Sunday Column: Be careful with this place…

I write about this beautiful place. I write about how it grew me up and sent me out and welcomed me back home again. I write about the cows grazing on the sunny side of hills and what it means to me to step outside and smell the first clover of summer as it reaches and stretches to the sky.

I write about it and I photograph it–the red barn and the horses’ fuzzy ears.

The creek and her banks, the horizon and her sunrises and sunsets. The tall grass and flowers.

The buttes and the red road that cuts through it all.

And then I write about the impact the booming oil industry is having on our home, about how the big trucks kick up dust and throw rocks at my windshield on their way to punch holes that extract the fuel that this country relies on for more things than we care to remember when we curse that dust.

I talk about the people it brings with it, those persistent, resilient people with stories to tell, because there are jobs. Countless jobs being created and recreated every day. Jobs that brought us here, my husband and I, back to this ranch to make our lives. We likely wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those jobs.

Neither would my sisters.

Because it used to be much harder out here, you know, to make ends meet.

To make a living.

So there are things that I can manage. Things that go along with looking for ways to make the most out of this land we stand on, like the dust and the traffic and the noise over the hill that wasn’t there yesterday, and maybe won’t be tomorrow. Much of this impact is fleeting.

Much of it is forever.

But I don’t want it to fail.

I read in the papers the words of reporters sent out to tell the story of what’s happening around me. If there are mistakes out here, they will be written down. If there are questions, they will be asked. If there is something to say about how this is ruining a place, making it better, making it harder, making it easier, making us mad or happy or richer or poorer or crazy, the air too dusty, too noisy, too much, not enough, too damn good to be true, not what it was, not like it will ever be again…

It will all be said.

Somedays I don’t know what to make of it.

This is what I have to say about it all today…

Coming Home: We’re not all reckless in oil country
by Jessie Veeder
March 23, 2014
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

In 100 years.

Today I’m roaming around the house, cleaning and packing and paying bills, getting ready to head out on a family trip to Disney World.

A destination dubbed “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

Outside my window, on the other side of the hill, bulldozers and blades are scraping off snow, native and non-native grasses and cutting into the nearly frozen earth, pushing and flattening and re-imagining the corner of pasture across from the grain bins to make way for what the oil industry is now calling a “Super Pad.”

I knew this was coming.

We’ve talked about it and negotiated it a little, giving it the nod of approval because having three or four pumping units together on the same pad pulling oil from several directions under our ranch and our neighbors’ will mean less roads and less surface damage to the rest of our place and the homesteads that surround us.

The less impact the better has been our motto.

If it’s possible, we fight for it.

I know now for the next several months I will be listening to the sound of progress. I will hear my dogs bark at the sound of machinery they think might be coming down our road, but is really just passing by or pushing dirt. I will watch the landscape transform a bit and then the horizon will follow…oil derrick up, reaching to the sky, then another, and another.

Oil derrick down, then a pumping unit, then another, then another.

And there they will be for thirty or some years, pumping, pulling, coaxing oil from the ground, each passing year becoming a more familiar fixture on this old place.

This weekend my uncle was at the ranch for deer hunting season. As he was getting ready to head back to Texas, Pops brought out a couple folders that contained stories about the history of this ranch in anticipation of our upcoming 100 year celebration.

In 1915 my great grampa Eddie staked his claim on this place. He got married and headed off to war. When he arrived back in Bear Den Township he proved up his claim, planting some trees, flax and wheat, building a barn and putting up fences.

Over the course of his lifetime he would watch his crops grow, his wife die and his children  make their own mark on the land he laid claim to. He would meet a couple grandchildren and serve them his famous buns, tell them jokes and scruff their hair before leaving them all behind in death to do what they will with the place.

With the red barn and his old house.

I sat on that couch and looked at the old photographs.

100 years might as well have been forever.

We are not made the same these days are we? Do we have the same grit and guts that it took to survive in tar paper shacks through blizzards and prairie fires and forty below?

I listen to the sound of the bulldozers up the hill and know that in the next thirty years I’ll be a witness to more changes to this landscape than my parents and my parents’ parents ever saw in their lifetime.

I have mixed feelings about being that sort of witness.

Great Grandpa Eddie went half-way around the world to fight, to be free to break up this earth to feed his own family.

I doubt he ever took a trip to Florida.

And so I can’t help but feel a bit undone and displaced today, that instead of watching over that dirt I’m preparing for a trip to a fantasy land, leaving this little plot of earth to change forever as I fly away for a bit…

Sunday Column: A string of headlights heading toward Boomtown…

This town we drive to for groceries and work, it buzzes and hums and creaks and groans and crashes and grows and creeps in on the neighbors and the wheat fields and cattle pastures every day.

And it’s filled. Filled to the brim with industry and progress, locals and non-locals, passers-through, brilliant minds and lost souls, people looking for a place and people who’ve found their place long ago.

It consumes us. This oil industry. The way that it kicks up dust. The way it brings wealth and eats up the landscape and changes the horizon. Some say it’s bad. Some say it’s good. Most understand that nothing comes without a price.

Nothing is simply black or white.

I allow myself to ponder it because it’s fascinating and it’s my life.

And the world seems to be pondering it too, grabbing for the stories so that they might be the mind to reveal some sort of hidden truth in the one place in America the economy is booming. The one place in America small towns are bursting at the seams.

The one place in America there is an abundance of hope that if we can all just keep working we might pull ourselves up and be able to take root and stay planted or grow wings and fly the hell out of here.

Me, I’m on the side of the roots.

So I spend my days telling my story and listening for others’. What I see in Boomtown, what I think we look like–mothers and men, children and teachers, fifth generation farm families and oil industry professionals, young men with big plans, good men gone bad, bad men starting over and women on their own, leaders and preachers and helpers and people in need, lonely people, happy people, fed up people, inventive people, people in love, people who’ve lost and people who will. not. give. up. My best friends, my husband, these kids’ future–this is not what the world gets to see in the headlines.

Between tragic car wrecks and the dramatic stories that beg to be told of the nameless men who’ve arrived in the wild, wild west in search of their cut of black gold there are people, people like us, building lives and drinking beer, meeting up for a movie, holding open doors, buying steak for dinner and loving each other.

Coming Home: Living in a town of labels, assumptions
by Jessie Veeder
11-10-13
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com

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Watch: Jessie Veeder’s Boomtown