Sunday Column: ‘Tis the season

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It’s been a great, but long week here for this big bellied momma out here at the ranch. Hunting season, coupled with the fact that my doctors said I could birth this child any minute, has set this place off in a new sort of buzz.

Each year about this time my dad’s brother flies in from Texas, bringing with him a son-in-law or two to show them around this place. We look forward to having him here all year and spend the time around the supper table talking, eating venison stew and coaxing stories out of the brothers and our neighbor up the road about the shenanigans they used to get into as wild boys growing up out here.

As my belly grows by the second (like literally, I think it grows by the second) I couldn’t help but notice how our family has grown. Last night mom and dad hosted a fish fry supper for thirteen as my uncle brought with him both of his son-in-laws and his nephew to join my brother-in-law over, big sister, little sister and her new husband and the rest of the ranch gathered in the house to eat and wonder when the heck I might pop.

I looks like pretty dang soon.

Belly B&W

 

Husband spent a good portion of the afternoon loading up his pickup with our baby-go gear and trying to figure out how the hell to get the carseat in…and then out…of the backseat.

I heard him talking on the phone to his mom saying something like “There’s a manual fifty-seven pages long about how to install the damn thing, but not one word on how to get the thing out.”
And who knew we would have to sit together and read the directions and diagram on the diaper genie. But that’s what we’ve been doing. That and taking calls from relatives and friends on my condition, wondering if we should just go to the big town already (we have a three hour drive) and wait it out there and put everyone at ease for the love of GAWD!
I don’t know.
All I know is I should probably pack the camouflage onesie Husband asked about, because he just informed me he plans on wearing camo on the way home from the hospital and he would like it if he and the baby matched…
hunting
Priorities I tell you.
Priorities.
Anyway, here’s the column from last weekend I forgot to post in my struggle to stay upright in the final countdown.
Peace, Love and Baby Gear,
Jessie and the bump
Belly 2

Coming Home: Hunting holiday season means time
spent with loved ones
by Jessie Veeder
11-15-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

‘Tis the season.

Yes, we’re already one week into celebrating a North Dakota official holiday. The chill is settling in the air, and men and women are pulling on neon orange knit caps over their unruly hair, growing sweet beards (well, the men anyway), stocking up on whiskey and pulling out the cards for poker night.

Yes, the official deer rifle season opening day arrived, reminding me that this once was a valid reason for an excused absence from country school.

Turns out, that doesn’t carry in the working world, but I tell you, there were plenty of North Dakotans out there that day who opted to dress head to toe in camouflage and hunker down just under the skyline instead of going to work.

Meanwhile, the ranch has done its annual transition from horse and cattle operation to hunting camp. Every refrigerator on the place is stocked with Budweiser. Every cupboard is supplied with whiskey. The camouflage hats are tossed on chairs, boots piled in entryways, rifles polished and sighted in, and the calendar filled with scheduled visits from family members who make walking these hills with their sons, sons-in-law, granddaughters, nieces, nephews, wives, husbands or brothers a tradition year after year.

Because out here on this ranch, hunting season is less about the big kill and more about the time spent taking a break to appreciate this wild place with the people you most like to be around.

It’s always been that way.

Because contrary to the magazine and movie portrayal of ranch life, it’s not all riding your best horse into the sunset night after night. There are beautiful moments, yes, but they usually occur after you’ve acquired a fair amount of poop on your boots and slung a good string of cuss words into the air after racing that sun home from a job in town to catch the cows in the fields or a fence broken down.

Keeping a place like this up and running is 17 full-time jobs it seems, something that I didn’t realize growing up sitting next to my dad in the feed pickup rolling out a bale of hay for a line of black cows well after dark on a winter night.

Coming home from one full-time job to start another was likely not a rancher’s dream, but keeping the place up and running was worth every after-dark hour. I understand it a bit more now that we’re charged with the same task moving this place into its next 100 years.

I understand it now, helping my husband and dad make new plans for the corrals over supper served past dark or pushing back a trip to the lake in the summer because the cows got out or hay needs to be put up.

But then there is hunting season. The calves are shipped out, the cows are settled in, the weather is in between hot and bitter, and there’s a window, an oasis of time, to spend harvesting the land in a different way, to sit in silence on a side hill with one mission: To be still. To look. To listen. To be a part of the natural order of this landscape.

And all that time you’ve spent riding through the trees after a bull that won’t stay in, all the cows trailed along fence lines and trips to check water in the dams have you familiar with where the bucks bed down at night or where they rub the velvet off of their horns.

So you carve out the time to sit in the rising sun, watching the day break next to someone handpicked to share the experience with you.

Some of the best days of my life have been sitting in the glow of the sunset next to my dad, my husband or my uncle looking closely, blending in and holding still in a moment.

And if the opportunity presents itself to take an animal, it’s just more fodder for the memories, and more meat in our freezer for the long winter. But at the end of the day, for us, it’s about being together in a familiar place, in our own special sort of holiday.

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Sunday Column: The hunt

Deer on horizonWhen I was growing up, Pops would take us hunting out in these hills surrounding the house and the barnyard. He grew up out here, scouting and sneaking and watching the animals and how they move through the valley. He’s never lost his fascination and appreciation for the way they can survive and thrive out here, even in the middle of the harshest winters.

Deer tracks

He studies them, their patterns, how the big buck spends his days bedded down in the bull berries, where the group of does and fawns water in the morning. He taught us how to tell the difference between a whitetail and a mule deer.

He made sure to note the direction of the wind and why it mattered.

He geared us up with blaze orange and we went sneaking over the hill, crawling on our bellies.

He packed jerky in his pockets. Coffee in a thermos in the pickup.

deer 2

When the time was right, he taught us to shoot. When we were old enough we took hunter’s safety through our shop courses in school and we went out and took our own animal. He mounted the horns for us. He was proud.

Pops remembers every deer taken on this place. Where we were. Who was with him. How cold it was.

deer 3

He keeps a book of photos from the hunts, dating back to when he was a young man, hunting with his uncles, with his dad, with his young kids and now with grown daughters and the man I married.

Deer Hunting

When my uncle was here a few weeks back, I went out with Husband on a bow hunt in the east pasture before the snow fell. We all paired off, two hunters in each corner of the place. I followed along and couldn’t help but think of all the stories swapped around the kitchen table the evening before. The memories attached to all of these trails, all of these hilltops, all of the breath held in the wind out here is not so much about the animal taken, although it’s never taken for granted, but more about the time spent together in the quiet of  a place so special to us.

Here’s one of my favorite memories…

Coming Home: Cold winter memories warm the heart
by Jessie Veeder
11-30-14
Fargo Forum/Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

deer

A North Dakota Holiday…

We’re celebrating a North Dakota official holiday here today. The wind is whipping the cold rain around and men and women are pulling on neon orange knit caps over their  unruly hair, growing out sweet beards (well, the men anyway) stocking up on whiskey and pulling out the cards for poker tonight.

Happy Hunting Season Opener everyone!

There was a time in my life this was a reason for an excused absence from country school.

Turns out, that doesn’t carry out in the working world, but I tell you, there are plenty of North Dakotans out there today who have opted to dress head to toe in camouflage and hunker down in hurricane winds sitting just under the skyline instead of going to work today.

If you’re here today, you’ll know who they are. They are the ones with the bright orange cap sitting on the dash of their pickups, driving really slow along the county roads.

Hunting for deer.

In honor of the season I will cook up some stew this weekend, turn on the fire and maybe have some whiskey myself.

In honor of the season, I am going to resurrect this little gem here, for those women out there suddenly finding themselves lonely:

The Ten Commandments for the Hunting Widow

You’re gonna want to read this one ladies. I’m a seasoned hunting daughter who grew up to be a seasoned hunting wife, so I know a few things…

Yup, that’s me, that’s my deer, that’s my man, that’s my denim jacket and that’s my neckerchief.

There are some good tips in here. I’m telling you…

So stay safe out there. Safe and warm and for the love of GAWD Don’t. Wear. Swishy. Pants.

Hope you see Da Turdy Pointer…

Peace, Love and Venison,

Jessie

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…

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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.

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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,

Jessie

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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…

 

 

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:

How I know it’s hunting season

Ok, we are deep into deer hunting season around here.

And just in case I didn’t notice that the men in this area have all suddenly grown full on beards and taken to driving ten miles an hour down the roads dressed in camo head to toe with their orange hats on their dashboards and their faces smashed against the windows of their pickups, I would like to present to you how I have been made well aware of the season in my quiet little corner of the world…you know, in case I had no idea:

First things first, I am reminded in my bathroom when I reach for my wedding rings in my pretty little soap dish.

Good morning sunshine.

I am reminded when I go to get dressed and am shocked that husband has indeed hung up his hunting pants. Nice and neatly might I add.

I guess he respects the camo.

I am reminded in the entrance to our house when I go to greet a knocking UPS man.

Cause nothing says “Welcome to our home!” like a gun and a case of camouflaged beer.

And no you’re eyes are not fooling you, that is camouflaged beer. And I am reminded once again of my place in this world when I find it in my fridge:

“Cold as a mountain stream and as refreshing as its name….”

Or don’t find it in my fridge… I know I put it in here somewhere…maybe near the not-so-fresh-anymore half and half and coffee creamer. If only it weren’t so cleverly disguised…

Oh there it is! Phew, I was getting thirsty for that cold mountain stream.

Good thing Busch added a little blaze orange or I would have died of thirst…or shot it! Oh, I could have accidentally shot it.

Good Lord.

And I am reminded on my evening commute as the radio plays the following ballad…

…and when I slam on my brakes while this creature looks for an quick escape from the sausage factory:

And I yell: “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!”

And he screams: “I AM RUNNING LADY! I AM RUNNING! I CAN’T RUN ANY FASTER! SSSHHHHIIIIITTTTT!”

Then, taking lessons from the Busch can, promptly puts on his camo vest and disappears into the brush.

Now, let’s test out your sportsman skills and see if you can spot him in the photo above.

Winner gets a case of camouflage beer….

….that is if I can find it….

Good luck hunters. There’s only a few days left of this blessed season!

In case you needed a reminder.

Ten Commandments for the Hunting Widow

Ok ladies. Happy Monday. And if you’re reading this I would like to congratulate you. Because it seems you have, if only by the hair of your chinny, chin, survived the opening weekend of deer hunting season.

Now if you’re here and have in no way been affected by this phenomenal holiday that turns perfectly decent, shirts tucked in, clean shaven, soaped up Midwestern boys into growly, whiskey drinking, scratchy bearded, poker playing, primitive manly men, then revel in the fact that for the next two weeks you do not have to negotiate outings into civilization with your man based on whether or not he has indeed “filled his tag.”

And I am well aware that some of you womanly women get right in there and play like the boys do, taking no prisoners, leaving it all behind for the love of the sport. To you I tip my blaze orange Elmer Fudd hat and say, “Long live the sportswoman.” We’ll have to get together soon over wine and venison and hash out the hunt.

But for those lovely females who have uttered the words “hunting widow” in the last few days, or ever in your married or dating lives for that matter, I would like to offer you something here.

I would like to get up on my pedestal (or kitchen chair, or the railing of my deck, or my tiny desk) and tell you that “widow” does not have to be a word in your vocabulary. No, not yet. You too can enjoy the pure, animalistic, back to nature experience of the hunt with your man in all his glory. And you can love it. Or at least tolerate it. All you have to do is put on your sports bra and your wedgie free undies and gear up for a purely carnal experience and get back to the basics of man. If anything the experience may help you gain some clarity on the weird male behavior your love will be exhibiting for the next couple weeks.

So for the benefit of females everywhere who have a hankering to see what it’s all about, I have consulted with the manly men around me and have taken some hard learned lessons from my years of experience walking silently behind the most serious sportsmen in the county to come up with the following:

The Ten Commandments of Deer Hunting with your Man

Yup, that's me, that's my deer, that's my man, that's my denim jacket and that's my neckerchief.

 

1. Thou shalt not wear swishy pants

2. Thou shalt not call any animal “cute” or “adorable.” You are now the predator, the fluffy critters with the big, beautiful eyes, are the prey. You heard me. Predator. Prey.

3. Thou shalt not complain about having to pee, but will squat behind a proper bush if absolutely necessary (and be quiet about it). And while you’re at it, thou shalt wear enough warm clothes so you are not cold, and eat enough food so you are not hungry and do everything in your power to remain comfortable enough so you have nothing to complain about, because really, thou shalt not complain.

4. Thou shalt not be the first to comment on husband/boyfriends’ shortcomings with any weapon and will instead provide only positive reinforcement. I.G.: “Great shot hunny.” “Way to take your time! You’re so methodical, so patient!” “You butt looks great when you lean in like that.” And my favorite, a whispered, almost silent “wooo hooo…woo hooo” and high five accompanied by your greatest smile when he makes the kill.

5. Thou shalt not whine about how blaze orange and greenish/brownish camo are not your colors and wear the seven sizes too big clothing like Pamela Anderson would. Because if a sexy woman like you can’t pull off this color combo, no one can.

6. Thou shalt kick it in gear, power-walk style and show husband/boyfriend what it means to really get somewhere while increasing your heart rate, burning calories, and spending quality time with your man–because women invented multi-tasking for cyring out loud.

7. Thou shalt understand that while on the hunt it is perfectly acceptable to walk or sit for several hours in complete silence. And, sweet lover of the outdoorsman, this is not a time for discussion about what color to paint the kitchen walls or where you should send your unborn child to preschool or how much your dearly beloved spent on that gun slung across his back.

8.Thou shalt bring your own snacks and pay careful attention that the wrappers do not make crinkling noises and the food itself does not pack a crunch. If you must have a granola bar, bring it unwrapped for the love of venison. When man is on the trail of the big one, all he wants to eat is the big one. He is not thinking about and does not appreciate that Snickers bar or tortilla chip you are so loudly devouring.

9. Thou shalt accept the fact that while hunting there is no work on Monday, there is no house, there are no kids, there is no basement renovation or fence to build. Nothing. There is nothing but the following: Man. Woman. Beast. Hunt.

10. Thou shalt understand that if you cannot abide by the above nine commandments, thou will never again be invited along. Ever. Ever.

Which may or may not be a bad thing, you know, depending on how it all turns out.

And one more thing, before you grab that camo cap and pack the jerky, I invite you to read a previous piece of mine to get a clear description of what might happen even if you do everything wrong. Because he is your man after all, and you are his and he loves you and your over-active bladder, candy wrappers, poor circulation and everything in between–“Sneeek…Sneeeeeeek….” “Shhhhh…”

Now take off those swishy pants and go get ‘em girl. The view alone is worth it.

“Sneeeek….Sneeeeeeeek….” “Shhhhhh…”

It’s hunting season here. Well, bow hunting season to start it off. So I’ve lost husband for the evenings from now until, well, I don’t know,  I must blank out when we talk about these things…I think until at least Christmas. But I could be wrong.

If you haven’t figured this out yet, I will tell you something about husband…he is a patient, patient man. So naturally, he is good with the whole bow hunting sport, which requires a lot of quiet, and sneaking, and waiting and analyzing animal patterns in the unpredictable fall weather. He is particularly enthused about the sport this season because:

  1. we are living in the deer’s backyard  and
  2. he saw some of those deer on a cow chasing ride the other day…and they had grown some really….big….horns….(or antlers, I think I am supposed to say antlers)

So this week husband has come home after a hard day’s work and…

….hello wife…goodbye wife…goodnight wife…

And the cycle continues.

Husband loves hunting season. And I love husband. So sometimes I go along.

Truth is I actually hunt too. With a gun. But it’s the kind of hunting that involves one of the men in my life helping quite a bit…help getting my license, lending me a gun, loading the gun, picking out my camouflage shirt and placing the blaze orange Elmer Fudd hat on my head (which, by the way is not my color) and shoving my once warm and cozy ass out of our backdoor and into the innocent, unsuspecting wilderness.

And for the record, I’m a damn good shot, no matter the outfit.

Proof with one of my bucks (and dad). I removed the blaze orange hat for photographic purposes.

But I love hunting. I do. I love traipsing around in the crisp air, treading lightly on the earth and blending in with my surroundings. Because in those moments (you know, when you resemble a tree) if you do it right, you really see it. When you are forced to be unbelievably still  (either by free will, or because husband continues to calmly “shush” you) and when your state is unobstructed by cell phones dinging, The Bachelor on television, or that damn laundry, you give yourself a gift really.

While you focus on the quiet part, you notice how the hawks circle, you spot a porcupine perched in a tree, you can hear the bumble bees swarming in a nearby patch of fall flowers, just hanging on tight to life before the winter sets in.  When you are paying attention to silence, you are also, thankfully, paying attention enough to not sit on that cactus, really hear the wind in the trees, and… oh look at those beautiful red fall leaves, and the geese, and the way the sun is setting, giving way to the moon…oh, I need my camera…

…beep, beep, click…

Shhhhh…..

Oh, yeah. We’re hunting deer here…

When you remain completely still and don’t use your typical “sneaking” sound effects, e.g.: “…sneeeeeek, sneeeeeeekeeekkeeeee, sneeeek….” you notice how the deer graze in the open spots and move and bed down and spook at the slightest crack or pop of a twig or, you know…sound effect.

Ooops. Oh deer…

In my defense, I wasn’t a total distraction on my inaugural bow hunt this year (I didn’t wear my “swishy” pants this time). I mean, I kept it together enough to get close to some really beautiful creatures, but I had my fair share of coffee that afternoon, didn’t remember the lunch thing, and forgot that “crisp fall weather” means wear some long underwear. So unfortunately, my growling stomach and shivering cut our hunt short of the necessary “witching hour.”

I was wearing the exact same thing. Just hanging back, blending in...

And I felt a little bad, because I’m usually a trooper. Really, I was raised following behind the footprints of my father, in snow up to my armpits, chasing after the majestic beasts that he had been scoping out all season. I have been in on some really intense, really successful, really invigorating hunts. And I’m sure I will be again, that is, if I’m ever invited back.

So on our way home, when I was staring at the ground (instead of the horizon) and thinking about how I could get Chinese food delivered to the middle of nowhere, I apologized to patient husband for my apathetic, non-sportsmanlike, non-intense behavior. I apologized for the giggling, the sneeze, the sneaking sound and the un-authorized camera click.

And after all of my rambling, I was reminded of the spirit of the sport when husband turned to me and said:

“I’m just glad you came with me. I am glad to have you here”

Awwwww….the words of true sportsman. Or a man looking to secure many, many more hunting trips, to which I say, “wishes granted.”

So, I might not be a bow hunter yet, but I am working on it…

And in my defense, it is a little difficult to focus on the hunt when I am surrounded by such beauty…don’t you think?

Happy hunting.