Nothing’s Forever

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When I first moved back to the ranch almost 10 years ago, wondering what I was going to do here, I spent my first summer reuniting with every inch of the place that raised me.

I walked to the top of every hill, down every draw, crossed the creek beds countless times, looked up at the sky and maybe, more importantly, down close to the ground where the secrets seemed to lie.

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I was searching for inspiration, the same way this place inspired me as a kid, and I found it over and over again. The time I was able to take for myself those first few months back home shaped the career I am able to chase and build upon today, writing and singing and helping to make inspiration for others in my community through the arts.

But once the babies came, those long walks by myself for creative inspiration have taken a backseat to the responsibilities that come with motherhood and work and trying to keep it all ticking, just like the clock that never stops.

I celebrated my 36 birthday a couple days ago with my family–my one-year-old and three-year-old, my nephew and niece and parents and sisters–and I couldn’t help but look around at the cupcake frosting and chaos and I feel like that twenty-something woman who walked those hills was simply a million miles away.

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And so the next night, after we put the girls to bed, and before the sun went down completely, I walked. To the top of the hill to watch the sun go down on another year older on a crisp August day and I felt like my old self again for a minute. And even though you all know I wouldn’t change a minute of this motherhood journey–even the hard part, even the losses–because they all brought me here to these children I adore, some days I miss me, you know?

Please tell me you know.

My kids are getting older and soon there will be a bit more time freed up for things like walks.  Soon they may want to join me (I hope they’ll want to join me).

Nothing’s forever…

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It’s a phrase that haunts me and comforts me every day in a way I never anticipated when I wrote it in a song all those years ago.

So this week, for my newspaper column, I went back to the archives to republish a piece of writing that was shared all over the world. It’s a piece that simply takes us all off the beaten path, to look closer, to take more time to be part of the extraordinary parts of this world, and it seemed to resonate with many people at the time.

Who knew ten years later it would work to inspire me again too.

The extraordinary ones.

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There are secrets out here in these prairies and Badlands that not many have explored.

Not far off the beaten path, these secrets are quiet and hidden and full of magic that only a watchful eye can detect. And the ones who do, the ones who look for it, these are the special ones.

The special ones listen. They stand deathly still at the side of the road and hold their breath to hear through the wind and the traffic and the barking dogs. They lift a hand to shield their eyes and carefully take a step off the gravel — one step into the world. And then the brave ones take another and another…

Because they think they can hear something calling to them, saying, “Hello up there,” under the tangle of grasses and cactuses, along the base of trees, where the roots peek out from under the damp earth.

So the curious ones, the ones who listen, move their eyes from the horizon and follow the call from the ground. Their feet moving them from the top of the hills in open prairie to the mysterious, damp, dark and prickly gullies of the surrounding coulees and creek beds.

They take in the panoramic view of cattails springing up like furry corn dogs bouncing and bending on frail sticks in the breeze, calling the special ones to take a step a little closer where the smell of the marsh fills their nostrils as the once-solid ground gives way to the dark mud under the reeds. And the water seeps into the brave one’s shoes as they wobble and slosh their way, deeper in.

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And with each step, the voices get a bit louder, coaxing them to look down to the moss spreading on the bark of the bur oak. The brave ones bend down to run their fingers along it, to feel to look underneath the caps of the mushrooms, making sure the stories of the fairies and the elves aren’t true, a little disappointed to find, when they look, there is nothing there but a couple gnats…

ARCHIVE: Read more of Jessie Veeder’s Coming Home columns

And the curious ones notice a soft rippling on the surface of the creek as the water bugs zip and glide and row and skim across the water. The brave ones feel the urge to jump in and splash with them, but don’t want to disturb the bugs. Because, if not the fairies or the elves, maybe they are the ones who have called them here…

And when the voices (whoever they are) are drowned out by the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the air gets cooler and damper as the brush thickens up again along the path, even the brave ones can’t take it — they want to see the sky again, to see how the time has passed and how far they’ve gone.

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So they claw their way up the steep banks of the creek. They want to run, but something slows them and they crouch to see how the tall grass looks against the overcast sky.

Then they stand up and stretch their limbs and reach to grab a taste of the ripe plums growing at the very tips of the thorny branches. The curious ones bend down low to skim the brush for red raspberries or wild strawberries underneath the mangle of green and they tiptoe along the juniper spreading up through the rocks and watch for the poison ivy that has, until the voices called out, kept them from coming here.

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With mouths puckered from sucking on plum pits and foreheads wrinkled from seeing the small things, they are all surprised that the road has found them again, somehow. Turning their heads back over their shoulder, they take a look of it all from far away. The trees put their arms around each other, the wind blows through the reeds, the grass stands up straight, the wild sunflowers smile and everything seems to wave at the brave and curious and special ones making their way home.

And the extraordinary people say a quiet word of thanks to the voices whispering their secrets, because the small world they thought they knew, the one they thought had belonged only to them, has suddenly become bigger.

And after all that magic, it never, ever looks the same to them again.

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.

To be creative.

Today I’m getting ready to head to the badlands and talk to a group of health educators about creativity, what it means and how we achieve it.

Jessie Packaged Up!

To be creative is somewhat of an abstract idea and for me, a title I was dubbed with at a young age when my parents noticed my affinity for costumes, weird hats, singing made up songs and spending time writing stories about a cowboy clan or a turtle that found himself up on a fence post…

And while I think some of us are born with a louder or larger gene that compels us to create, to express and to feel and wear those things on our brightly colored puffy sleeves,  I believe that every one of us has it in us a tendency, a need, to express.

And I believe that the tendency comes from the need to help the world understand us.

And then, maybe, the other way around.

Because there’s so much going on here. There’s so many of us humans out working on the earth and some days we all just feel like we’re walking in a herd, or following one another in a line on that ribbon of highway that takes us to and from a destination.

But sometimes that destination is one worth talking about–what the sunset looked like reflecting off his face, how the rustic taste of red wine on your lips made you want to quit your job in the mid-west and move to a vineyard in the mountain.

How you fell in love with her because her brown eyes, tan skin and warm voice reminded you of the dessert where you were raised.

And how the ocean waves look like wheat fields when the wind blows back home and though you could never live on the sand, that water is somehow a part of you now.

When I first moved back to the ranch four summers ago there were pieces of me I had dropped along the way to being gone and back again.

I was focused on getting somewhere and I forgot to roll the windows down and let the wind mess up my unruly hair.

Then the summer sun turned my skin brown again and I found my notebook and I started poking around the place to see if I could find those missing pieces.

And so I picked them up, one by one: my curiosity, my small but determined muscles, my dirty bare feet and windblown face, my determination to get the gates closed on my own, the smell of the plum blossoms, my well-intentioned helpfulness and unwavering clumsiness and tendency to break farm equipment, and my affinity for hats…

And something in me woke up again. That little girl who followed the creek every day after school building forts and singing at the top of her lungs emerged slowly in an enthusiasm for the discovery of the first sweet pea of summer, or the rush of the snow melt in the spring and then the sound of the frogs. And that girl wasn’t scared then of falling off horses the way she was yesterday, because she felt a little braver out here among the trees and rocks and grass that knew her so well…and they said welcome home.

And so today I’ve been thinking about all this, this creativity. This thing we call inspiration. And I think, never in my life have I been as inspired as I was when I was eight or ten or twelve or fourteen years old and the world was small but open and I wasn’t out in it yet so it didn’t have a chance to hurt me and show me that there are a million people out there with ideas that are better than mine.

When you learn that sort of thing it’s hard to keep wondering about words you are sure have yet to be said or songs that just need to be sung.

And so we might wake up one day to find that we haven’t sung for months, and then one day it will be years and that is it then…

But I never wanted to stop singing and so when I came home I looked for my voice.

And I found it in all of those missing pieces I picked up…

So this is what I think now, that when I was eight or ten or twelve or fourteen I was creating because I was looking to understand myself and how I fit in this world. I was creating because I found it all so fascinating, the way those frogs croaked, the way the crocuses came every year after the cold. The way I could keep growing and changing but this place stayed the same and loved me anyway…

I’m a grown woman now. Twenty-one years after my tenth birthday and I know some things about myself that I didn’t know then.

I know that I grew up and kept my hair long. I know that I never stopped riding horses, something I worried would happen to me.

I know that I will live the rest of my life in this place, a place that keeps me climbing to the tops of hills to see what’s growing and how the sun will look when it hits the horizon tonight.

I know now that it is this place where I am most curious, most inspired, most lost then found, most frustrated, most relieved and most myself.

And I know now that there are a million reasons to keep quiet and stay in line, but there are also a million pieces of you out there waiting to be picked up, put back, rearranged, set out on your sleeve, screamed from the hilltops, explored and written somewhere in a book for curious eyes.

So you see, I think it’s the gathering that is creative. It is that gathering of those pieces that make us beautiful humans in this strange and beautiful world.

Brian Andreas-Story People

 

Living room songs.

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I’m going to do something a little different here today and I hope you don’t mind. See I just returned from a trip to the mountains where I played in the snow during the day and listened to some of the world’s best musicians at night. It was a vacation full of refreshing things: mountain air, mandolins, whiskey drinks and my best friends in the world.

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And now I’m home at the ranch, catching up on a couple days of work and planning for some shows of my own in the coming days and thinking that isn’t it amazing how we all have stories in us, little quips of life that we get to share over dinner, shoulder to shoulder as we drive across Montana in a pickup heading toward a mountain or on stage to a crowd drinking beer and tapping their feet.

Trout Steak Revival. Big Sky Big Grass Festival

Trout Steak Revival. Big Sky Big Grass Festival

I’m thinking there’s so many ways to tell these stories and I have chosen a few, but my favorite has always been song writing. I love to sit down behind my guitar on a snowy evening or a quiet morning and work out a melody, pick out words to roll off my tongue, join together and send off into an empty room while my fingers search for the next chord and a soft place for the music to land.

To come to the end and know that it means what you meant, though you know nothing of where it came from is a quiet little satisfying mystery.

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I write songs to fill forgotten corners of my life. I write songs to see if I might be able to add to the beauty in the world. I write songs to tell you something that might otherwise go unsaid. I write songs for the love of writing. For the love of singing my own words out loud.

I write songs for no reason but to sing them to the walls and the dog at my feet, songs that never touch another’s ears.

I wrote a song today.

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After my coffee had cooled, my emails were answered and phone calls made, I sat down behind that guitar and listened for what might come from me.

Sometimes it’s nothing, sometimes I hear it in pieces and sometimes it unfolds like it’s been waiting for me to come knocking.

Always I tuck it away for another day, another show, another time that might be better.

Today I decided to share it with you. A song. Just born in my living room on my lunch break with my laundry in piles and the dishes in the sink and no plans for supper or anything really because I wanted to sing something new, so I made this.

Please listen and enjoy and keep writing, singing, creating and sharing your own stories.

I used to be
Jessie Veeder Living Room Session
Listen here:

I used to be a  summer storm
Rolling dark across the plains
I used to bend the trees down
I used to know the rain
I used to make the wind howl
A version of a hurricane
I used to make it pour
I used to be a storm

I used to be a whiskey drink
Burning strong against your lips
Heating through your veins
Softening your fingertips
I used to hold you tight there
I used to make you sing
I used to make you brave
I used to be your drink

I used to be a fast train
Loud and steady on my tracks
Heat and iron and muscle
No promises of looking back
A heavy hearted stranger
Gone before I came
Like smoke on the horizon
I used to be a train

But that’s before I loved you
Before I ever knew
That no matter where you are now
I want to be there too
So I think I’ll be a bird now
With silver coated wings
I want to be your song now
More than any of those things

I used to be a summer storm
Rolling dark across the plains
I used to bend the trees down
I used to know the rain
I used to make the wind howl
A version of a hurricane
I used to make it pour
I don’t do that anymore

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Upcoming Shows: 

February 14 & 15
Theodore’s Dining Room
Medora, ND
5:30 – 8:00 PM (MT)

February 22
O.N.E
Mandan, ND
7:00 PM

February 23
Studio 222
Fargo, ND
8:00 PM

More information at www.jessieveedermusic.com 

To the kids

It’s 11 pm on Tuesday and tomorrow I am traveling 65 miles to teach a class at an event for youth called  Marketplace for Kids held in a neighboring college town.

Marketplace for Kids is something I may or may not have attended in my youth as an ambitious 8 or 9 or 10 year old– an educational program offered to students from around the state to help encourage young entrepreneurs and give them a chance to present and explain their projects–which are no doubt brilliant and creative and inspiring.

I will be a part of their opening ceremony. I will be singing a song. I will be teaching five, twenty-five minute classes about how I got from ranch kid, to singer/songwriter, to college student, to career woman and, then back to the ranch–this time as a grown woman.

I will be up all night.

Yes, I have known about this gig since January, but three months later and nine hours until the event itself, I still have no idea why they want me there. I spent all day today going over my class notes, trying to find the best way to explain myself.  Trying to figure out how to communicate my goals and ambitions and minor successes to a room full of 7 or 8 0r 9 or 10 year olds.

Trying to figure out really, how I got here.

I don’t know if I’m the right woman for the job…I just don’t know if I have what it takes. The thing that gives me hope is my one redeeming quality: I can still remember, vaguely, what it was like to be their age–so full of creativity and life and love for the things around me.

I can still remember, vaguely…

And you know, since I have been doing all this thinking, here’s what I think–I think that’s what has saved me and got me here today, doing something I love in a place I love the most in the world.

So now it’s 11:10 pm and having been at this quest, this journey about what to say to a crowd of children who are no doubt smarter than I am, unofficially since I was asked to do the gig in January and officially since 8 am this morning. And I think I might have finally got it.

I’m still nervous. But I think I got it. Or something that resembles it.

I guess I’ll find out tomorrow…

To the kids

Hello! I was so excited to talk to you all today. I’ve been thinking about what to say to you for months. I worry about things like this.  It’s such a fun opportunity to talk to you about what I’ve learned in my 27 short years….I didn’t want to mess it up!

I wanted to tell you a little about myself, about how I have been playing guitar and writing poetry and music about the ranch I grew up on since I was 12 years old and how I recorded a couple CDs and how I traveled the country for years singing songs, like the one I just sang for you today.


I wanted to tell you about how, after all of the miles I traveled and all of the songs I sang along the way, I have moved back to the ranch and am now working on opening it up to guests so they can come and visit, take photos, hike and bike and ride horses and learn about ranching and cattle.

I wanted to tell you all about how I got to where I am and how, with enough drive and ambition, you can grow up to be anything you want to be…


But the thing is, as I look out at you I remember myself at your age. And I remember that you already know that. Someone has already told you this a time or two haven’t they?

Because when I was your age I knew it. I knew what I loved—horses and music and wildflowers and lizards and my friends and family and pet dogs—I knew I loved all of the space around me and the adventure and freedom of growing up and living in the country.  I knew who I was.

Jessie Veeder. Brown Hair. Brown Eyes. Tomboy. Nature Lover. Animal Lover. Singer. Cowgirl.


And I look at you out here and I see blond hair and black hair and boys and girls, big sisters, little brothers, inventors and authors and movie stars and firefighters and business owners. You all have your interests and your hobbies and your talents. They are being developed right in front of my eyes. I can see it happening as I speak.

So instead of telling you that you can be anything you want to be, what I really want to tell you is to just, please…

Be You.


Do the things you love. Explore and make friends and travel and learn about what makes you happy and what you do best. And go out and do it. Every day.

And as you grow up you will find it will be hard sometimes, and sometimes you will be pulled in unexpected directions, sometimes you will be lonely and sometimes you will fail…


But when that happens, remember yourself here, at 7 or 10 or 13 years old. It will be easy to do if you stay true to yourself, the one who is sitting in these chairs with all of your plans and talents and goals and spirit.…

Remember you.

Be You. The very best version.

And I promise you will succeed.

Well, it should go something like this, depending on my level of panic or the fact that I realize when I get to the event that this isn’t what they had in mind when they called me at all.

I’ll let you know how it goes…and if they Slushie me Glee Style.

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