A safe place to land

Geese

A safe place to land
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Today it’s the wind that’s getting to everyone.

Even in the protection of the trees, the house is shaking, creaking and groaning under the assault of the weather. If I let my little kids go outside, they might fly right out of here, Mary Poppins-style.

So we’re playing inside today and watching the trees bend and sway while I shuffle these children from activity to argument to food and back again as time ticks on. It’s the outside that’s saving us these days, exactly the way it always has for me, rescuing me from the darkness of my own thoughts and from the work and worry that seems to push on me harder between the walls. And outside is the only thing currently rescuing my couch from being used as a trampoline…

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Outside is where new calves are being born on this ranch as I type, their mommas finding a safe spot in the trees or a dry spot in the sun to bring them into this world, lick them clean and urge them, only minutes earthside, to stand on their own four legs.

And if all goes well, like nature intended, a day growing in the sunshine will find those little calves running and bucking and kicking their legs up into the sky.

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The same sky that chatters with the faint cry of cranes and geese flying back to us, their summer home, trading places with their fellow bird for their spot in the V that helps carry them to a safe place to land.

 

They’ll come down to poke through a tangle of last year’s foliage to find green grass and clover and, right on time, the soft petals of crocus after crocus, slowly and deliberately emerging from the damp earth.

They’ll come down to sit in the beaver dams and stock dams and sloughs and lakes that are just warming up enough to lose the last of their ice. We would be so cold, but they were made for this, the birds.

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So then what are we made for? I can’t help but wonder it more each day as the world is shaken and we adjust our habits and face loss and uncertainty in so many of its forms. And unlike the birds, unlike the beaver or the cattle, the grass and the wild wind whipping through this place, humans can answer this question with list upon list of our individual strengths and passions that help make the world go ‘round.

But if there’s a collective answer for us, I think now more than ever we might realize that it is to take care. And so it has always gone out here on the ranch. The regimen of digging into the stockpile of work, feeding and caring for the animals and the land so that it can, in turn, feed and care for a larger world, feels a bit more comforting now.

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It reminds me that even the howling wind has a purpose, to slow us down so it can help move the rain clouds and spread the seeds. And although we might not all be able to withstand the bitter cold or the blazing heat or this relentless uncertainty alone, we can lean into the wind and, like the geese and the cranes, find our spot in the V and together, find a safe place to land.

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Only the crocuses know

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Only the crocuses know
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A few days ago, I went out searching for crocuses.

The sun had been warm enough to dry the hilltops and gravel roads and so I thought a few of them may have been summoned. With my head down searching, I climbed to all the familiar places on the ranch where I know they live, just under the dirt, waiting for the right morning to take the risk and reach up.

I didn’t see a hint of that purple promise of spring.

The next day, I woke up to a blanket of fresh snow covering every inch of this place. It was April 1. I’d been fooled.

And so the snowflakes fell in big chunks outside our window all morning as my kids were slow to wake up for another day of playing mommies or monsters or dress-up. I shuffled around this house, picking up toys, kissing owies, taking phone calls, making food, cleaning up food and answering countless inquiries for Mommy to find it, Mommy to fix it, Mommy to come here, Mommy to hold me…

A few weeks ago, these tasks and countless requests from my children would have been competing with my sense of urgency to get my work done, to meet a deadline, to prepare for an event, to wake my kids up early to get in the car and leave the ranch with the sunrise. These days, the only place we need to be is home.

And aren’t we the lucky ones.

“Seems like we’re just living like we used to live out here,” my dad observed, recalling memories of his childhood on this place before the road to town was paved, before private phone lines, before he was old enough to know what he might be missing in that great big world that existed beyond these hills.

A few months ago, my 4-year-old started to ask me every night, “Where are we going tomorrow?” It was a question that snuck up on me, like somehow I didn’t think she would notice the rushed breakfasts, the late suppers, the weekends spent without me while I was on the road singing for that supper.

You all know we’re only in the beginning of this plea to retreat and distance ourselves from the lives we’ve grown accustomed to. And that looks like different things to different families, depending on situation and story.

But for us, even with the weight of worry heavy on my chest for all of the circumstances out of our control, I’m finding peace and strength in leaning into what is, like picking up toys, kissing owies, taking phone calls, making food, cleaning up food and answering countless inquiries for Mommy to find it, Mommy to fix it, Mommy to come here, Mommy to hold me…

And my walks to the hills, a daily reminder that to everything there is a season, and there’s no amount of worry and wishes that will make the crocuses grow.

Because only the crocuses know.

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A New Song

A New Song

“If being closer to the ground, makes for softer falls, you have to be tough to stand tall.”

I was 17 years old, getting ready to move away from the ranch and out into the world when I wrote that line, feeling the pull of growing up looming over me like the nurse who calls your name and is now waiting in the doorway for you to follow her back for the diagnosis.

I knew that impending adulthood should more thrill than loom, and so there I was, behind my guitar, trying to convince myself…

“I don’t believe in fairy tales or staying young forever…”

My voice sounded higher, lighter, but surprisingly not timid and unsure like I know I felt in that studio in frigid Fargo where I recorded that song over Christmas break during college, when it seemed every other student was back home with the familiar. Almost 20 years ago.

I chose to stay away to create a piece of work that would mark the very frozen, determined and often lonesome four years I spent away at college, with long stretches of time spent traveling the Plains, singing for my supper. Wondering what to be when I grew up.

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My 2005 Release

It was avoidance in the form of work. It was the same thing I did the summer after my freshman year, knowing that if I went back to the ranch, I might never leave. So I stayed to be a grown-up.

And then I blinked and I’m grown up. And the grown-up version of me listened to those words tonight, staring into the path my headlights cut on Interstate 94 headed east to where the snow is piled high up past my knees.

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I just purchased $50 worth of face cream on an impulse to try to keep the evidence from 36 years of laughing, worrying, rolling my eyes and sleeping face-down with the pillow smashed over my head from truly showing and I was trying to keep my mind off of a rolling argument my husband and I have been having for a couple months now.

When I called him to check in, the puppy had just pooped on the carpet, and one of our young daughters had stepped in it. This was no time to try to work through it again.

I let him go and decided to seek refuge in a voice that used to be so familiar to me. I rarely listen to my music after it’s produced and out in the world, unless I have to relearn something. Which always baffles people — that I would have to relearn a piece of music I wrote myself, as if once it’s down, it’s etched in my memory.

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But it’s all so much more complicated than that, isn’t it?

Because we move on. We change, and along the way we pick our favorite stories to carry with us. My songs have been like that for me.

Jessie Veeder Music

I suppose sometimes relationships are like that, too. That’s why marriage can be so beautifully maddening. Because it’s a song you’re continually writing with someone who, sometimes, may be singing in a completely different key.

When I wrote those words at 17, I loved the boy who would become the man who, as I type, has likely fallen asleep in one of our kids’ beds, fully dressed, neckerchief and all, taking care of the things we love while I’m hundreds of miles away telling stories.

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Was this the fairy tale I wouldn’t let myself believe in? How could I have ever known what it would truly take to make the happily ever after that I muse and ponder and write about these days?

At least I knew then that I couldn’t know, and that’s the beauty of it all for me.

The new song? It has uncertainties, but they are changed now.

And it has more patience and apologies, good humor and messes and arguments in the kitchen.

Oh, and two daughters with the world before them, perfectly oblivious and twirling across the unswept floor.

And it sounds less like a child and more like a woman in a three-day ponytail standing next to a man in a wool cap who together believe fiercely in that fairy tale, not the one that sparkles and shines, but the one that holds on tight…

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Watch for the release of my new album, “Playin’ Favorites” that celebrates the songs that influenced me in the spring. 

And check out my music website,jessieveedermusic.com for a list of places I’ll be playing near you! 

On the road: Now and then

A Cafe Somewhere in Montana...

Greetings from a hotel room 100 miles away from the ranch where I just consumed an entire take-out chimichanga dressed in my jammies while sitting on the bed watching some Learning Channel special about weird ways to die.

And then I washed it all down with six or seven pieces of Halloween candy I bought during my solo trip to Target where I was only going to buy deodorant, but somehow, because I had time to kill, wound up with Christmas dresses for my girls and my nieces, a new makeup regime, three bottles of vitamins, envelopes, a new bathroom color scheme, a 37-pound bag of candy, a witch hat, princess underwear, three packages of toddler-sized white socks and a partridge in a pear tree.

This is life on the road, people. Or at least the evening portion of the program.

I know it well. I spend plenty of time here and have since deciding to try my hand at this professional musician gig a million years ago when I was younger and drove a Chevy Lumina with a 10-disk CD changer sound system installed in my trunk and all I needed to get from a Fargo gig one night to a Chicago gig the next morning was a bag of sunflower seeds, an energy drink and my favorite albums on repeat.

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Turns out what I also needed was some change for the toll booths and probably a plan for where I was going to stay the next night, but that was back before you could book a room and find a husband on your smartphone, so yeah, I did a lot more improvising.

It was back in the olden days when you had to use actual maps. And so my Lumina was filled with one of each from North Dakota to Texas and off I would go to make my way through the middle of America to perform, just a girl and a guitar trying to laugh off the requests to play Free Bird during lunch at a tech college.

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Or calm my nerves when I dropped my entire makeup bag under an automatic sink in the public bathroom after getting lost in Minneapolis and running late for my gig opening for a national act.

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And then there was the time I completely chipped the front part of my tooth off on a granola bar on a highway somewhere in Missouri with no hope for a dentist appointment before they were set to put a camera up close to my imperfections at a campus television station.

Yes, in between those gigs where I could be playing to 3 people or 300, I had nothing but the radio and the miles between the familiar and the mystery of the towns that passed by my window. Traveling and touring that extensively solo before I even hit age 21 was a weird mix of vulnerable, free, lonesome, nervous, proud and utter exhaustion. Some days it was hopeful, when the audience was captive and the stories came easy and some days were more “opening the door to my room at the Red Roof Inn and finding strangers sitting on my bed.”

And all these years later, so many things have changed, like the maps and vehicles, but the road hasn’t.

It’s still hoping for an open gas station at midnight when I’m finally heading toward home and I’m starving. It’s still floorboards full of wrappers and water bottles and dealing with the quirks of a car that inevitably acts up, locking me out of the trunk for no apparent reason. It’s movies and suppers alone to kill the time. It’s changing clothes in the car or a public restroom, and putting makeup on in the visor mirror. It’s meeting new people and inevitably forgetting a microphone stand along the way. It’s calling home at night and recapping the day, only now the voices on the other line are noisier and smaller and sweeter and there’s more to miss.

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But I love it out here when I go. I love to see the Main Streets and visit your Cenex stations and your cafes and hear your stories at the end of the night before my tires hit the road again for home or send me out in search of a glamorous hotel bed chimichanga picnic.

Rear View Road

 

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…

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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.

A spectator in a familiar world

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Prairie sunsets make me a spectator in a familiar world

The sunsets on this prairie are nothing short of a gift.

After a long day working under the hot summer sun, or inside the walls of buildings that make us feel small, we understand that if we look up towards the heavens to catch the sun sneaking away, we may be rewarded with a splash of spectacular color.

I’ve seen sunsets in other parts of the world — across the vast oceans, peeking over the mountaintops and at the edge of rolling corn fields, but there is something about the way the sun says goodbye along the outskirts of my own world, against the familiar buttes and grain bins and horses on the horizon that puts me at ease and thrills me at the same time.

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I have theories about things like hail storms and tornadoes and blinding blizzards, that they’re a way of slowing us down, reminding us to surrender to an earth that spins no matter what our plans are for crops or hair-dos or making it to our Christmas party on time.

The storms are unpredictable, but the sun is always there. And it will always set and rise again.

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And sometimes as we put the burgers on the grill, close the gates for the cattle or roll the lawn mower in the shed might find ourselves bathed in yellow, gold, purple, orange, pink and blue and hues we’ll never find in our crayon box.

We might look above the oak groves or down to the end of the pink road and we find that sun bouncing against the clouds that roll over the prairie and buttes that we know so well, and if we let ourselves, we might think we’re lucky to have caught that fleeting, beautiful moment, one that is there for us, for anyone who has the notion to look to the horizon.

I tilt my head up and run to find the nearest hill so that I can watch how this landscape looks under the different shades of light.

Under these prairie sunsets I am a spectator on the familiar ground of home.

A tourist with my mouth agape in wonder.

And thankful for a world that’s round and a sky that’s so vast and forgiving.

Badlands Sunset

All the things to love

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All the the things to love
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Last night, as we were driving back to the ranch late from a performance in a bigger town, my dad said he wishes he could live a whole other lifetime so he would have time to fit in all of the things he wants to do.

He said it sort of casually to our friend sitting in the passenger’s seat, the man who has played guitar next to me during most of my music career and stood on stages with my dad in their younger lives. I sat in the back seat listening to them talk about the getting old stuff they are facing now — retirement and bad shoulders, travel and finances and grown children.

But I couldn’t shake what my dad said about the other lifetime, because it’s the same thing that has come out of my mouth time and time again, but it was the first time I’d heard it come out of his.

I wish there were another couple hours to linger a bit on the most important, or the sweetest, or the warmest, or the most fun things. To sit on the back of this horse a little longer, or with my arms around my sleeping child, or climb another hill, or make a trip to see my friends, or help or host or work on the ideas that tumble and toss in my head — the ones that need nothing but a little work and the extra time, time that we cannot, no matter how we try, create.

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And it’s funny that he said it then, after we wrapped up a night of music in a beautiful park in the middle of a growing town. That evening I stepped away before we went on the stage to have a look around. I watched daddies strolling babies, grandparents taking walks, a woman playing fetch with her dog, kids screeching down the slide, and I thought, ‘Well, I could live here.’

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And then for a few moments I allowed myself to imagine it. It’s the same way I imagine myself being a part of the families riding their bikes down a charming city sidewalk in a quiet neighborhood in an unfamiliar town. I wonder what it looks like in their houses and then I recognize that there wasn’t ever just one way to be me.

This spot out here on the ranch, where the cattle poop in my driveway and eat my freshly potted plants, might have remained the quiet little pile of abandoned cars and farm machinery if I would have followed through with my idea when I was 22 years old to move to the big city and sing.

What if he never asked me to marry him? What if he bought that motorcycle he talked about and headed farther west while I headed east, uncompromising in the vision I had for myself at that moment as someone who shouldn’t go home again?

There’s nothing there for me. They told me so. Would I have bought a house in a quiet neighborhood in a suburb in the Midwest or traveled to Nashville like they all told me I should do?

Would I have broken his heart and met someone new? Would I have children now with different colored eyes and unfamiliar names and would we ride our bikes and play fetch in a park like this listening to another woman singing about a life I could only imagine?

And in these imaginary scenarios, I like to think that I am happy and content, that whatever choices I made would find me just fine. And if I’m being honest, a part of me wishes that there was some way I could find out what would have become of me in Minneapolis or in Nashville or on a ship on the Mediterranean. What would my new favorite places become?

Because as much as there are things in this world that terrify me, those don’t weigh as heavy as the weight of all the things there are out there to love, if only we had another lifetime.

“Oh, I hate this getting old stuff,” our friend said to my father and then they both got quiet, staring ahead at a dark and familiar road, the headlights lighting up the night.

Night Sky

Not on days like today

Spring Trees

Not on days like today
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I planted some flowers this afternoon as the temperature reached up toward what we can finally call warm.

Some are working to root themselves in pots that have sat for years on this deck, and some sit next to me on the deck waiting for a turn as I watch the moon come up. Behind me, the sun streaks the sky pink, making its long, dramatic exit.

I leave more things undone these days than ever before. It’s a part of motherhood no one told me about. Inside the house, the ice in my husband’s whiskey glass clinks as he walks across the room, but I am outside searching for words tonight.

So I look up. The tops of the oak and ash trees are budding a neon sort of green, trying to compete with the birches. It’s quiet out here in a way that a world waking up and winding down is quiet.

The birds are having their final say for the evening. I hear whistles and chirps and the flap of the wings of ducks on the dam against the drone of crickets and the creak of frogs.

Something big is moving on the trail in the trees. I watch for it to appear — a deer, maybe an elk or cow — but it quiets and so I look up again.

Up at those treetops that were bare this morning, before the sun shone at 75 degrees, and I wonder if those crickets and birds and frogs, if that wind and the barking dogs in the distance, if the cattle and the babies and the mommas and the daddies and the engines of the trucks rumbling way up on the highway could take the same breath and hold it all at once, at the right moment, if we might actually be able to hear those leaf buds emerging one by one.

Pop.

Pop.

Pop.

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We will never know. Nothing here could ever stay so quiet. I suppose it’s all magic enough as it is.

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I’m anxious for the change of seasons. I feel like those leaves. It’s why I loaded up our pickup box with little cherry tomato plants and basil, petunias and geraniums, black dirt and seeds. All of the hope that is held in the small bud of a sprouting leaf I hold inside of me.

This afternoon, I filled up the baby pool with warm water as the sun shone on the backs of my splashing, naked children, and I dug in the dirt. Before I could strip her down appropriately, my youngest daughter, 1-year-old Rosie, climbed in that tiny wading pool. With her blankie clenched in her fist, she drug it with her to the water that was soaking her socks and up over the hem of her little pink pants.

And when she was where she wanted to be, she just stood there and looked out over her world and up at the big blue sky and fluffy clouds shaped to fit her imagination. A better mother might have scooped her up, but I just let her be for a moment.

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We’re all so thirsty. Tomorrow it will be cooler, and maybe it will rain, but today they were mermaids and then they were fishermen and I was a gardener dreaming of plump red tomatoes bursting in our mouths and a world where we might sell them together, my daughters and me, in little Mason jars on a card table at a farmers market in town.

Someone told me a story like this once, and there are times that my dreams are much bigger, but not today.

Not on days like today.

Mother of Daughters

I am the mother of two young daughters.

I am the mother of girls.

I am a full-grown woman with almost half my life behind me and they are children, so young and fresh, running wild down the gravel road in rain boots in search of mud puddles.

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I look at them, the 1-year-old’s cheek flushed from the chill of the early spring evening, pointing to the sky and trees, digging her hands in the rocks, pulling on the grass, picking up dirt, trying to place it all, trying to name it all, doing what she needs to do to become the person she needs to be in this mysterious world.

IMG_0506I watch my 3-year-old stomp her sparkly new boots in the cold, dirty water of the season. Her gold hair flying out from under her knit hat, the bottom of the dress she insists on wearing swoops and swings below her barn jacket, collecting the elements. And she’s singing and she’s yelling and she’s dancing and she’s stomping and she’s making up stories and I think to myself, “Well, isn’t she just everything all at once?”

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And she’s not afraid. They’re not afraid. They are not worried. They are not wondering if they are smart enough, funny enough, talented enough, pretty enough, good enough.

None of that exists for them. Not now, anyway. Now, they are just unabashedly who they are.

 

I am the mother of two young daughters.

I am the mother of girls.

And when they were born, I knew I would have to teach them things that I haven’t figured out yet myself, even though I am a full-grown woman and maybe I should know how to be brave by now. And sometimes, maybe I do. But sometimes I don’t.

And I should have had plenty of time to conquer how to love myself despite my flaws, the flaws and failures I catch myself counting sometimes.

“My daughters would never do that,” I thought to myself as my 3-year-old ran down the hill declaring she was the fastest runner in the world. “Not now, anyway. They don’t know how to be flawed, they only know how to be human.”

 

And it hit me then, standing in the middle of that gravel road as the sky opened up and dropped a sprinkle of cold rain on a trio of girls in muddy boots: My girls came into this world knowing and it’s my job to do what I can to keep it that way.

But they have a job, too, and it’s to remind me of what it looks like before the world gets in.

Because I am the mother of two young daughters.

I am the mother of girls.

I am a full-grown woman with almost half of my life behind me and I am holding their hands and we are running wild down the gravel road in rain boots in search of mud puddles, together becoming the people we need to be in this world.

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The way my grandpa sees the world

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Theodore Waddell, Gallatin Angus 2001

The way my grandpa sees the world Forum Communications

There’s a print of a painting hanging in a frame beside my bed that reminds me of my Grandpa Bill.

It’s a framed card actually, a watercolor of a rugged landscape, dark blue buttes forming a horizon against a gray and white sky. And below the buttes, in the foreground, the brush stroked green and beige, and then the artist, seemingly with the blunt end of his brush, came back to add a scattering of black dots.

The cattle.

I took the print off the wall tonight to take a closer look as I was crawling into bed and the back of the frame came off to reveal the reverse side of that card and my grandpa’s handwriting.

“This scene looks much like the blue mountains from the hills above your place. Happy Birthday.”

And he was right. If you sit on the top of a hill on our ranch, you will likely see the live version of this scene — a moody sky casting sporadic golden light in the pastures where our cattle graze. And off in distance, as far as you can see, those buttes that cradle our neighbors 10 miles to the north shine blue on us and frame every scene of our lives out here.

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

My dad tells a story of when he was a little kid in elementary school. He was coloring a picture of Roy Rogers riding through the mountains on his horse, Trigger.

“Why are you coloring the mountains blue, Gene?” his teacher scolded. “Mountains aren’t blue.”

I always thought that was one of my dad’s sadder stories…

But I don’t think Grandpa Bill had this sort of teacher in his life. And if he did, he didn’t pay her any mind.

And I like this little card with black dot cows because I like to imagine it’s the way my Grandpa Bill sees the world, like a painting waiting to be made and admired. And I’m so glad to know that about him.

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When I was 11 or so, my dad’s mother, Gramma Edie, died on the ranch, leaving the little brown house in the farmyard down the road empty and lonesome. So in the fall and winter, my mom’s parents, during their early years of retirement, would move out here to breathe life into the place.

Grandpa traded his Minnesota dock shoes for boots and immersed himself in ranch life. He fixed fences, he rode along to move cattle, he updated that old farmhouse, hung his chaps and hat like a work of art on the entryway and took beautiful photographs, even trying his hand at painting the simple, old, everyday scenes of this place I might not have thought to find extraordinary if it wasn’t for him.

Eventually, my grandparents made the decision to settle into summers in Minnesota and winters in the Arizona sun. In fact, Grandpa Bill is likely reading this to Gramma as they have a cup of coffee and a doughnut hole on their deck.

And he’s probably noticing how the morning light creates a soft glow around his wife’s silver hair and thinking that it would make a lovely photograph or painting.

And every time I take the turn off the highway to head north, toward home, toward those blue buttes, I slow down a bit as I come up over the hill overlooking the gold pastures dotted with cattle and, because of Grandpa, I think the same thing.

Road Home

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.

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