepped off of the road and up that hill, if I wouldn’t have stepped softly, slowly, I certainly would have missed them.

I don’t know what it is about being alone in nature. I write about it often. I dream about places not yet discovered, about trails that have been untouched by human feet. I don’t know anything except for it heals me in some way. I know that being alone under the branches of the oaks or the arms of the big cedars awakens something in me and reminds me that not only am I alive, but completely insignificant in the grand scheme of it all.


But that word doesn’t scare me. It thrills me. It thrills me to know that one charge of the mighty bison, one stomp of his hoof, could send me reeling.

It excites me to know my limits out there and to know to keep to them. To know the dangers of a mis-step could send me into a catastrophic fall.

To know the river flows fast under the ice and I have no matches for a fire and no intention of staying out past my allotted time.

To know that once we belonged here, but not anymore.

Because somewhere along the line we have separated from nature, from the quiet spaces on an earth that was laid out for us. We covered ourselves from the stars to survive, laid floor on the dirt and found new ways of making things that were good and true and simple damn complicated.

We’ve built fences and staked claim to things like rocks and mountains and grass. We have named it all. Dissected it. Studied why anything would turn out the way it has.

We’ve learned how it all could benefit us. How it could help us cure diseases, build more skyscrapers, heat our homes and reach us closer to the satellite we have placed among the stars in a sky we have yet to conquer.

So I go to the park, I take the back roads, I follow the trails on the ranch that holds my family’s name to be reminded of this:

I know not a fraction of what the acorn knows. I will never tame the wind nor will I ever touch all that the breeze has touched. I will never listen close enough to hear what the coyotes hear. I will never be as brave and howl my life into the night.

I count the striations of the exposed earth on a landscape that was formed by tons and tons of moving glacial ice and I know I will never have a story that grand. I will never be as interesting or romantic as those buttes.

I catch a hawk circling above the tree tops and am reminded I will never soar. I will never see our world the way she sees it.

And I won’t possess the strength of the bison, the authority of the season, the power of the sun and the clouds. I will never stand as tall, or know the patience of the old birch trees. And I will never own the delicate strength of the wildflower.

No, I come to the park as a spectator. I come to the park as a girl. A girl who has hands that need gloves made of leather and boots made with fur. I girl with thoughts and ideas and dreams about how to capture this place, how to share it by telling the story of the bison, singing the music of the hawk, and whispering just as softly as the doe caught on my trail.

But they are stories I am not worthy to tell.

So I stay quiet and listen.


“Where the deer and the mis-guided pug with an identity crises play…”

If I had to estimate the miles I have trudged around the hills of this ranch since moving back a year and a half ago I will go out on a limb and shout out loud with my hands in the air (because I talk with my hands) “Hundreds!”

I know this is probably not accurate. I know it’s likely exaggerated a bit, but it sounds good. It sounds like a number I am content with considering that whenever I have a moment to spare to clear my head, find my breath, get my blood pumping or look for inspiration, I find myself bundling up, grabbing my camera and climbing to the top of the nearest butte, crouching down in the creek beds, or trudging in the fields above our house searching for the horses.

It’s a ritual that can’t be beat. One that never fails to put me right with the world actually.

Have you ever finished a giant meal full of more carbohydrates than a woman should consume in a week while watching the latest episode of “The Biggest Loser?”


Me neither.

But if I were to engage in such unhealthy behavior that left me with a feeling that resembles a mix of “no self-control” and a very present tinge of “self loathing”, a walk in those hills with the wind blowing through my hair and flushing my cheeks would clean the ick right out of me. Not to mention put a very necessary dent in the calories consumed and a much-needed burn in my calf muscles.

And all of the huffing and puffing in the prairie wind also happens to be a nice quick fix for writer’s block as well as those unavoidable gloomy moods where you are certain the universe planted that slipper in the middle of the floor just to trip you.

The universe or your husband.

And if I were ever to have a fight with said husband over said slipper that starts with a joke only one of us thinks is funny and ends with none of us laughing, I am comforted knowing that the cure lies in the entryway where at least one-pair of boots is waiting for me to save them from the depressing depths of the closet and get them out into a world full of dirt and sunshine and cool breezes and snow and maybe an adventure…

And you know who else is waiting out there for me to overdose on carbs, get stuck on the last line of a new song, pick a fight with the hubby, or, you know, avoid the laundry?

Yup, you guessed it.

My P.ICs, my M.V.Ps…

My D.O.G.s

Yup. They never miss a chance to escort me on old cow trails, rocky hilltops and slushy creek beds. Because they too think slushy creek beds are the best. And it doesn’t much matter if they are a few miles over the hill visiting their girlfriends at mom and pop’s, or rolling in poop below the barn, or catching a really good nap in a sunny spot by the garage, as soon as they hear the door knob turn they are at the door wagging their butts at the idea that we are going somewhere.

In rain, or snow, or, well, you know, a blinding blizzard, my loyal companions are ready for me to go anywhere…at anytime.

Oh, to have that much trust mixed in with an even greater amount of passion for things like sniffing and running and munching on dead things. What a life!

And I love it. I do. They are my constant, fluffy, four-legged, slobbery, poop sniffing, leg lifting, floppy eared, droopy faced, smooshy faced, out-of-place companions.

But let us take a moment to note that nowhere in my description of my furry friends is there an adjective that is synonymous with the following terms: regal, photogenic, award-winning, gorgeous, nobel, handsome, agile, graceful, rustic, poetic, inspiring or the quality some living things posses that make those witnessing them actually slow the object’s motion down in their imaginations in order to fully absorb the grandeur of their presence…you know, like when the hot chick enters the library and lets her hair down in your favorite tween movie.

No, my pups have never been anyone’s love interest, nor will they be appearing in any major motion pictures anytime soon.

Unless there is a sequel to “Homeward Bound.” If they make that I’ll be putting together some audition tapes of my cats following the dogs following the horses following the cows in the home pasture.

Now that’s a sight for the big screen.

A comical sight, but this is my life. 

And a comedy is the only category these hounds fit into really. Which, in turn, makes it challenging to really focus on the contemplative, inspiring, whimsical, natural, meditative, stunning and magical photographs I am shooting to capture on these jaunts out on the countryside when Tweedle Dee and his BFF Tweedle Dumb are high tailing it for the nearest stock dam…

Or, you know, doing things like this…

Dog in the stock tank

Needless to say I spend a majority of my time on these walks shouting at the dogs to get the hell out of the frame and a few extra editing moments at the computer weeding out the unwanted dog tail, snout, foot and always present butt that might have snuck its way into one of my beloved sunset/landscape/horse/babbling creek/rainbow/wildflower photos.

Case in point:

Without dogs:

With dogs:

Without dog:

With dog:

Without dog:

With dog:

Without dog:

With dog:

Without dog:

With dog:

Somehow a photograph of a North Dakota sunset says something a bit different with a profile of a flat nosed pug and a droopy faced lab silhouetted in the forefront.

But what, exactly, does it say?

“Home, home on the range, where the deer, the mis-guided pug with an identity crises and a prematurely aging labrador play …”

And as much as I’ve tried to make the lab look nobel and stoic sitting strong against the backdrop of the rolling prairie, the orders aren’t rushing in for a 20X30 framed and matted photograph of a 105 pound chocolate hunting dog with drool flinging off of his droopy lips due to the relentless wind of the day…no matter how big his heart

For some reason nobody is in desperate need of that work of art to hang over their fireplaces to complete the warm and sexy look of their home.

It’s the same reason that this shot here:

is just a bit more appealing than, say, this shot:

No, we’re just not ready to appreciate and celebrate the spirit that these types of life-loving creatures can bring to a beautiful landscape.

Take a look at this shot for instance. Here we have a handsome group of long horn steers, a symbol of the rugged west, a story waiting to be told of cowboys and wide open range and a lifestyle that is adventurous and brave.

Now throw a pug in the mix and, well, that beautiful poem is instantly replaced with that childhood song “one of these things is not like the other/one of these things just doesn’t belong…”

Now that’s what I call contemplative.

Ah, yes. There are a hundred pictures like this. Hundreds of photos of the hundreds of miles these to yahoos have spent running the trails in front of me, sniffing in the brush, licking my face when I lean in close to the ground to get a close shot of a flower, or coming to my rescue when I lay down in the grass to look up.

And I am aware that when I crop out the wandering tail, the meandering paw and the occasional out of control floppy ear, this landscape looks the way it was meant…authentic, natural and pure…

But sometimes I like to keep in a squishy nose or a blur in the grass to remind me that , well, sometimes when you’re looking for inspiration, relaxation, and escape from the stresses of the world, the best medicine is to remember your sense of humor…

And that life is nothing without good company. And  I would walk a million miles in those hills with these two clowns.


and ever…



A few small things

Around here it’s not too challenging to see the big picture–the buttes against the skyline, the cows in the pasture, the big brown dog in the dam, the fields of wheat and ditches full of yellow flowers, the oaks and birch trees reaching up toward the sky. I love standing on the top of the hills around our house and scanning the horizon and the pink ribbon of road below me, to see who might be coming or going–the sun, a neighbor, an oil field worker on his way home.

But often I feel like looking closer to see what’s happening down there in the grass, bushes and oak trees, in the shady cool places of the ranch. See, all those small pieces that make up the mosaic of this landscape fascinate me, so I pull on my walking shoes, take my camera and my husband if he’s willing and hit the coulees and the rolling pastures to have a look around–to immerse ourselves in the quiet places of the ranch.

We don’t talk much, to blend in, to make sure we see it all as we take turns leading one another through the cow and deer trails and notice how the dragonflies are in a frenzy, swooping and swerving and finding mates…

and how their delicate and transparent wings reflect the sun.

We stay silent as husband pushes a path with his boots along the side of the beaver dam and I take a moment to reflect on the signs of late summer, like the cattail that’s beginning to fuzz…

and the flowers that hang on down here in the shade, staying cool and crisp as they reach for small glimmers of sun peaking through the trees.

I kneel down to check out the mechanics, magic, motivation or science that allows the water bugs to stay rowing and afloat on the surface of the creek…

and husband is also looking closer, pointing out the school of minnows flashing their silver bellies in the hot sunlight warming the water.

I look at him, we look up at the birch tree branches.

He looks at me and I tell him to watch for mushrooms growing on trees…

and chokecherries and the plums in the draw where we picked bucket-fulls last summer…

or the thorns that could scrape through your long pants…

And we walk. Along that creek that runs between the two places and down to the neighbors’, through beaver dams and stock dams and ponds where the frogs croak wildly. We clear a path through bull-berry brush and dry clover up to our armpits. We jump over washouts and scramble up eroded banks and notice how some oak trees have fallen this summer, hollowed out and heavy with the weight of their age, the weight of a world that keeps changing, no matter what, no matter if a human eye ever sweeps past it or inspects it or theorizes about it, or tries to save it…it changes.

My wish is that he and I walk together in the coulees and off the paths in these acres for a lifetime with eyes wide to the small things that live and thrive and swim and crawl and grow outside our door.

My wish is that the small things will never lose their mystery and that the way husband and I move through those trees is the way we continue to move through life–switching leads, pointing out beauty and wonder, asking questions, being silent, stepping forward, taking time and loving the moment…

Sunflower touching the sky

and one another in it.

The top of our world…

See those buttes, way off in the distance in this photo? Yes. You see them? Good.

I love those buttes. They are like the backdrop to this little painting we live in here at the Veeder Ranch. They are always there in the distance, reminding us of our neighbors to the north, reminding us that we are pretty small here on this landscape, you know, in the scheme of things, and staining as a fixture of the beauty that surrounds us.

The Blue Buttes. That’s what we call them around here. Why? Well, because they look blue don’t they? Yes? Bluish, purplish…

There they are again...way out there...

Every time I look at them I am reminded of a story that my pops told me about a drawing he colored of a cowboy on a mountain during a project at school. He used his crayons to make the man’s hat brown, his shirt yellow, the sky blue and the mountain he was riding along purple.

When the teacher asked “Why did you paint the mountain purple? Mountains aren’t purple!” young pops said he felt embarrassed and confused. Because the only encounter he had up to that point with anything resembling a mountain was the Blue Buttes that waved to him from about seven miles north. And they sure looked purple to him.

Oh, my heart.

Anyway, on Tuesday I found myself up close and personal with those buttes that have been such a far away mirage on this place. A new friend who moved to the area with her husband and settled into a little farmstead a few miles north asked me to come spend the day with her poking around the countryside, taking photos and climbing the area’s famous Table Butte.

Of course I was on board and for many reasons. Number one is that I had a chance to spend some time with a woman who I hadn’t quite had enough time to really get to know in person, but who already understood that I was the type of person who would be enthusiastic about this kind of activity. She didn’t ask me to go shopping or to help her bake a pie. No. She met me a few times and understood that hiking might just be my thing.

And it was her’s too.

This had potential to be a great friendship.

Number two was that I have grown up here, traveling to the small town of Keene for youth group activities and meeting up with friends on the other side of the buttes, but never have I had the chance to stand on top of one of them to catch a glimpse of my world from way above and all directions. I was grateful for the opportunity.

So I headed up the gravel road in the morning armed with my camera, sunglasses, hiking shoes and water and began poking my way to her house, kicking up dust and admiring how the day was shaping up. The sky was blue, the clouds were fluffy and the breeze was just right. I followed my new friend’s directions and pulled off the main gravel road and down into a coulee to find her standing in the door of her quaint, renovated farmhouse and her border collie-blue heeler mix running up to greet me.

And I’ll tell you, it was all over from there. See, this woman from eastern Montana, who married one of my High School Rodeo buddies and found herself out here making her home at the bottom of the Blue Buttes, couldn’t have been more connected to the land or more appreciative of it if she had sprung from the soil herself. While we loaded up the dog and our bodies into her husband’s old pickup she drove me down the gravel road toward our hiking destination and talked about the history of the area as she understood it. Because she’s enamored with the stories and finds the old houses, barns and shacks that still remain as ghosts off a different time among the rolling pastures and fields of the countryside so intriguing, so mysterious. And while she spoke about what family owns what acreage and told me stories about who homesteaded in the little wooden house with the green trim and who taught at the old sandstone school, I was struck by the fact that just as much as my new friend was at ease in her new surroundings, she was equally, if not more, astounded by it.

And so we drove a few more miles, chatting about growing up, our husbands and the people we knew in common, a tail of dust floating behind us, until we reached our destination.

Table Butte. A well known sacred spot for the Native Americans of the area and a landmark, a striking feature, a special place for any rancher, farmer, teenager or passerby who has stood in its presence, no matter the heritage. As we approached I understood why. See as you head north, away from the badlands, the countryside evens out a bit, the fields get larger and more fertile, the oak coulees less thick, the clay soil dissipates. While you drive further from home you feel like the wheels under you are literall stretching the earth…

And you think the landscape might all just even out eventually, until you find yourself approaching two massive looming towers of rock and dirt and grass that seem to have sprung up from the depths of the earth in an explosion of rocks and vegetation. And although from the back of your mind you extract some knowledge about glaciers and weather that could scientifically explain the formation, what you really want to put in its place is the story from the perspective of the Native Americans who climb to the top on their vision quests.

We parked the pickup under the cliffs of jagged rocks, unloaded the dog, and made our way through a herd of red cows and on up to the top.

The climb was steep and as stories and childhood memories and marriage and family flowed from our hearts and memories and out our mouths, we had to stop halfway up to take a break, because it turns out spilling your guts and climbing up the face of a massive cliff at the same time requires a good amount of oxygen to the lungs.

And then we were at the top and words stopped in our throats for a few moments as we took it in.

From the cusp of the giant cliff you could see for miles in all directions. We could take in our entire rural community in one sweep. To the north the big lake laid like a dark blue slate.

To the south, the coulees of my home and neighboring pastures.

To the east, miles of grass, oil wells, a ribbon of highway and wheat.

And to the west Chimney Butte stood in our view, the other side of the story, another magnificent formation.

We milled around up there, kneeling down to pay tribute to a memorial that was placed at the top of our world in honor of two members of my new friend’s family, we watched her dog get as close as she possibly could to the edge of each rock while I had mini-heart attacks and my new friend called her pet back.

We knelt down and snapped photos of the wildflowers growing out of the rocks. We laughed and shared funny stories. We sympathized with one another as we told tough ones about the hard stuff.

We got to know one another up there as the sun moved from the east to the west and the wind tangled our hair and we had scanned just about every inch of the landscape with our eyes and our lenses.

And then we headed back down when we were ready…

back into the seats of the brown pickup, and back along the winding road, stopping at my new friend’s favorite places: that old house with the green trim,

the Sandstone School my grandmother attended…

By the time we pulled back into her yard I noticed the sun was planted pretty close to the horizon. I tried to guess the time as we chatted about her horses and her husband pulled into the drive…home from work already?

I said hello, told one more story and loaded into my pickup to head home. I took a look at the clock for the first time that day.

8 pm.

It was already 8 pm! Ten hours I was out there among the grass and wind and sun and in the company of a new friend. A new friend that I felt had known me for years.

What the heck!? I had so much fun I forgot about lunch! That never happens.

I meandered home, snapping a photo or two of the wheat fields on my way,

and gave husband a few words about the day before stripping off my clothes and crumbling into bed, my spirits lifted, my body tired, my heart a little lighter from a day on top of the purple colored buttes.

So yes, when I went out the next evening and looked toward the buttes, I thought of their purple color, of course, and the story of my pops as a young, net yet worldly boy. But I also thought of the day I spent with my friend…

The friend I got to know on the top of our world…