To gather, and all the things that phrase means to a ranch woman

Cows by the dam

To gather, and all the things that phrase means to a ranch woman

To gather. As a ranch woman, this phrase conjures up images of roundup season, sitting on top of my horse and moving our cattle together from all corners of our pastures.

It’s the throaty hum of the animals’ voices as they call to their calves or to one another or out into the world, seemingly saying, “I’m here, I’m coming. All right already.”

It’s the creak of the old cows’ bones as we let them slowly navigate themselves toward a well-worn path they know toward home. And it’s the “heya” and the “c’mon” we let out of our lungs as we follow the small sea of black backs, the quiet counting and calculations in our heads, our warm breath cooling down in the autumn air.

It’s the swing of our leg off the saddle and the swing of the gate when they’re all in and accounted for so we can take a deep breath, put our hands on our hips and say, “Well, all right then…” and move on to the sorting.

I recently participated in a different kind of gathering down in Elko, Nev. A gathering of cowboy poets, musicians, artists and fans from across the world in an event dedicated to the stories we tell about a way of life that I would say is more rough than it is romantic, except it’s the rough parts that make it so.

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The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. That’s what they call it. And I like that they call it that, because that’s what it is.

It’s a gathering of people, ideas, stories, music, art and conversation in a small town in the dessert in the middle of winter when the cowboys and ranchers that create have time to take leave from the Plains or the mountains to connect with other artists and an audience eager to hear from them so that they might be a part of that life, too, if only for a few days under a felt hat.

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Mike, Dad and I with Cowboy poet Jake Riley

That is, if they have someone at home to feed the cattle and the kids. Which is where my husband falls in the story. Because everyone wants to be a cowboy until it’s actually time to do cowboy stuff, and so he got the less-glamorous gig of wiping toddler noses and rolling out hay bales while I was shaking hands and singing under the lights.

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And I couldn’t help but look out into the audience of hundreds of anonymous silhouettes sitting still and quiet and ready to nod along and feel overwhelmingly grateful that somebody thought the world needed an event like this. Because in the 20-some years that I’ve been writing music and performing, I’ve never found a better muse than the rural community, rugged landscape and ranch life in which I was raised.

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An American Forrest , Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and Corb Lund on stage in Elko

But in the miles I’ve traveled up and down the Midwest, I have questioned if it ever really resonates, if there is anyone else out there who thought the world needed a song with a rhythm based on hoof beats. I’ve spent a career slowly finding those people who do, and then, three airplanes later, I found myself in a land where they’ve all congregated for us, caffeinated, fed, inspired and ready to listen.

To gather.

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Shared the stage with Brigid & Johnny Reedy

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This talented little ranch girl Marinna Mori

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With film maker Clare McKay and songwriter Anna Rose Pozzi

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Ran into Cowboy Poet, songster and podcaster Andy Hedges

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With the legendary Ramblin’ Jack Elliot

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And then randomly, one of my favorites, Colter Wall was in the greenroom

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Dad

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The morning gathering of entertainers at the Western Folklife Center

I kept saying it to myself as I looked out in this community the Western Folklife Center created in Elko for people like me and people nothing like me at all.

What happens when we gather? Those differences become less important than the way a song about loss reminds us both of similar struggle.

Or the way we collectively clapped and laughed, the whole auditorium full of us, as he yodeled and kicked up his leg.

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Backstage listening to the Munsick Boys

Or the silence none of us discussed but honored as an 85-year-old legend, with a voice worn from years of songs and stories, closed his eyes and worked through another one on a stage that afternoon.

And so I couldn’t help but feel a bit like our cattle that week down in Elko, surrounded by a sea of hats and smiles, reaching out to touch one another as we drew closer to say, “I’m here! I’m coming. All right already,” taking a familiar path toward a place that feels like home.

And I’m back at the ranch now, hands on hips, ready for the sorting…

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The Animals of Winter

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Like the animals of winter

Last week, I went out into the winter. I squeezed into my long underwear, pulled on layers, tied my scarf around my neck, made sure my wool cap covered my ears and zipped my coat to my chin.

The snow was fresh and the wind was blowing it in sparkly swirls around the barnyard. The hay bales were adequately frosted in neatly stacked white drifts, remnants of the small blizzard that blew through the ranch in the evening and was lingering into the late morning hours.

I stuck out my tongue to taste the snowflakes and snuggled down into the collar of my coat like a turtle as I walked toward the horses munching on hay below the barn. I wished I had their fur coats, thick and wooly and brave against the wind. I wished I had their manes, wild and tangled and smelling of dust and autumn leaves, summer heat and ice.

They keep it all in there, all of the seasons.

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They nudged and kicked at one another, digging their noses deeper in the stack of hay, remembering green grass and fields, tasting warmer weather in their snack. I lingered there with them, noticing how the ice stuck on their eyelashes and clung to the long hair on their backs.

I scratched their ears and pulled some burs out of their manes and imagined what grove of trees they picked to wait out the storm last night, standing close and breathing on one another’s back. A herd.

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I followed them out of the protection of the barnyard and into the pasture where the frozen wind found my cheeks and the dogs cut footprints in the fluffy snow in front of my steps. They played and barked and jumped and sniffed and rolled in the white stuff, like children on a snow day.

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I found the top of the hill and let myself feel the cold. I had forgotten how my cheeks can go numb, how my fingertips ache, now my eyelashes stick together at the close of a blink and how the wind finds its way through the layers of clothing and freezes my skin.

I forgot that sometimes it doesn’t matter that you took care to wear wool socks and three pairs of pants — we are never as prepared as the animals. Sometimes, the weather just wins.

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I wished I had fur on my ears, tufts on my feet, whiskers to catch the snow. I wished I had hard hooves to anchor me, my own herd to lean against, to protect me from the wind. I wished I was part of a pack, chasing and jumping and rolling through the drifts.

I might have stayed out longer if I had these things. I would have explored how the creek had froze, stuck my nose in the snow, walked along the banks of the coulee, leaned against the buttes and followed the indecisive sun.

But my scarf wasn’t thick enough, there was snow in my boots and my skin is fragile and thin. No, my body’s not wooly and my nose is not fuzzy. And my fingers? Well, if we can’t have hooves, then we at least have fingers, to knit sweaters and sew together blankets, our hands to build fires and houses to protect us, our arms to wrap around one another, our feet to propel us toward shelter or sun and our brains to invent things like warm, spicy soup and hot coffee and buttery buns.

No, we might not have fur coats, but we have opposable thumbs. I pointed my frozen feet toward the house and flung open the door, stripped off my layers and stood over the heater vent, happy for my warm house and man-made blankets.

And happier still for a promise of spring that isn’t too far away on this winter day…

Winter Horses

To be a cowboy

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To be a Cowboy
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In a few short weeks, I will pack up my guitar and head for the desert in Nevada for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

It will be my second invite to this event that features cowboy singers, entertainers, makers and poets from across the country, each looking like the plains and valleys, mountains and foothills they were born to and all trying to answer and ponder the question — what does it mean to be a cowboy?

I close my eyes and I see him, my Great-Grandpa Veeder. I see him as a kid who came to settle this area with an ill father and a mother who had seven other children to care for. And so he took to it, helping to break up land, grow vegetables and raise horses for farming and threshing

I like to think that he was a man who, like the Badlands full of rocks and rattlesnakes, was not so easily tamed. And so he became the 50 mph winds, the biting, relentless horse flies, the dropping temperatures, the green grass and the rain that eventually fell with a promise that this all might work out if he was brave enough to endure it.

He couldn’t have known then that the work he was doing might someday be revered as sort of glamorous. He just took to it, like I said, and at barely 21, he bought his own place down the road and the rest is a history I walk by on my way to catch my well-broke horses or give my daughters a ride on their pony.

History like his old threshing machine that sits as a relic among the tall grasses and thorny tangle of prairie roses.

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History like that humble red barn he moved in and rebuilt with his two sons, one of them my grandpa.

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Time has passed us by enough now that we are wondering what to do with it. Should we tear it down or rebuild it? Has there ever been a truer metaphor for this generation of ranch families?

A relic that reminds us we have entered another realm entirely. A realm where steel siding and roofing and concrete would serve us much better, just like the new tractors with GPS and Bluetooth connections that we will likely never be able to afford, no matter how hard my great-grandfather, and my grandparents and my parents, worked to get us to this place where we can ponder.

Are we cowboys? Not like him. Not like Great-Grandpa Eddie.

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As a kid, I spent my winter nights sitting on the pink carpet of my room inside the walls of my parents’ house tucked in the hills and oak trees of a ranch that has now been in my family for over 100 years. Behind my guitar, with a pen in my hand, I would attempt to work out the mysteries of the place in which I was raised, and will myself to understand how I was meant to belong here.

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I wasn’t strong enough to open gates on my own. I wasn’t patient enough to break the horses my father broke. I wasn’t gritty enough or savvy enough or ballsy enough or grown-up enough to do the very thing that I wanted to do, which was to jump in and be brave.

But I love the sound a horse makes when she’s clipping the green grass from the ground. And the smell of the clover and the way a hay bale rolls out in the winter snow behind an old feed pickup and the black line of cattle following it.

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I love the creak of a saddle, the scum on an old stock tank and the bite of the wind on the hilltop and the weather that changes up here like the light and the seasons and how it feels to really be out there in it.

Knowing it. Working it. Caring so desperately about it.

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And so on that pink carpet, I wrote it all down. These cattle. These horses. This land and the big sky and this overwhelming sense that this might be our purpose, no matter how completely uncertain it is.

To be a cowboy.

See ya in Elko.

Click herefor a full line up of performances and where you can catch my dad and me performing.

 

A year of work ends at the sale barn

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We sold our calves last week.

With snow on the ground and our warm breath turned to ice in the crisp morning air, we layered up, saddled up and gathered up our herd of Black Angus and Simmental cattle and loaded up the calves to head toward the sale barn in town.

My husband pulled a trailer load out of the ranch while I served the neighbors and family who helped us some of that good ol’ spiceless North Dakota chili and watched one of the bachelors eat at least six or seven apple bars for dessert.

And when they all left, I was suddenly alone in my house for the first time in months, smelling like horsehair and plenty warm because of the long underwear and silk scarf that stayed on through lunch. And I probably should have taken the time to clean up the kitchen and do something domestic-looking after the whirlwind that fall inevitably brings to the ranch, but sale day gives me a bit of nervous energy.

 

Typically we think of it as a whole year of work riding on what the market is doing that day, but for us, even though it’s not our sole source of income, it’s so much more. It’s holding your breath to be given a sign that we are not crazy people. That there might be a future for us in this cattle business somewhere, no matter the slow, steady and cautious pace with which we are pursuing it, working to find our footing as the new generation here.

And so I decided I couldn’t stay at home cooking and cleaning, waiting to hear the numbers — I had to go watch it myself. So I grabbed my young daughters and their tiny pink cowboy hats and we headed toward Dickinson.

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I wasn’t going to bring them. I mean, taking a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old to a smelly, noisy sale barn 60 miles away on a Thursday night during suppertime is really just asking for it, but I felt like we all needed to be there, this year especially.

Because, despite the smell, I love the sale barn. It reminds me of the Carhartt coveralls that I outgrew long before I was willing to hand them down, and being 8 or 9 and sitting shotgun next to my little sister, next to Dad, warming our flushed cheeks in the old Dodge pulling a load of Black Baldy calves through the breaks after an early-morning roundup.

It reminds me of patience in a time with less distraction, of a time when a can of Mountain Dew, a cheeseburger and maybe a Snickers bar at the little cafe there was a big-deal treat and took the sting out of the 45-minute wait in the pickup to unload with nothing but AM radio to cut the boredom.

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And so when I walked my girls into Stockmen’s Livestock Exchange, we wasted no time getting that pop and a burger, feeding my nostalgia while feeding them supper.

 

And when we took those steep steps up to sit on the benches in the ring, I quickly became aware that we were the kind of circus they just might appreciate around there.

“What is going on, Mommy?!” my little Rosie asked in complete wonder, pausing to watch before unloading all the tiny plastic cows, steers, horses and a Mickey Mouse onto the bench to amuse herself.

“We’re selling our calves today!” I told her proudly, which promptly set her big sister off into tears, declaring dramatically that she was going to miss them “so, so much!”

Twenty minutes and three plastic ponies flung at the buyers below us later, our load number was up and our calves began to enter the ring, just as Rosie spilled the entire contents of her pop down my husband’s back.

And just like that, the day we’d been working for all yearlong had come and gone, the scent of cattle on our clothes and plans for the year ahead drowning out the doubts as we chased our headlights and our bedtimes back home through the Badlands.

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Time to gather

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It’s fall. Shipping season.

The leaves have stripped from their branches, the horses are hairing up against the cold, the grass is golden and the cows and calves look like black dots on the hillsides.

We’re getting ready to gather.

We’re fixing up corrals and fences, hauling hay off the fields, calling in the uncles and putting on our chaps and silk scarves and wool caps, gearing up like those horses for a season as unpredictable as it is predictable.

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On this ranch, we’re in the same transition period as our neighbors and friends. This is the season. We all know it well.

But I can’t help but notice how much this shift-over is mimicking our lives right now as I sit here trying to hash out my thoughts after another visit to the bank and the insurance agent and our small business development consultant. My husband meets me in town with the feed pickup, dressed in layers because he’s been fixing on the tractor. He smells like the men I grew up with, coming inside with the cold and the scent of diesel on their jackets, noses and cheeks flushed under unshaven faces.

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He looks sort of out of place in the seat of the beige bank office in his big boots and Carhart coat. We’re talking numbers and new business plans and what it’s going to take for him to make a living building garages and decks and tiling bathrooms and kitchens and refinishing barns and haying and feeding and raising cattle, all the things he’s always known, now officially declared as the plan. As his occupation. Carpenter. Rancher.

I’m his champion in my going-to-town clothes, the same way he’s been my champion in all of the weird leaps I’ve taken as an entrepreneur with a job title too long and unconventional for a business card. Now it looks like our cards might start looking the same.

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When we first got married, I remember a moment when we were driving down the road toward home after a long trip together somewhere, and we made ourselves a promise that if we were ever in a place that we didn’t quite feel ourselves, or if we noticed the other slipping or not laughing as much as we know them to, that we would stop right there and help each other figure a way out.

I’m not sure exactly how the pact came to be, but I remember the road whizzing by outside my passenger window and I remember the lump in my throat dissolving with the breath I took after we declared it.

My husband and I talk dreams and plans for this ranch and our work almost every day. I don’t know if that’s a thing that everyone does, but we do it.

We lie in bed after the kids are finally sleeping and we hash it out, or we sit together in the noise and interruptions of our house and we make mental lists. We stand in the dark of our kitchen after I get home late and we recap and scheme.

And sometimes I don’t feel like thinking about it because it overwhelms me, but I listen.

And sometimes he is distracted by a phone call or a crying kid, but he comes back to it, to help me find my place again.

Because it’s important. Because you can’t see 10 years down the line, you can’t reach out and touch the plans, those dreams we have. And so we speak them out loud into the space between us.

Because it’s a new season and we’re getting ready to gather…

If you need someone to build an ark…

 

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If you need someone to build an ark…

“We’re supposed to get 1 to 3 inches of snow today,” he whispered, his shadow looming over me as I rubbed my eyes in the dark of the early morning, removed the toddler foot lodged in my ribs and tried to make sense of the horror of the first words I heard in my waking moments on the second day of October.

Here’s a tip, ladies and gentlemen: Unless you’re at a ski resort, this is not the sort of news you deliver to someone you love before delivering their morning coffee. I mean, just because you know it, doesn’t mean you need to pass it on.

I suggest lying instead. Say something like, “I think we should plan a trip to Florida!” and watch the stars and hearts appear in your loved ones eyes. She’ll make you caramel rolls for sure. Denial. That’s the lesson for today.

Because it’s been raining here for a good four days straight. The kind of rain that has kept the autumn ground lush and green, magically making white-topped mushrooms pop out of nowhere, keeping the yellow on the flowers and the road in and out of our house drivable only if you have a big four-wheel drive pickup, horse, tractor or hovercraft of some sort.

I imagine a hovercraft is what that water hauler was wishing for on Friday evening when he made the wrong turn onto our approach with his big rig onto a scoria road that couldn’t hold one more raindrop, let alone 25 tons on 18 wheels. And so there he sat, 50 feet of diagonal metal sideways across the only way out of the swamp we now call home.

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And so there we all sat, effectively immobile, jammed, lodged, wedged and in no uncertain terms stuck, stuck, stuck with no hope of moving until the relentless clouds relented… which didn’t happen until Tuesday.

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And so we did what any normal family would do when trapped in the house for an undetermined amount of time — home construction projects.

Don’t be jealous. Because when you live with the kind of man I live with, the kind who gives weather reports to the entire household before you and the sun have the chance to rise, then you know that we don’t need to take the 30-mile trip in the rain to the lumberyard to resurface the floors, build shelves in the entryway, change the laundry room into a pantry, install four new lighting units and roll out homemade noodles for supper to boot.

Because we have everything we need to survive the apocalypse scattered like a tornado of mismatched nuts, bolts, tools, scrap metal, tiles, epoxy, wire, wood, gears, motors, ladders and deep freezers in the garage attached to this house that will forever be a work in progress.

Yeah, my man’s prepared to be stranded, I tell you, and not the kind of stranded where you stay in your robe and slippers and eat macaroni and cheese and watch Netflix.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got God on the line here… he’s looking for someone to build an ark and, well, frankly, I have some questions…

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Potty pit stops are not a glamorous part of country living

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Good morning from the ranch where it’s been raining for three days straight, but it feels like 20, and where this truck has been stuck in our driveway since Friday night, essentially trapping those of us who don’t have the proper mud tires on our vehicles.

But as of 9:20 am, it’s gone,  which means it’s my turn to attempt the muddy trip out of here…

Yeah, there are things that are glamorous about country living, but this my fine people is not one of them.

And there’s more where that came from in this week’s column:

Potty pit stops are not a glamorous part of country living

There are times when I’m being whiny about how hard life is with two little kids and two (or three?) jobs plus the ranch and the laundry and the 40-minute trip to town, and I think of the women who came before me who raised their children without air conditioning or microwaveable chicken nuggets, and I tell myself to suck it up.

Because, well, these are First World, privileged Middle-American problems and I am lucky. This is all I ever wanted, (except for maybe $1 million collecting interest in the bank…)

But yesterday, I finally wrapped up my office work for the day at 5 o’clock knowing that I had to get the girls from day care at 5:30 and it took a good 10 minutes to drive from my office to the store, but I needed essentials like milk and granola so I did it anyway and forgot the granola, but made it to day care by 5:29 and then wrestled my dear munchkins into their car seats, distributed an equal share of snack and drink for the long drive home before stopping at the gas station to fill up my tank so I wouldn’t have another gas can situation — and just as I turned the corner on the last stoplight out of town with two quiet kids munching on crackers in the back, I dared to think I might actually have it under control.

That’s when I heard a panicked voice from the back: “I have to go potty!” And at that moment, I thought that there are a lot of things about raising my children in the country that make me forever grateful for the life that we have, like wide-open spaces and wild plum picking and watching them catch toads in the backyard….

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but this?

This was definitely not one of them. So I did what any good mom would do and I asked her if she could hold it. And she did what any good almost-4-year-old would do and said she would try. Which she did while she argued with her little sister about who had the right milk cup and then who had more crackers and then gave me suggestions on my radio choices before asking, repeatedly, if she could have a piece of gum that did not exist, a request that prompted a full-on meltdown from her little sister who happens to be obsessed with gum, before, finally, about 10 miles from our home, she winced, pulled her knees to her chest and whimpered, “I really, really have to go potty!”

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And so I did what any good mom would do and said, “OK, OK, OK, just a minute, hold it just a little bit longer,” and then proceeded to cuss under my breath while trying to simultaneously speed up and slow down to prepare to pull over in the nearest approach, which just happened to be an oil location.

And while truck after pickup after SUV rolled by on their way to an oil site or home or to work or to sports practice on a busy Tuesday evening, I crouched in the ditch, my butt in the air, trying and failing to shield passerby’s from witnessing my daughter’s emergency situation, our hair blowing in the 30 mph North Dakota autumn prairie wind, her bare bum catching that breeze, waiting, er, for the plop which would put us all out of our misery.

Except that plop never came. Turns out she’d rather poop in the potty at home. Which she did, and we all lived happily ever after in our home in the hills 30 miles from the nearest public restroom.

And if you need me, I’ll be loading up that portable kids toilet I bought three months ago that’s still in the box in the garage.

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The devil in the barnyard…

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Coming Home: The Devil in the barnyard

Ahh, autumn’s beauty.

Serene. Peaceful. Golden hues, warm setting sun, a light breeze, 10 perfect horses grazing on the hillside. From far away, it looks like I exist in a painting. From far away, it looks like something in a coffee table book. From far away, our horses are sleek and groomed, with slick, shiny coats glistening in the bug-free air.Come a little closer, pretty boys, let me run my hands through your manes, bury my face in your coat, ride like the wind as the autumn air whips through my gorgeous hair so that I look just like that woman on her mount in the clothing poster in the dressing room at the Western store.

Yes, I’ll be her. Just let me get my long, flowing dress and giant earrings and we’ll show them what it’s like out here in the Wild West of North Dakota. We will be specimens, just what those stable horses and city dwellers dream of being — free, agile, spirited, untamed, wild and…

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Full. Of. Burrs.

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I weep. I twitch. I scratch. … Yeah, from far away, it all looks so glamorous, but I’m here to tell you the truth and the truth is that I believe the devil himself created the burdock plant that grows wild in our draws and, if left to its devices, grows 6 feet tall and at full bloom produces hundreds of evil Velcro balls that attach to anything and everything that gets within 10 feet from the plant.

Yeah, you might not believe it, but cockleburs can jump. I’ve seen it and I don’t understand it. I don’t understand any of it. I mean, the Lord, I believe he created all things for a purpose. The worms for the birds, the mosquitoes for the frogs, the mice for the snakes, the snakes for the hawks, the weeds for the goats. I get it. I know how the chain works. I see the big picture. Lord, I do indeed.

But cockleburs? I just don’t get it. The only answer to the riddle of why these beastly, gnarly, poky, sticky, buds of torture exist has to be that while the sweet Lord was busily and happily creating the Earth and all its inhabitants, he had mercy on the Devil and gave in to his plea to let him have a chance at inventing something too. “Ah, what the heck?” the ever trusting Lord thought to himself. “Maybe the Devil has turned himself around.”

And so the Lord gave in, suggesting maybe the Devil start off with something small, like a nice green plant, maybe a pretty flower. Then the Devil rubbed his spindly little hands together, swished his tail and snickered with glee as he concocted a plan for a plant to take over barnyards everywhere.

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“It will start out innocently enough,” he growled to himself while God had his back turned, busy inventing baby ducks. “Some people will mistake it for rhubarb and happily collect it to bake in pies for unsuspecting neighbors (true story for another day). Bwahahahah… cough, cough, wheeeze… and then it will grow. It will grow tall and strong in the most inconvenient places, like in front of the barn, and along the water tank, or the edges of creeks and under shady trees, everywhere a beautiful horse with a long luscious mane might want to wander,” the Devil snorted.

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God moved on next to lily pads, with those pretty little yellow flowers, and then finished out his day with penguins and cotton balls, all the while trusting the Devil to do the right thing. But no. The Devil had plans…

“It won’t need sun,” he howled, pacing. “In fact, it will prefer the dark places. But when the sun does hit it, no worries. It will just sprout the best part, the best part of it all… the sticky, scratchy little balls that will jump off the plant and stick to EVERYTHING, allowing my weed to spread to every corner of the prairie!”

He laughed, he roared, “And it will multiply and grow and thrive!! Because nothing. NOTHING WILL EAT IT! Mwahahaaa!”

And with that, and a swipe of his red-hot pitchfork thing, burdock was invented.

Now I wish I wouldn’t have put on this long, flowing ball gown for this horse frolic photo shoot, because I am pretty sure I have a burr stuck to my butt…

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How to mow the lawn at the ranch

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How to mow the lawn at the ranch
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It’s July at the ranch and the cows are out to pasture, I’m out singing for my supper, the guys are out in the hayfield and the kids are out running naked in the yard.

And while we’re all out, the grass in that yard just keeps growing. Because there’s nothing that a ranch yard loves more than a family too busy to landscape.

But when I lost Rosie in the weeds on a walk to the mailbox the other day, I thought it might be time to dust off the ol’ lawn tractor and get to work before it became a job for the swather.

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Oh, I love mowing the lawn, but apparently not enough to make it a priority over a 10 p.m. bedtime, which seems to be the only time left at the end of our summer days where I can escape to the tranquil, solitary bliss of the grass cutting motor.

Seriously though, it’s laughable what it takes to get such a simple chore done in my world these days. And because this is my life now, I’m gonna take this opportunity to walk you through it.

First things first, because we’re too cheap and stubborn to get new tires on my most prized possession, I have to dig out the ol’ trusty air compressor from the depths of the garage and air up two of the four tires. Done. No big deal, just have to pay attention to the slow leak to avoid the flat-tire-lawn-mowing-figure-eight-cut-in-our-lawn incident of June 1 that we’ve only recently recovered from.

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Next, I need to clear the area. Roll up the hose to the driveway in front. Roll up the hose to the garden in back and move the piece of barbed wire that’s supposed to serve as a makeshift gate to keep the cows out of the yard, but judging by the amount of cow pies in my grass, clearly needs to be re-engineered.

Then I properly roll my eyes and huff at the amount of toddler debris strung about before picking up five Barbies, 10 balls, a G.I. Joe, a mini lawn rake, a battery-operated four-wheeler and 35 half-painted rocks.

Next comes my favorite part — heaving the trampoline, fire pit, plastic slide, turtle sandbox and inflatable pool onto the little concrete pad under the deck and out of the way. And just when I think I’ve got it all, I need to turn and break my toe on the stake we set out to tie the pony up three weeks ago at our niece’s third birthday party.

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But really, it’s all worth it when I finally get on that mower, turn the key, put down the blade and start knocking down the roughage. The wind in my hair, the sun on my back, I start first along the sides of the road going up to the mailbox and let my thoughts wander to getting a job with the park board or something because this is my calling.

The lawn mower is my favorite piece of equipment, the lawn mower is my spirit animal, the lawn mower is my freedom, the lawn mower is… out of gas.

Next step, call Husband to instruct on gas can situation. Assess gas can situation. Lug giant gas can up the road. Spill a fair amount of gas down my leg and into my shoe. Decide it’s good enough. Start ‘er back up again to resume feelings of freedom.

Run over a log, get stuck twice, get unstuck twice, run over two big rocks in the ditch and three horse poops and have a near miss with the shovel we were supposed to use to scoop up said horse poops.

Give three kids a ride, run out of gas again, fill up again, almost get stuck one more time, sweat, smile, park and, four hours later, hands on hips, look out at that fine manicured lawn thinking Better Homes and Gardens has nothing on me. Now if they would just let me run the swather.

If you need me, I’ll be out in the yard. I have a turtle sandbox that needs to get back in its proper place.

Yours in peace, love and lawn care,

Jessie

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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.

Prairie Sunset

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