Western North Dakota grows wild plums. In the patches of brush where the poison ivy sneaks and the cows go to get away from the flies. They start as blossoms on the thorny branches and, under the hot sun, turn from green in early July to red to a dark purple bite-sized berry just waiting to be picked in the beginning of autumn.
Wild plums mean summer is almost over. They mean roundup is on its way. They mean sucking on pits and spitting them at your little sister. They mean scratches from branches on a detour for a snack on the way to get the bull out of the trees. They mean Dad’s stories of Grampa sitting at the table in the winter dipping into a jar of canned wild plums, drenching them in cream and stacking the pits neatly on the table.
They mean memories of Grandma’s jelly on peanut butter toast.
They mean reassurance that sweet things can grow in brutal conditions, a reminder we all need from time to time. Wild plums mean a passing surprise on our way through a pasture and coming back later with the farm pickup to fill up a bucket, me squished in the middle seat between my husband and my dad, the Twins playing on the radio as we bump along on prairie trails that haven’t been under a tire in months looking for that magical patch of fruit, wondering out loud if we could of dreamed it.
A wild plum patch means listening to the two men banter as they pick and reach and gather like little boys, making plans for the best way to fill our bucket.
“Shake the tree, we can get the ones on top.”
“Keep ’em out of the cow poop!”
“Are you eating them, Jess? Hey, no eating!
“I’ve never seen a patch like this. Jessie, you can make so much jelly!”
Yes. I could. With the 6 gallons of plums we picked standing in the bed of the pickup, ducked down in the clearing where the cows lay, scaling along the edges of the trees. I could make jars of jelly, pies, pastries and syrups to last until next plum picking. I could. Maybe I will.
But even if I didn’t, even if we did nothing more than feed those wild plums to the birds, it wouldn’t matter. The magic of wild and pure things is in their discovery and the sweet reminder that happiness can be as simple as a wild plum patch.
I think it’s time for a little update on Millie the Christmas puppy. Remember her?
The tiny black pug Santa dropped on our doorstep for the girls to love on and put in the baby doll stroller? Well, she’s grown into a fine addition to what is looking more and more like the Veeder Ranch petting zoo every day. Add a couple goats and a llama to our collection of ponies, dogs, cows and kittens and we could take this show on the road.
But don’t book us for any early appearances. Millie doesn’t wake up for the day until about 10 or 11. I know because she barks at us from her pillow fortress on the end of our 4-year-old’s bed.
Why does she bark at us? The jump down is too high, of course. Same as the jump up to the couch when anyone in this house thinks they’re going to be relaxing alone. Oh, the pug hates to see it. At the first sign of feet up and arms stretched behind a head, the little dog flees her pink fluffy bed to rescue you from loneliness on the couch. If only you could just give her a little boost…
And that’s what pugs are supposed to do. Lounge. And snuggle. And snore. But Millie’s multifaceted. Versatile. Complex. Put her in a box? She will shred it. Give her a squeaky toy, she prefers horse poop.
Seriously. Lord help us, it’s one of her favorite treasures. Good thing there’s plenty around the ranch for her collection by the front door, along with the dead snake, mouse guts and Barbie Doll head. Such a welcome site for visitors and the UPS man. Bonus, it makes her breath and farts completely intolerable.
Now that I think of it, Millie’s taste for dried up road apples could be her way of roughing up her fluffy edges so that she can properly fit in around here as a bona fide cattle dog.
If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a way to stop a pug chasing a trail of cattle over the hill toward your poor, unsuspecting mother, the answer is no. There’s not. At least I haven’t found the command yet, and boy have we practiced.
So we have some work to do on this cow dog thing for sure, but do you know what ranch pugs are really good at? Picking up cactuses and getting lost in the long grass. They’re perfectly low to the ground for things like that.
Millie proved it on our walk across the home pasture to admire the changing leaves the other day. One minute she was frolicking with the big dogs, the next, she’s nowhere to be found, turning my half-hour stroll into a one-hour search to find out what hole she might have fallen into.
Turns out she didn’t fall in a hole, but she did pick up a few little cactuses. And so she gave up on walking for the evening of course, and there she was, waiting for someone to rescue her by the fence post.
I don’t blame her. There’ve been plenty of times in my life out here that I’ve wanted to just wait by a fence post for someone to carry me home.
And so I scooped her up, Baywatch style, and we made the half-mile trek back to the house. If she were a true cow dog, she’d be humiliated, but she relaxed right into the role she was made for. Snuggling, owning us all and being heavier than she looks.
If you need us, we’ll be wrangling the cats, feeding the ponies and shopping for llamas to add to the Veeder Ranch petting zoo.
He was so chill about it when I handed him over, like he knew it was all going to be alright.
Like, he knew he wouldn’t have to share his food bowl with his hooligan brothers and sisters anymore.
Out of the eleven pups, we’re down to seven left. Here’s a picture before they started going…notice Edie’s pup is the only one not sleeping.
I think she likes naps about as much as her little girl.
Or maybe we have a pattern of choosing the wild ones.
Either way, a pile of puppies is about as adorable as it gets.
I’ve been spending this week making arrangements to get these pups to their homes. They will be spread out a bit, some to neighbors and some across the state, but all have places at good homes.
And it sounds like most of them will have little kids to play with, which is important I think if you’re a puppy, to have someone who can match your energy level.
We need about twelve little boys to match Gus’s. So he should be happy when little Dolly is let loose to play. Hopefully the wear each other out.
Because it’s a rare occurrence to catch these squirmers sleeping, but I happened upon them after Husband paid them a good amount of attention, proving to me that they do indeed sit still.
I know I can’t keep them all, but I feel like a mom whose babies are going off to college, annoying them with photos and snuggles, telling them to be good and mind their manners.
Clearly it’s working.
I don’t know when we’ll have pups on this place again, but it sure has been fun. Mostly for me because I haven’t had to be the one to build the pen or scoop the poop, because, you know, I have the baby. But I think the boys have loved it too, just maybe not every smelly, squeaky second.
But probably most of the seconds, because, I mean, look at that face…nothing that smelly could come out of that could it?
Ah, I’m going to miss our puppy pile,
but we’ll be left with a couple cute ones to fill the void…and keep our hands full of babies at the ranch.
Well, it seems to be a baby boom at the Veeder Ranch, and I tell you, I can’t get enough.
On December 29th, just in time for the weather to get good and cold, dad’s dog Juno gave birth to a big ‘ol batch of puppies.
I got a text from dad early that morning telling me that there were “4 pups so far.” Later that morning, when mom stopped over to snuggle our baby, she said she thought there were five. But it was hard to tell, because she had them in the dog igloo and it was dark in there.
Five pups was my guess. That’s what I thought she would have and that was a nice manageable number.
I called my little sister to report the news and then headed over to mom and dad’s when Husband got home to take a look for myself.
We pulled into the yard just as Pops was pulling in from work and Juno ran up to welcome her favorite human, giving him the opportunity to shine a flashlight in the igloo to see what she made.
“They’re so loud in there,” he said.
And then he found out why.
“Holy Cow!” he hollered.
“What?!!” I asked nervously “What’s in there? Are they ok?”
“There’s a whole pile of them!”
And indeed there was….
A little more than five I guess. I tried to get a good count on them while they were wiggling and squirming all over each other.
I thought I counted nine.
I was confident. But I counted again.
Nine’s a lot. That’s a lot of pups there.
The mat they were laying on was a little damp. These pups were brand new, so I decided to get a couple towels to put underneath them and help absorb some of the moisture.
So we took the pups out one by one.
And we all counted out loud, Pops, Husband, my niece and I.
“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9!!!”
“9,” I declared. “Perfect!”
“Oh, we’re not done yet,” said Pops.
That’s a lot of pups.
“Good idea we had here huh dad?” I said to him.
Because it was our idea, to breed our Gus with his Juno the best cow dog ever.
Because cute + cute = so damn cute…
But also, because they will be really good dogs.
After Pudge died this fall we thought we needed to get another young pup to start learning the ropes.
And we thought maybe someone in the neighborhood might be interested in a good cow pup too.
But eleven? ELEVEN?! What were we going to do with eleven puppies?
Well, first things first I had to pick one out for Edie.
Which wasn’t an easy task, except I liked the brown border collie. She was the only one like that in the batch. And I haven’t seen many brown border collies in my life.
So she was my favorite.
It seems like Edie liked her too..
But this one is also my favorite because she’s so little and she has brown eyebrows that match her brown feet and I just can’t take that sweet face I want to smush her and put her in my pocket…
And this one is my favorite too because of his speckled little feet and speckled nose and he seems like he’s going to be really smart and I just can’t take it I want to scoop him up and put him in my cereal bowl.
And this one breaks my heart because, well look at him! Those ears! That look! He’s so beefy and rolly-polly. He’s also my favorite. I really like him. I like his white face. I can’t even take it, I want to wrap him up in a blanket and snuggle and watch re-runs of Seinfeld together. He seems like he’d like Seinfeld. He seems like he has a good sense of humor that way.
And be still my heart. This one is my favorite. Look at her! Look at the brown on her. She looks like she’s going to be SO FLUFFY I COULD DIE!!!! Look at her feet, with the little speckles on her toes. And I just can’t take it I want to buy a pink purse and put her in there and walk around the mall with her peeking out, smiling while everyone declares “What an adorable pup!” and I would say “I know right?!”
And this one is my favorite because of his brown legs and white face. He looks smart. And snuggly. And I just can’t take it I want to tuck him in bed and read him bedtime stories.
And this one is Husband’s favorite, but I think he’s also my favorite because he looks like his dad Gus and Gus is my favorite. I like that he’s solely black and white and he has a cool big black spot on his side and he’s going to be beautiful. And I just can’t take it I want to teach him the best tricks and enter him in one of those frisbee catching contests that you see on TV. We would win, because, well, just look at him.
And this one. This one’s my favorite because he’s going to be fluffy and I love him and I just can’t take it I want to comb his hair and put a bandana around his neck and name him Scout.
And this one is my favorite because of his white legs and spotted nose and I just can’t take it I want him riding shotgun in the pickup with me anytime we go somewhere so he can stick his head out the window and really get his ears flapping.
And we’ve established why this one is my favorite…But it looks like she’s going to have curly brown hair so I think we’ll be able to relate…
And this one. Look at this guy! He’s going to be smart I can just tell. He’s got the look of a perfect ranch dog and he’s my favorite because he reminds me of the old dog we had growing up named P.V. and she was the best. I just can’t stand it I want to bring him inside and let him lay on the rug in front of the fireplace.
And this one is my favorite because he’s classic and he knows it. He looks like he could be in a movie where he herds up lost sheep that got out on the highway and headed to town so he grabbed his brother and saved the sheep and the day. And I just can’t stand it I want to give him an extra bowl of milk because he looks like he’s going to do such a good job someday.
Oh Lord. It’s been hard on me. All this cuteness. It’s giving me cavities.
But it turns out it hasn’t been hard to find these babies homes. No. One little social media advertisement and they were homed in a matter of hours to some really wonderful families who will probably not put their puppy in a pink purse and cart it around the mall, but might let them ride shotgun in the pickup. Or sleep on the rug in front of the fireplace. Or, most importantly, give them a life where they can do what they were meant to do…chase cows and roll in poop and drag bones from gawd-knows-where all over the yard.
And be unconditionally loyal.
So fluffy. Just like their mom.
And so annoyingly smart, just their dad.
Because that’s what’s running through their blood.
And I can’t take it.
Now, does anyone have any name suggestions for our new little girl? I would ask Edie, but I don’t think she’s old enough to make these sort of decisions.
Ugh, life must being going good when too cute becomes a problem…
This seems like a good time to share my music video “A Girl Needs a Dog” again, featuring baby Gus and the photos you all submitted of you loving on your favorite dog. Enjoy!