Tiny, perfect things

There is a hill on the ranch that is completely covered in tiger lilies. My little sister went on a ride with Dad and they discovered them, a scattering of bright orange petals opening up to the bright blue sky.

It has been a dry year here, with our spring rain coming to us late, and so our wildflower crop is just now appearing. And this news about the tiger lilies may not seem so thrilling to some, but it’s exciting for us.

Because the flower is so perfect, and so exotic looking, and they don’t always come up every year. So when they do, we feel like we have access to our own personal florist, Mother Nature.

I don’t know if everyone has a favorite flower, but the tiger lily is mine. I carried them at my wedding, a bouquet of orange walking with me down a grassy, makeshift aisle in a cow pasture. We had to mow and build benches and move cow pies to make it presentable for guests, but we didn’t get rid of all of the cactus. My little sister found this out as she was making her trek down the aisle in front of me. I didn’t know if she was crying because of the cactus in her leg, or if she was so happy for us. I think a little of both.

Anyway, that’s what happens when you live in a wild place. No matter how you try to tame it, the flies and the thorns, the barn swallows and the raccoons, they don’t care about your fancy new deck furniture that you got for the family reunion — they will show up to eat the cat food and then poop on it.

And so then you sort of become wild, too. I know because I caught myself standing outside in my underwear one morning yelling at the birds to find a new place to make their messy clay nests. Not here, swallows. Not on the side of my house! And my husband? Well, he likes to scare raccoons at midnight… also in his underwear.

Anyway, I guess that’s why the wildflowers seem so special out here. For so much of the year we’re battling the elements, praying for rain, shoveling snow, bundling up, tracking mud in the house, pulling burs out of horses’ manes, cutting down weeds and clearing and cleaning and building and doctoring. The wildflowers, especially the tiger lily, seem like a reminder that there is perfection in this world, in the smallest things. Tiny, pretty miracles surviving despite and because of the hot sun and clay dirt.

I took my girls to that tiger lily hill the other day to check out this year’s crop. On the way they were singing Bible school songs they just learned, doing the actions and repeating the lines over and not quite right the way little kids do in the cutest way.

They had never seen a tiger lily before, and so it was a fun and easy Easter egg hunt, each girl grabbing up more than a handful of the flowers and thrilled with it all. With the familiar songs they were humming, and their sun-flushed cheeks and mosquito-bit arms, I couldn’t help but think: Now isn’t this the quintessential ranch summer?

I wonder what they will remember about being a little kid out in these hills. Do they feel as wild and free as I used to feel out here, enamored with the mystery of this place and how it can change so magically by the hour, the sun sinking down, turning the tips of the trees and grass and my daughters’ hair golden?

I hope so. I hope they feel as wild and beautiful and as loved as those lilies, because they are to me. My own little tiger lilies on the hilltop, growing before my eyes.

My favorite little flowers reminding us that there are perfect things in this world.

Free and safe and lonesome…

There’s a hill outside my house we call Pots and Pans.

When we were kids, my cousins and I would take the trek from my grandparent’s barnyard, past the bulls munching on hay, over the corral fences, along the dusty cow trail, up big granite rocks, stopping to declare we were kings and queens of the world, taking a juice box from our fanny packs to sit for a break along the way, kicking up little cactuses to add to the drama and adventure of finally making it up to the peak where old pots, pans and sifters waited for us among the sandstone rocks so that we could pretend the way kids do, while the grass scratched our bare legs and the wind whipped through our wild hair and the North Dakota summer sun flushed our cheeks.

And we could see everything from way up there. We could see the red barn our grandpa moved in with his brother and dad 50 years before. We could see the grain bins and the black cows and the sorrel and bay horses and the line of old fence posts trying to hold them in. The reflection of the hot sun on the stock dam and the tops of the oak trees bending in the relentless wind. And the mailbox and the pink road cutting through it all. We could see it all up there and I remember it making me feel free and lonesome and safe all at the same time.

And we were just kids, so we could have played anything up there. We could have been superheroes or dinosaurs, gold miners or Jesse James and his gang. We could have been magical fairies or mermaids or wild horses even. Kids that age, in the sweet spot between 3 and 10, with space and freedom like that, we could have been anything.

But we gathered those pots and pans up and we pretended to be grown-up versions of ourselves making supper for our children out of dirt and sweet clover, washing dishes, singing to them and putting them to bed in the house we made from the boundaries of the rocks and the tree line.

We could have been anything, and so we pretended to be grown-ups. What a thing to pretend. If we only knew how much of it really becomes cooking supper and tidying up the messes we make, tucking one another in at night and wondering what it’s going to be like…

Because we thought that we would someday be old enough and know enough to be as free as we wanted to be. No more rules. No more bedtime. No more supper table to sit at until we finished the spinach on our plates. We didn’t know then that maybe, on that hilltop, picking cactuses out of our little cousin’s bare legs, that we may have been as free as we’ll ever be.

Last week, we gathered up on that hilltop again, all of us cousins, over 30 years later, carrying our children on our backs, or holding their little hands, explaining the magic to our husbands and boyfriends, stepping on cactuses and gathering up the old pots and pans that had scattered down the bank over the years, just like us I suppose, gathered up from Texas and Minnesota and South Dakota and from just down the road outside the houses we put here, under that big hill, all grown-up now, like we wanted to be.

If you’ve ever wondered, like me, what keeps us bound to one another, I wonder if it isn’t as simple as the memories. It sounds silly, but for us cousins, it only had to be as epic as finding kittens in the old barn, or pretending that pink road was made of yellow bricks and one of us was Dorothy.

We held onto one another because we were given time and space to create a bond on a landscape with no agenda but to be to us what we dreamed it to be. And so the years between then and now, in the growing-up part that took us far from those hilltops, we held those memories, those old pots and pans and cactuses and black cows and clay buttes as a part of us.

Standing on that hilltop with them again, all these years later in the thick of the messy and wonderful and complicated lives we built, the grass scratched our bare legs and the wind whipped through our wild hair and the North Dakota summer sun flushed our cheeks again. We could see everything… free and safe and lonesome, all at the same time.

Maybe it’s the rain

Maybe it’s the rain
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I’ve been working on another book the past few months. Like the last, it’s a compilation of some of my favorite photos, columns, blogs, poems and recipes from the past 10 years I’ve spent documenting what it means to raise kids and cattle and make a life on the ranch.

Like the last, it’s been a nostalgic and difficult project to take on with full-time work, ranch life and two loud and wonderfully distracting kids in the house.

I typically don’t spend much time looking back on what I’ve written because I have to focus on what to write. And so I’ve been seeing our lives a little differently lately, thinking about how far we’ve come and how far we haven’t, how some things have changed completely and how some things haven’t changed at all, and it’s from that place that I share this piece on that limbo between past and present, a reflection brought on by the rain.

It was late August, and it had been hot for weeks, the kind of heat you remember as a kid, where Popsicles melt on sticks in the heavy air that sends the flies gathering at horses’ bellies and driving them to bob their heads and swish their tails in the trees.

We were sweating it out in the little house in the barnyard where my grandparents used to live, three years into our marriage and three months into unpacking our lives back home at the ranch where I was raised. And it was only six years ago, but we were just kids, really, with plans big enough to keep us busy.

But that day we resigned to the weather, keeping busy with tasks in a house that was sinking and shrinking with the weight of time.

And then the clouds rolled in, dark and as ominous as the lightning on the horizon, and we found ourselves standing, noses pressed to the screen door, watching the water form new rivers and waterfalls in the corrals.

The buttes in the horse pasture turned from rock to slick mud in a matter of minutes, and soon I found myself running behind my new husband through the mud, past the new barnyard river and scrambling up to the top of those buttes where we stood side by side before launching our bodies down the steep bank of that hill, sliding on the slippery, wet gumbo, just like we used to do as kids.

I’ve told this story before. You may remember it and how it ended in bruises, bloody scrapes and a heap of laughter spilling out into that dark, rainy night.

I’m thinking about it now because last weekend I found myself out in the rain again with my husband. We were riding through an unfamiliar pasture looking for a couple stray cows. The day was still, but the sky kept spitting on us, a little mist followed by small, flying drops hitting our cheeks and gathering on our horses’ manes.

It was a quiet rain, the kind that seems to clean up the landscape, making the colors richer against the gray sky. And I just kept looking at my husband on the back of his bay horse, his black hat and red scarf moving along the big landscape, and I started thinking about the times in my life where the rain made the moment.

I decided this was one of them.

And it was perfect timing, I think, following behind him on trails where he broke branches for me or hollered my name from a hilltop. We were doing work, and we were living out a plan, rain or shine.

But that day, I preferred the rain, because I was starting to wonder if it is possible to spend the rest of my life here without losing the magic of this place. A few days before, I received a note from a man telling me that my life seemed romantic in a way that few people know and that I was lucky for it.

I sort of felt like a fraud, wondering if I gave him a false conclusion. Settling into a new life as a mother and a new partnership as parents, no matter how much we wanted it, hasn’t been an easy and seamless transition. I’ve been struggling with it in ways I hadn’t expected.

I began to wonder if I was the same woman who slid down that gumbo hill with that young man six years ago.

We pushed up the bank of a wooded coulee, and I listened to the rain hitting the leaves and the branches break against the chest of my horse, and I thought about how I was taught to lean forward as a horse takes you through the trees so that you don’t catch one to the face and get pulled off.

It’s a lesson I reach back for when I’m in the thick of it, the same way I reach back for the girl who kissed a boy under that old oak tree in the field, promising him forever, no matter the weather.

So maybe it’s the memories we make that keep this place magic.

Or maybe it’s just the rain.

Rain on the Buttes

I’ll be performing at the TAK Music Venue in Dilworth, Minn., on June 17 and in Jamestown, N.D., on June 24. Hope to see you all out and about!

The ranch and the weather

Hoping for the weather to cooperate
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Last Friday a grass fire began to rage up north near our neighbors’ house. I had planned to have our Arizona-turned-North Dakota friends over to help feed the bottle baby calf, pet the horses and make them a proper Tater Tot hotdish.

They were coming over at 5, and my husband left to fight a fire at 1. I asked him, stupidly, as he was rushing out the door, “Do you think you’ll be home by 5?” And of course, he replied, “I hope so!”

And I hoped so too. Not just because I wanted him home in time for hotdish and friend-hosting, but because it would mean that they would have that fire under control by then.

The face of a fireman

On Saturday, the wind died down and the sun shone so bright that my oldest daughter couldn’t help but strip off her shirt and play in the dirt left waiting for the spring petunias in our flowerpots. I sat my husband down on a stool on the deck, he pulled his shirt off as well and I started to clip and buzz and cut the winter hair that had grown long on his head, shedding another layer as we moved slowly into a new season that was feeling so different than all the springs before it. Crocuses and muddy puddles, plum blossoms and new grass blades evaporated by a sky that just won’t give up the moisture.

That afternoon, looking a little less like a mountain man, my husband went out to check the cows and found a tiny calf, just barely over 30 pounds, left trying to get milk off her sick mother. He scooped her up in his arms and brought her down to the barnyard where I was brushing out horses and the girls were taking turns seeing how high they could climb the corral panels before they became too scared to jump off.

The tiniest calf we’ve ever seen

I just helped Rosie up on Tootsie and was watching the fluffy, old, partially blind mini horse wander around the barnyard with my youngest on board, when my husband arrived with a calf the size of a small goat — and just like that, the ponies were old news. The girls squealed and sprung to action with pets and snuggles, concerned looks, bottle-holding and more questions about calf poop and umbilical cords turned to belly buttons.

Little Mommies

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Chad and I quietly hoped that poor little baby and her mom might make it through the night and told the girls to be careful now. Not so high. Why don’t you come down and help get these calves some fresh hay to lie on?

With my niece, the animal whisperer

The next day we woke up to rain, just enough to coat the ground and make us dare hope for more. We mixed up three big bottles for the two calves and the girls dug for their rain jackets and rushed out the door to dance in it. “Rain!” they hollered. “It’s raining!” And they twirled and ran and jumped and danced as if there was no way to contain themselves. As if, in their tiny little bones, they understood what a miracle it was.

If I wasn’t holding three big ‘ol calf bottles with a mission to finally get to the barn after two pancake refills, a hair-brushing argument, a hunt for the right mittens, two boot changes, two coat changes and a trip back for a snack for the way, I might have danced, too. And alongside the road on our way to the barn, the baby calves kicked up their heels, running and bucking and playing just like my daughters, thrilled for the drops on their backs.

We tucked our girls in that night too late and we both fell asleep beside them while our muddy boots worked on drying off in the entryway, our cattle bedded down in the draws and the rain quietly turning to snow to pile up to 3 inches on our thirsty land.

And so on Sunday, we dug out the snow pants, caps and mittens, fed a little more hay and found another stray calf, maybe the twin to the tiny one we’re still fussing over. And hoping for… just like I hoped, on Friday, when the land was burning up, that my husband might be home in time for supper…

Looking for my reflection in my grandmother’s journals

My reflection in Gramma’s old winter journals
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It’s January and we’re working cows again, sending our later calves out to the sale and retiring a few old cows, a couple who won’t stay on any side of the fence and the one that will run you over if you don’t watch your back.

If I get my office work done in time this morning, I will go out and help. My mother-in-law will be here in a few hours to watch the girls who, these days, are passing the time by drawing pictures and then cutting them up. All those toys for Christmas and right now my black magic marker and the kid scissors might as well be gold. I just have to remember not to turn my back on them too long…

Yes, January’s settling in. And it should be about 20 below zero these days, with wind whipping snow, but we haven’t seen that yet around here. It rained yesterday. The day before, I took a 2-mile walk out to the east pasture dam in nothing but a light coat and a vest with the dogs zooming out happily ahead of me, zipping back and forth across the hills like blurs.

The guys have been busy fixing fences and setting water tanks, tasks that are usually reserved for different seasons. It’s sort of eerie, this mild winter weather. Yesterday I stepped outside and it was quiet, the kind of quiet you can’t put your finger on, until you realize your ears aren’t freezing and your nose isn’t running and there’s not a lick of a breeze.

It reminded me of the winter we lived in Missoula, Mont., where the snow floated straight down in fluffy puffs, settling like frosting on rooftops and windowsills and tree branches where the thermometer never dipped too far below 20. In Montana, winter was more magic than punishment. When we returned back to the ranch for Christmas, I felt the North Dakota wind chill on my face in a new way, looking out across the prairie, a line of black cows slowly moving toward us as we worked on serving up the best part of their day.

Up here, the weather exasperates every possible sense and I hadn’t had the autumn to help me work into the bite of that kind of cold. I swear I could see it come to slap me on the cheeks and sting my eyes into squinting. More stable creatures would have retreated to the mountains to stay put. We were back in North Dakota by late spring.

Last week, my mom brought over some of my grandma Edie’s old journals, a stack of notes scrawled in the squares and margins of a Cenex calendar. Recounts of the day-to-day from a woman who was born, married, mothered, worked, lived and died on the edge of these Badlands.

I was only 10 when my grandma died suddenly; she was barely in her 60s. These days especially, I want her to have never left us. I didn’t get a chance to know my grandmother the way a grown woman knows her grandmother, and given that we’ve moved in on her turf, I’m sure she’d have some things to say. And I have questions.

So I pore over her words again. It’s been several years since I’ve done so, before I was a mother, before settling down for good in this place. Back then, I was searching for something with a little more dirt on it, a reflection on her mood or the way someone rubbed her the wrong or right way, some inner turmoil that revealed a sweltering side of her humanness… or maybe I just wanted to see myself reflected there somehow…

Oh, how we make the departed so exalted, don’t we? I pick them up again…

January 6, 1982: -26. Pete changed filters on the tractor, then it ran better. We hauled a load of calves to Dickinson for Paul, he bought us supper at the Queen City. Got home at 9:30.

January 10, 1982: -42. Tractor and pickup didn’t start until late in the day. Wade helped Pete feed so I didn’t go out.

January 14, 1982: + 40. I almost tipped the pickup over today, it was slippery.

January 15, 1982: -27. Really stormy today. I am cleaning the closet in the bathroom, what a mess…

Ranch mom problems

Ranch mom problems
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There have been many moments in my life when my “ruralness” has shown up in all its glory.

Last week, for example, when my 2-year-old daughter dropped her pants in the middle of the playground in town and proceeded to pee in the sand while I was on the phone trying to be a professional working remotely.

Well, professionalism went out the window pretty quickly when I screeched into the phone and then promptly confessed to my colleague that my kids haven’t been off the ranch much lately.

The only saving grace was that there were no other families around, and honestly, I was pretty proud that she didn’t get any on her pants. For us girls peeing outdoors, that’s a pretty advanced technique.

Before we had kids, the whole stamp-of-country-living thing used to show up as red scoria mud caked to my car, as a line on my shins across my dress pants and the reason I had to change from muck boots to heels on my way to work. Or maybe all the times I’ve driven our pickup to a work meeting, singing gig or grocery store run with feed buckets, fencing supplies and once, accidentally, my dad’s cow dog hiding in the back.

She was afraid of storms, so I can’t blame her, but it was a long hour-and-a-half drive to bring her back home…

Growing up on the ranch leads to all kinds of adventures for the Veeder girls. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

Anyway, when I chose to raise my kids on the ranch, no one really warned me about the ways in which that upbringing might affect them — or, more importantly, embarrass me.

I should have known though. I mean, it might have been a million years ago, but I was once a ranch kid witnessing my little sister pop-a-squat right in front of the bleachers full of rodeo fans. The only time I’ve ever seen my dad run that fast was when he was being chased by a momma cow. I swear the two of them flew. At least most of that audience understood, likely finding themselves in a similar parenting position at one point or another.

But the time she peed in the middle of the lawn at an Art in the Park event in our hometown was a little harder to explain, the same way it’s hard to explain to a toddler that peeing outside is fine some places, just not others. The whole privacy thing is lost on a 2-year-old. Just ask any mom of young kids and she’ll tell you she hasn’t pooped without a guest appearance in years.

The 4-year-old at least has the outfits to pass in civilization. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

So that’s where I’m at today, working on acclimating my children to civilization. And we’re getting there. I mean, the 4-year-old at least has the outfits — long, flowy, sparkly princess dresses complete with a tiara and tiny high-heel shoes function well in the barnyard climbing on and off of ponies and picking up every cocklebur along the way. She looks the part, that one, but the fact that she doesn’t flinch at the dead bird the cat drug into the house, pulling a tick off the dog or that she can explain the birthing process of a calf without skipping a step sorta gives her away.

But, the 2-year-old? Send prayers and any tips you have for me on homeschooling and house training.

Peace, love and all my apologies to the Park Board,

Like a cat on the screen door

Like a Cat on a Screen Door
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The leaves are changing out here at the ranch at just the right pace — slowly and overnight. I can see them on the other side of my sliding glass door if I look past the kitten climbing up the screen and the other one pooping in my flowerpot.

And inside, the big cat is sleeping on my bed, the pug is chewing on a ballet slipper and my 4-year-old is putting on a fashion show, complete with green eye shadow, pink lipstick and hairstyle changes.

To top it all off, the 3-year-old is serenading us all on the microphone that some idiot mother purchased them for Christmas because for some reason I thought my children’s constant outside voices are not quite loud enough.

I’ve been working on this column for a total of three hours and this is where we’re at, fourth paragraph. No profound thoughts. No beautiful words of encouragement.

No musings on the state of the world, except maybe this is where so many of us are in these crazy times — kitchen table desks we share with Peach the naked baby doll, the sticky puddle of this morning’s pancake breakfast and coffee you won’t finish but will heat up at least 20 times between wiping butts, answering emails, defusing fights and avoiding the news and the line of sight on your second-grader’s Zoom call.

Because you’ve got pandemic hair and someone might care.

Aw, there’s an art to ignoring your children. I think it’s something parents in the ’80s and ’90s had figured out pretty well. I mean, I’m the product of the “go outside and play until we call you for supper” generation.

And that’s what we did. We rode our bikes, obeyed (most of the time) the rule to stay out of the stock dams and the world was our playground. Because we didn’t have an actual playground. Not that we needed one with all of these trees and creeks, outbuildings and forgotten machinery, cow dogs and barn cats climbing up screen doors.

My girls are too little to send outside on their own, but I’ve reached that parenting milestone where they play together in another room and I know as long as they’re loud they’re fine. And as soon as it’s silent, go check. That’s a hack not found in parenting books.

Speaking of, I haven’t heard them for a while… Peace in this house only lasts in five-minute increments.

Anyway, there also isn’t a parenting book on how to raise a kid during a global crisis. Or one on how to stay a stable parent while you fight cancer. Well, maybe there is, but who, in that situation, would have the time or energy to read it?

Just yesterday, I was listening to my 2-year-old playing babies in the living room. She was on the phone with Gramma or another mom, I couldn’t really tell, but whoever it was, she wondered if they were cancer-free.

And then she wondered how Gramma Ginny was and if her toe was feeling better and if maybe we should go get some ice cream when she gets back from her COVID test.

And lately I’ve been wondering if there was something else I should be doing to ensure that we’re raising resilient, compassionate, smart humans when there are so many distractions, when I’m not 100% healthy and especially when at anytime their little worlds can be turned upside-down, something we learned this year can happen at the drop of a hat.

Is it more conversation, a better schedule, more educational material, more structured play and lessons? Are we going to be OK here?

Well, it turns out if we just give them space to play and pretend, and we tune in every once in a while, they’ll let us know. So many of our worries came out of the mouth of little Rosie on a pretend phone call that day. But she was not angry or frantic, but caring. Compassionate. With an ice cream sundae on top.

Parents, mastering the art of ignoring our children is valuable and necessary for so many reasons, but trust me, they’re not ignoring us.

Hang in there, everyone. Hang in there like this dang cat on my screen door.

Sunday Column: ‘Tis the season

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 5.31.45 PM

It’s been a great, but long week here for this big bellied momma out here at the ranch. Hunting season, coupled with the fact that my doctors said I could birth this child any minute, has set this place off in a new sort of buzz.

Each year about this time my dad’s brother flies in from Texas, bringing with him a son-in-law or two to show them around this place. We look forward to having him here all year and spend the time around the supper table talking, eating venison stew and coaxing stories out of the brothers and our neighbor up the road about the shenanigans they used to get into as wild boys growing up out here.

As my belly grows by the second (like literally, I think it grows by the second) I couldn’t help but notice how our family has grown. Last night mom and dad hosted a fish fry supper for thirteen as my uncle brought with him both of his son-in-laws and his nephew to join my brother-in-law over, big sister, little sister and her new husband and the rest of the ranch gathered in the house to eat and wonder when the heck I might pop.

I looks like pretty dang soon.

Belly B&W

 

Husband spent a good portion of the afternoon loading up his pickup with our baby-go gear and trying to figure out how the hell to get the carseat in…and then out…of the backseat.

I heard him talking on the phone to his mom saying something like “There’s a manual fifty-seven pages long about how to install the damn thing, but not one word on how to get the thing out.”
And who knew we would have to sit together and read the directions and diagram on the diaper genie. But that’s what we’ve been doing. That and taking calls from relatives and friends on my condition, wondering if we should just go to the big town already (we have a three hour drive) and wait it out there and put everyone at ease for the love of GAWD!
I don’t know.
All I know is I should probably pack the camouflage onesie Husband asked about, because he just informed me he plans on wearing camo on the way home from the hospital and he would like it if he and the baby matched…
hunting
Priorities I tell you.
Priorities.
Anyway, here’s the column from last weekend I forgot to post in my struggle to stay upright in the final countdown.
Peace, Love and Baby Gear,
Jessie and the bump
Belly 2

Coming Home: Hunting holiday season means time
spent with loved ones
by Jessie Veeder
11-15-15
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

‘Tis the season.

Yes, we’re already one week into celebrating a North Dakota official holiday. The chill is settling in the air, and men and women are pulling on neon orange knit caps over their unruly hair, growing sweet beards (well, the men anyway), stocking up on whiskey and pulling out the cards for poker night.

Yes, the official deer rifle season opening day arrived, reminding me that this once was a valid reason for an excused absence from country school.

Turns out, that doesn’t carry in the working world, but I tell you, there were plenty of North Dakotans out there that day who opted to dress head to toe in camouflage and hunker down just under the skyline instead of going to work.

Meanwhile, the ranch has done its annual transition from horse and cattle operation to hunting camp. Every refrigerator on the place is stocked with Budweiser. Every cupboard is supplied with whiskey. The camouflage hats are tossed on chairs, boots piled in entryways, rifles polished and sighted in, and the calendar filled with scheduled visits from family members who make walking these hills with their sons, sons-in-law, granddaughters, nieces, nephews, wives, husbands or brothers a tradition year after year.

Because out here on this ranch, hunting season is less about the big kill and more about the time spent taking a break to appreciate this wild place with the people you most like to be around.

It’s always been that way.

Because contrary to the magazine and movie portrayal of ranch life, it’s not all riding your best horse into the sunset night after night. There are beautiful moments, yes, but they usually occur after you’ve acquired a fair amount of poop on your boots and slung a good string of cuss words into the air after racing that sun home from a job in town to catch the cows in the fields or a fence broken down.

Keeping a place like this up and running is 17 full-time jobs it seems, something that I didn’t realize growing up sitting next to my dad in the feed pickup rolling out a bale of hay for a line of black cows well after dark on a winter night.

Coming home from one full-time job to start another was likely not a rancher’s dream, but keeping the place up and running was worth every after-dark hour. I understand it a bit more now that we’re charged with the same task moving this place into its next 100 years.

I understand it now, helping my husband and dad make new plans for the corrals over supper served past dark or pushing back a trip to the lake in the summer because the cows got out or hay needs to be put up.

But then there is hunting season. The calves are shipped out, the cows are settled in, the weather is in between hot and bitter, and there’s a window, an oasis of time, to spend harvesting the land in a different way, to sit in silence on a side hill with one mission: To be still. To look. To listen. To be a part of the natural order of this landscape.

And all that time you’ve spent riding through the trees after a bull that won’t stay in, all the cows trailed along fence lines and trips to check water in the dams have you familiar with where the bucks bed down at night or where they rub the velvet off of their horns.

So you carve out the time to sit in the rising sun, watching the day break next to someone handpicked to share the experience with you.

Some of the best days of my life have been sitting in the glow of the sunset next to my dad, my husband or my uncle looking closely, blending in and holding still in a moment.

And if the opportunity presents itself to take an animal, it’s just more fodder for the memories, and more meat in our freezer for the long winter. But at the end of the day, for us, it’s about being together in a familiar place, in our own special sort of holiday.

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Remembering the Veterans who built this place.

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Today, on Veteran’s Day, I want to pause to remember the two strong Veterans who founded the Veeder Ranch so we can call it home today.

Edgar Andrew Veeder, born October 5, 1894, in Stearnes County Minnesota was the first child born to Benjamin Wemple and Antoinette Marie (Volc) Veeder.

In 1907, Eddie moved to McKenzie County where he lived with his parents in the Croff community. He lived and worked at home until he was twenty-one.

In 1915, he homesteaded the Veeder Ranch in Bear Den Township before being drafted into the the Army, serving in the 77th Infantry-Machine Gun Company at Camp Custer Michigan.

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After he was discharged at Camp Dodge, Iowa in 1919, Eddie returned to farm and ranch in Bear Den Township.

Eddie married Cornelia Belle Harrison on September 4, 1917. In 1925, Eddie bought his brother, Hank Veeder’s homestead, also located in Bear Den Township and continued expanding his holdings by purchasing additional homesteads in the area. In 1928, he bought a threshing machine and for the next fifteen years he did custom threshing in addition to running cattle and raising crops on the place. Through all the years that he lived in the community, Eddie always took an active part in the building and maintenance of the area. He was a member of the township board for many years and was responsible for keeping township roads and bridges open and in good repair.

Eddie and Cornelia, who died of heart failure in 1932 at the age of thirty-six, had five children, the youngest, my grandfather, Eugene (Pete) Veeder.

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After the death of his wife, Eddie, with the help of his sisters, maintained the home until all of the children were grown. It must have been difficult, especially during the Depression, to provide for his family, but he was always cheerful. He enjoyed his children and grandchildren until his death in 1961.

After their father’s passing, Pete and his brother Lorraine each bought half of the family ranch land. Pete was inducted into the Army February 16, 1945, at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, took his basic training at Camp Hood, Texas, and was then stationed for a time in Korea. He was the recipient of the Asiatic Pacific Service Medal, Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Army of Occupation Medal (Japan). He was discharged at Fort Lewis, Washington on December 19, 1946. Pete then returned to farm with his father and brothers.

Grampa Pete

Pete married Edith Linseth on August 24, 1951 and the two of them raised crops, cattle and three children, Kerry, Wade and my father, Eugene (Gene) on the original homestead.

Today the Veeder Ranch remains in the family, operated by Gene and Beth. My husband Chad and I have built a home here, making us the fourth generation to live and work on the Veeder Homestead. 

Remembering these two great men’s lives and service to their country and grateful for the legacy and land they worked hard to keep.

Veeder Barn

Sunday Column: Dreaming of horses…

Chad and Jessie Maternity 1

Coming Home: Dreaming of horses, the best gift a ranch kid can get
11-9-15
by Jessie Veeder
http://www.inforum.com

A funny thing happens when you’re in the home stretch of your first-ever pregnancy. Between all of the unpleasant symptoms we’ve all heard about — the heartburn, the aches and pains, the insomnia — you suddenly find yourself with an overwhelming need to purchase a festive Christmas baby hat because the most important thing in the world is being prepared for this new baby’s first Christmas photo under the tree.

It’s all you can think about, never mind that you don’t yet have the car seat properly installed or a single diaper stocked up. If you have this hat, you will be ready.

But three days later when that handmade Rudolf hat with the red button nose arrives in your mailbox, you’ve completely forgotten that 5 a.m. panic order altogether. Because you’ve already moved on to the next obsession.

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And lately, for me, three weeks away from my due date, I’ve decided I should really be thinking seriously about this kid’s first horse.

It’s not logical, I know, not in the sequence of things anyway. I mean, I have a good few years to find the right animal, one I can trust to take care of my firstborn as he sits tall in the saddle beside us, chasing cows or checking fence, honing his skills and his way around this place.

But to have a horse of your own as a kid is a unique and life-shaping privilege, one not granted to every child, and one I want to give to mine. Because I remember how I was one of the lucky ones. I inherited an old red mare from my grandma. Her name was Rindy, and she was short and squat with just the right amount of attitude and a rough trot.

I would ride her bareback in the summer, learning about balance and patience as I searched the tree lines for raspberries, leading her to big rocks or side-hills to help me swing my short legs up on her back if I happened to climb down or fall off.

 

I broke my arm tumbling off Rindy.

I broke my foot jumping off her in a youth rodeo.

I won “best groomed” at a sleepaway horse camp because she couldn’t find a mud hole to roll in like she did at the ranch each time I groomed her the night before a 4-H show.

I put red, white and blue yarn in her mane and rode her in the county fair parade.

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I rode double, or triple, with my best friends on her back, trotting through clover fields, seeing how fast we could go before we all tumbled off, leaving her grazing a few yards away as we rolled around on the ground laughing.

And in the fall I would saddle her up, pulling the cinch as tight as I could around her round back, and she would puff out her belly to trick me into thinking that’s as tight as it would go only to let the air out once I climbed on, her way of controlling her comfort level, I suppose.

Oh, that horse was something. But that’s the thing, anyone who had a horse of their own as a kid will tell you stories like these about an animal that helped raise them in an environment that has the potential to be intimidating for a kid.

But a horse out here gives a kid some power. I felt like I was worth something on Rindy’s back, like I could help move a cow through a gate or learn where the fence lines run. I had a partner, a big companion that gave me new abilities. I was stronger and bigger up there. I was capable.

Who wouldn’t want to give that gift to a child if they could?

And so I have that Christmas hat in the drawer, we’ve set up the crib, I’m washing onesies and putting away diapers, and late at night, when the world is dark, my husband’s chest rising in sleep next to me, I lie with my eyes open in our bed, a hand on my swollen belly, waiting on this baby and dreaming of horses.

Maternity Haze