The pink road

There is a pink road that leads me to our house in the hills. I guess I always call it pink, but for those of you who are picky about color choices, you could refer to it as a salmon or a coral I suppose. Anyway, this pink road, or red road, or coral road is surfaced with a rock the locals call scoria. Scoria, or what the smarty pants geologists label clinker, is a form of natural brick formed in the landscape by strips of once burning lignite coal. (And that’s probably the only scientific fact you will hear from this woman for a long time, thank you very much Google).

Anyway, I always thought it was stunning–the vibrant road that winds its way through a landscape that changes from green, to yellow, to gold, to brown, to gray, to white and then back again.  And just like the landscape changes, so does the road it seems. In the spring it is at its best, perhaps because we missed it so much, buried under all of that snow for months. It slowly appears a vibrant, soaked deep maroon color digging its way out of the banks, emerging from under ice and puddles of mud. I splash around in it and, with windows rolled down, I zoom out of the yard and over the hills and off somewhere. As the sun warms up the world and the season changes to summer, the once soaked and cold road becomes hot under the rays and turns from deep red to a hazy pink as the rocks break up under the weight of our tires and our feet and the hooves of wild beasts. I drive slowly out of the yard, trying not to disturb it as a tail of dust stretches out behind me.

And then a summer storm passes through, and it looks like God took his favorite, sharp red crayon and drew a nice thin line right down the middle of the neon green grass and dark blue, rolling thunderheads off in the distance. Down through the cool draws and up on top of clover covered hilltops it bends and straightens, leaps and lands and stretches its arms, like the land is the road’s personal dance floor.

And I am the charter member of its fan club.

Because you may pass by it on your way to town, or to the lake, or to your relative’s farm, and not even glance at the subtle invitation to take a little trip with it. But I have will never refuse it again.

When I was really young, like four or five, I lived with my family in Grand Forks, ND. On my favorite weekends I would be lifted into my dad’s pickup by my little armpits and I would sit proudly alongside him as we made our way across the piece of pavement that stretched a good five or six hours across the great state and out to my grandparent’s ranch–our ranch. At four or five everything seems bigger and every travel adventure seems further and longer than it is in reality. When I was certain we had been in the pickup at least fifty-six hours, it was then I would start looking for the pink road that signified our arrival. With my nose smooshed to the window, I would watch for the white line to break and open itself up to the approach that welcomed me like an old friend.

“Are we there  yet?”

“How much longer?”

“When are we going to be there?”

And when we arrived on that stream of road, even at four or five I could breathe a sigh of relief, because even then, the road meant home to me.

But it also meant so much more. It meant comfort and adventure and family and my grandmother’s arms wrapped tight in a hug.

When we moved out here permanently as a family when I was in second grade, there was no more waiting and looking and asking when were we going to get there.

We had arrived.

And the road held my hand like an old friend as I wobbled on my first ten speed bike and followed it up the hill to my best friend’s house. It soaked up the blood from skinned knees and tears from lost dogs and hurt feelings. It created space between hurtful words exchanged among three very different and very frustrated sisters. It eaves dropped on my quiet, made up songs, scuffed my new shoes and laughed as the bottle calf chased us home from the barn after a feeding. It smiled sweetly as it lead me back to my mother after a couple short stints of running away. It welcomed me off of the school bus and happily took the brunt of my skid marks as I learned to drive.

And then slowly, the road began to change, taking on an entirely different meaning as I grew from a young girl to a teenager. Without me really noticing, it began to mean more to me going out than coming in. It meant escape, freedom, independence, civilization, relief and a chance at love. It didn’t recognize me anymore as I came and went in the mist of the early morning and the shadows of late nights. I didn’t frolic as much, but instead began to sneak and sulk and stomp.  I brought strangers home and they littered its ditches and the grass grew around my bicycle as I stepped on the gas to my new life and wasn’t so quiet about kicking up its dust.

But when the time came to leave, to really leave this place for a good long time, I closed the door to my bedroom, hugged my parents goodbye,  filled my trunk with memories and followed my old friend out into the world.

From the corner of my rearview mirror, I smiled a bit as the road waved at me from the hill top, always the last to say to say goodbye.

And the first to welcome me back.

So I am thinking about the road today because I think I owe it an apology. Because I feel a bit like an old friend who hasn’t picked up the phone to say hello for ages and then suddenly stops in for dinner, without warning. I want to bring it a casserole in Lutheran Lady fashion in an attempt to make amends and let it know that I am older now. That I understand.

Because I realize, in this moment, that I have learned something from this road after all of those years of watching it dance. See, the road never cut through a hill or plowed down the trees. It moved with the curve of the land and under the rhythm of our feet and trusted that it would meet up in the right way with something–a fork, a bend, an endless horizon–in the end.

The road trusted so much in the path it was taking that it changed color and texture to blend and bend and take the heat of our tires and our words and our plans to leave. It understood that just like the landscape changes, so do the seasons of the human spirit. And even as I spit on and kicked its stones and turned my wheel off of its path, my entire life the road was just trying to tell me to follow my feet.

So I am thankful today. Thankful for the road. Because after changing my shoes a few dozen times, knocking down doors, banging my head against the wall, digging holes in the dirt, speeding lazily along the interstate and sticking out like a water tower on the horizon, in all of my despair and frustration I closed my eyes tight and saw the road, waving like it did so many years ago.

And I finally stopped stomping and looked down to find my feet dancing on pink stones.

Listen to “This Road”-Jessie Veeder Live at Outlaws

This Road

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My love–better than a party hat.

It’s my birthday month. Yes, around here I give myself an entire month. Whether or not those around me comply with daily cakes, party hats and steak dinners, I take this time as occasion to celebrate and attribute every guilty pleasure (new shoes, one more margarita, leaving the dishes for tomorrow, over sleeping,…you get the idea) to the fact that I was born sometime in this month, and I deserve it, dammit.

August is kinda a big deal really, because it is also my anniversary month and the time of year, historically, when I seem to make my big life decisions. You know, like saying “I do” and committing the rest of my life to someone. Moving across the state of North Dakota. Moving across the great big state of Montana. Deciding to get a dog. Deciding to be born. Deciding to get a tattoo. Oh, and deciding to purchase our first house. Which, in case you haven’t heard, after nearly two years of complete renovation, frustration, tears, a couple pats on the back, one million trips to the hardware store and lumberyard, a bazillion sawdust particles stuck up my nose and in my hair, three dozen stubbed toes, hammered fingers, scrapes, bonks and at least one incident of a head stuck in a ladder, we have finally finished!

Holy shit.

So on this second day of August, I am feeling a bit like the freaky quiet, calm and perfect temperature after a big storm. Like, now what? I mean, we are going to sell the thing so we can build a new one out at the ranch, so that’s what’s next really. Lot’s more work.  But, this has been quite the trip. And I recognize this feeling because it resembles what our life has been like together. See, we have been on the cycle of “work your ass off, suffer a bit, make some sacrifices, cry for a second and then suck it up until we’re done. Then move on. It will be worth it. Just move on.” Because in nearly four years of marriage we have moved all of our earthly possessions and changed our lives entirely five times. And we have done this all in an attempt to find ourselves in a life we have both dreamed of since we were children.

I might add here that I have known this man who I call mine since my first trek to the town school when I was about eleven years old. I walked into the big school, full of nerves and anxiety and I am sure all decked out in an animal applique t-shirt, ready to show off my sweet saxophone skills (or at least fake it, which it turns out I often did in my band days). I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but I went to elementary school in the country, about 15 miles from town. I had three kids in my class. I was the only dork who played a horn. I was a one woman band and I sucked. This town trip was a big, scary deal.

Anyway, it turns out the love of my life was a dork too. But one of those cool dorks who happened to play the saxophone, but also kicked butt at football, beat up the bully, could do a backflip and had sweet karate skills and no one asked questions. Yes, this wonder boy sat two seats away from me and was everything, including a bit of a pain in the ass in class if I remember correctly. I think I was scared of him actually and I am pretty sure he threw spitballs and got sent to the principal’s office the first time I ever met him.  Hey, I never said he was perfect.

But neither was I, and it turns out that worked out for us. The fact that I been happily hiding out on 3,000 acres of ranch land before I met him and the fact that I hadn’t learned the filtration process of self-expression to fit in and survive in his world seemed to make him notice me. He said he actually liked my crazy hair, weird shirts and yes, the fact that I trip a lot. In fact, the first time he called me (which, now that I think of it, was in August) I had just returned from an trip to the lake with my dad and sister, which resulted in a graceful jump down a small cliff that tore my ankle to shreds. I was crying and feeling sorry for myself because it surely meant my promising basketball career was over, but I took his call. I talked to the wonder boy, who even then in the first pure, private exchanges in what we didn’t know was a blooming, lifetime love, he calmed me. He made me feel put back together, even though my foot was throbbing and I was sure moments before, it was hanging on by a thread. He made me take a deep breath and smile. And that’s where it began.

With breathing.

I distinctly remember, when we were about 17 or 18, in one of his Sunday trips to the ranch to see me (and I think my Dad too, because they were pretty good friends even back then) we sat outside and talked about our futures, very innocently, like young people do. I talked about living back at the ranch, having my family here, writing, singing and carrying on like the same girl I was that day, on into womanhood, as a wife, as a mother, as a poet and animal lover. And he listened and told me about how he used to want to be a mountain man and trapper and live out in the wilderness of Alaska alone. But, he thought that all had changed now. And the next day he brought me a sketch of his dream house and said, if I’d let him, he’d build it for me out here someday.

So, I’m not sure how to define it here. This little journey we are on. I haven’t historically written much about the two of us in my music, in my poetry or my stories. I haven’t been able to tell anyone why, but I think it’s because I literally couldn’t find the words. Because my love didn’t fall down from the sky and hit me like a ton of bricks, or flutter in and out of my stomach like butterflies, or lift me up to highest highs only to drop me. My love, the love that I’m in, hasn’t been perfect. It’s been messy and full of plans that have been cancelled, nervous breakdowns, hysterical laughter followed by complete and utter anger and drained checking accounts. It has been full of long car rides, dog shit, the 24 hour flu, doctor’s appointments, burned dinners, empty underwear drawers because no one did the laundry, and, when we were younger, an unfortunate 45 minute jail stint. All of the good stuff.

No, my love hasn’t been easy, but it has been around. It has been with me since I understood how to feel it and has never left me in the middle of the night. My love has wrapped his arms around me when I felt like I lost everything, and he felt the same. My love fills my coffee cup on Sunday morning, fixes the things I break (and I break a lot of things) and never complained when I spent all of that time on the road. My love actually folds my underwear (in perfect squares) when we finally get around to the laundry. My love has been with me through 15 birthdays (and once, he even sewed me pants), high school graduation, college graduation, three albums, thousands of miles, dozens of roadblocks and five different jobs. And all of the time I have spent searching my soul, finding my strength and learning about who I am, he has known all along, has allowed me to embrace her, and reminded me to breathe.

So I am thinking maybe this story that began with a saxophone and right now is somewhere in the middle, or back at the beginning really, with a tiny house on the ranch,  could be a love story after all. Our story.  Because this August, as I find myself in another “start over” in the calm after the storm of tools and sawdust and boxes and our stuff scattered all around this place, I am beginning to realize that I am sitting in the middle of a backyard conversation between two young kids in love, dangling our feet over the side of the deck and making plans for a life. Today we are moving on, once again, into a world we have imagined and moved towards since that day in the yard. And it isn’t picture perfect, it isn’t quite there yet and it certainly isn’t going to be easy, but we have had a pretty great ride getting here. And after the dust has settled from the storm of our plans, I look up to realize that this wonder boy I have loved since I understood how to feel it has transformed, before my eyes, into the greatest man–a man who is making good on his promise to a wild haired girl from the sticks.

And in this month, and all of those to follow, my greatest  gift is him.

And that beats margaritas, a steak dinner and a party hat every day of the year.