My attempt at winter.

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Oh my gosh you guys we got a lotta snow out here the past few days.

In a blink of an eye it turned from Thanksgiving to Christmas and I haven’t been out of the house since Sunday.

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I’ve been home with the baby and then, the past two days, Husband brought her in town to play at daycare and I’ve been hunkered down at my laptop trying my damnedest to finish this book project, which means I’ve been combing through the archives of the past five years of blogging, column writing and photo taking, trying to pick my favorites and make it all make sense together and generally going crazy and becoming completely sick of myself.

So before the sun set I decided to go outside to see what I could see and get this stink off of me.

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Husband said the road up and out of the house was pretty bad, but that he got after it with the tractor last night and cleared it up a bit more, so I was feeling confident I could help him finish the chore he didn’t get to last night (or last weekend before the storm hit like we should have done), which was moving the 4-wheelers into the big garage in the barn yard.

No problem.

But first I needed my hat, cloves, boots, neckerchief and coveralls, which were upstairs in the garage in a bin where, apparently, judging by the evidence of hair, the cat sleeps.

No problem. A little cat hair never hurt anything.

Now, time to start the 4-wheeler. But first, I need a shovel to brush the foot of snow off, and also, maybe dig a little trail behind it to help it get unstuck.

No problem. Started right up. Pulled right out, drove down the road along the snow trail Husband cut with his pickup this morning and I was toot-tooting right along until…ugh…what’s that smell?…stop.

Sniff my coat.

Sniff my glove.

Sniff my hand.

Sniff my coveralls.

Sniff my coveralls again…

Smells like cat piss.

The cat pissed on my coveralls.

I was wearing cat piss coveralls. A perfect outfit for failing my five attempts at making it through the snow and up the hill and out of our driveway to get to the big shop in the barnyard.

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So me and my cat piss coveralls brought it back home to get the pickup and, still trying to be helpful and avoid going back to my computer, I drove the pickup to the shop so Husband could drive it home when he figured out a way to easily get that 4-wheeler out of the yard and into the shop, finishing my half-assed attempt at getting a chore done like usual.

I don’t know how he’ll feel about his pickup being parked there, but it’s too late now. I walked home and left it for him anyway, me and my stink cloud trailing behind me, hitting some snow banks that had me crawling on my hands and knees to get out, successfully completing enough exercise to at least get me through the rest of December.

Now I’m home and my lungs are burning, my back is sweating, my cheeks are frozen, my book’s still not done and getting the stink off me failed in more than way than one.

But if I hurry I might get myself a full shower, leg shave and everything, before the baby gets home.

So that’s something.

Peace, Love and Cat Pee Pants,

Jessie

Memories in October Rain

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Today it’s snowing. Big white, silent flakes falling from the sky and accumulating on the earth and tree branches, coating the grass, which has turned green again in late fall due to all the rain we’ve had.

The last of my garden is sitting in a basket safe from the weather in the garage, tomatoes in various sizes and states of readiness, waiting for me to turn them into salsa, someday soon hopefully.

Our plans for finishing up the rest of the outdoor projects–hauling hay, staining the house,  mowing the lawn one last time–have come to a pause as we wait for it to melt off again.

Sunday it was nearly 80 degrees.

Saturday was in the 30s.

‘Tis the season of extremes in North Dakota.

And ’tis the season of nostalgia for me.

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Coming Home: October rain brings back childhood memories
by Jessie Veeder
10-9-16
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

It rained all day yesterday. Big sheets of water fell from the sky, straight down and then sideways, giant drops making puddles in places puddles rarely exist in the dry autumn months around here.

I’ve always been fascinated with the rain around here, and yesterday, as I stood with Edie pressing our noses to the glass doors on this house, it occurred to me that fascination still holds.

Because water transforms this place. It’s one of the only kinds of real magic I know exists, besides how the heck the hornets keep getting into the house.

In the unpredictable weather we live in up here, I find it comforting to know that we can always count on a season change. But I’ve never seen one like this.

It’s been so wet this fall that overnight big white mushrooms sprouted up like oversized golf balls scattering our lawn, a lawn that had to wait until October to fully turn green.

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We rarely get soaking rain like this so late in the year. This morning I looked out the window and noticed that the trees looked like they were shivering, their leaves shaking on the branches as they work to hold on tight to this season.

Tomorrow it might snow.

These weather shifts always turn me a bit nostalgic.

I drive through my parents’ yard, my tires splashing through the puddles that have been forming in the same places since I was a kid and I remember the time when my little sister—she was about 5 or 6—took her sled out to where the warm sun had melted the snow in the driveway. A big body of water had formed and to her it looked like a perfect place to try to float. So she plopped her sled down on the edge and took a seat.

I can still see her brown curls escaping from her ponytail and her look of surprise and disappointment when her sled-boat sank, freezing cold water flooding over the shallow edges of the plastic sled, soaking her purple snowpants.

Funny how something as simple as a puddle can bring back big memories. I guess that’s what happens when you find yourself all grown up in the place that grew you.

I opened the windows of this house this morning and the smell of damp leaves and the brisk morning air turned me back into a 12-year-old girl on the back of my red mare riding alongside my little sister on her white pony, Jerry.

We’re on our way to the reservation to round up cattle and bring them home to wean. Our noses are cold and we can see our breath, but the sun is shining, the dew making the yellow leaves sparkly and golden.

And we’re paying no attention really. We’re just kids, spitting plum pits at one another and screeching when that pony, like he always did, decided he had enough for the day, gave up and laid down on the trail in an attempt to get rid of that curly-haired cowgirl on his back.

Dozens of autumns have passed since, creating countless memories I could recall, but the scent of the season and the change of the leaves always turn me into that little girl in a red barn jacket, as if that’s the only person I’m supposed to be in this season.

And I can’t help but wonder, as I open up the door so Edie can feel the cool air, what this season might mean to her when she’s a grown woman. I wonder what she’ll remember with the crunch of the leaves beneath her boots and what stories will fall from the sky and gather like big puddles of October rain.

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Frosting

Last week our world was covered in ice.
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This week, just in time for Christmas, it has turned nice and white (and rather slippery).

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The beautiful thing about this place and its erratic weather is that every day it looks a little bit different out there.

Every day it’s a little bit new.

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So I like to explore it. And when the new pup is involved in my little quest, it’s even more fun.

He’s just a ball of energy jumping around, licking the snow, biting the heads off of weeds and bouncing his way around, discovering his world.

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So take a break from what is hopefully your last working day before Christmas, sit back and watch my home transform from icy brown to white.

Because who doesn’t love a little frosting, especially on the holidays.

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Peace, Love and Merry Christmas,

Jessie

Sunday Column: The longest season

It’s been snowing all weekend.

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Actually, it’s been snowing all week.

Yesterday, after a night out singing with the band until 4 am I was a pathetic pile of “I’m too old for this…”

and, thankfully, the weather cooperated with my lack of sleep. On and off white-out flurries outside my window coincided nicely with the opening and closing of my eye lids.

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At one point I mustered up enough energy to look at myself in the mirror and actually scared myself.

“Wow,” I said to MYSELF from our bathroom upstairs. “I’m a mess.”

To which my husband replied a little too quickly and a little too loudly from his perch at the kitchen table downstairs, “Yup.”

“Shut it,” I said said as I found my way back to the fuzzy blanket on the couch with my kitten.

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And that was about the extent of our conversations that day, up until I woke up from my late afternoon nap and wondered out loud what he was going to cook me for supper.

But he was putting together a gun or something on the kitchen counter, (classic hunting season scene) so I decided on macaroni and cheese and thought maybe tomorrow I would try life again.

So I went to bed.

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And today I woke up to more winter.

And so it begins.

But thankfully we saw it coming. We heard about that pesky Polar Vortex, but we could smell it in the air, see it in the wooly fur on the backs of the horses and the crust of ice on the stock dam in the mornings long before the weatherman came up with the clever graphics.

So I called up Pops and the two of us went on the last ride before the snow flew while Husband was out sitting in a blind working on filling his bow tag and our freezer with venison.

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And that’s what this week’s column is all about. It’s about noticing the signs of a changing world. It’s about the animals and how they move around us, the coyotes running wild outside our door, the deer in the rut, the horses carrying us into a new season, and this bald eagle that perched out in front of the windows of our house, posing just long enough so we could all see him before spreading his wings and flying away.

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IMG_9932Coming Home: Change of seasons hits inside and out
by Jessie Veeder
11-16-14
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

It’s about the minutes we spend just being aware enough to exist out here and appreciate it for what it is.

Gold turning to gray. Sun going down turning a blue sky black and our breath to puffs of smoke.

Fall turning quickly into the longest season.

IMG_0165I write a weekly column for North Dakota newspapers. Look for “Coming Home” Sundays in the Fargo Forum, and weekly in the Dickinson Press, Grand Forks Herald and Bismarck Tribune. Want my column in your newspaper? Let me know and I’ll help you make it happen!

Colder.

IMG_9959It’s cold.

10 degrees and it looks like that’s where it’s gonna stay. All day. The rest of the week.

I wanna snuggle up in a big ‘ol pile with this kitten and all my blankets.

IMG_9944It’s funny how fast the seasons shift around here. I’ve lived here long enough to expect it, but just a few days ago it was sunny and mild and the hilltops were gold and we were walking around saying, “What a beautiful fall we’ve been having!” “Aren’t we lucky!”

IMG_1218And then, overnight…

IMG_0155Below zero temperatures. Icy roads, people trying to remember where they put their favorite scarf. Hat. Mittens.

IMG_0160I hauled the giant tub of winter gear upstairs to sort through. Ordered a new pair of snow boots.  

Took the dogs for a walk.

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Turned around after five minutes and went back inside.

Shit. It’s cold.

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I’m not ready for this.

The dam is froze up. Ranchers are breaking ice and feeding hay.

IMG_9961I am making plans for soup for dinner every night for the next six months.

I even went to craft club and attempted to make mittens out of an old sweater.

I hadn’t used a sewing machine since I nearly failed Home Ec. in the 8th grade. This time it didn’t go much better.

I required assistance. A lot of assistance. And the mittens, well, one is done. Sorta. I might need to call Martha Stewart…and pour a drink…

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But these are the things people out here do in the winter. They have hobbies. Or create new ones that will help them pass the time in the dark and cold that settles in here around 5 pm and lingers until the morning. And some might pour a little bourbon in a glass, you know, to thaw out a bit…

If the cold and the white on the plains were as inspiring to as many people as the waves in the ocean hitting the shore, or the tall pines of the mountains reaching toward the sky, we would have thousands of poets and painters here telling the story of a frozen world.

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But the cold settling in on the plains is a beauty recognized by the characters out here who  can’t help but marvel at extremes. They appreciate what cold does to the body and the soul, makes it slow down, recharge, toughen up and soften up at the same time.

We take pride in the taking care of things, the animals, the driveway, one another.

We laugh at things like frozen eyeballs, snot-sicles and relocated southerners who think 20 degrees is as cold as it gets.

It is cold. But it will get colder.

My Lord, will it get colder.

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It Came In With The Night
Go find your mittens
so your fingers don’t freeze
slip on your big boots
pull your socks to your knees

Dig out your best scarf
wrap it round yourself tight
the snow has arrived here

it came in with the night.

I’ll put the roast in the oven
and heat the milk on the stove
they’ll be right here waiting
when you come in from the cold

Knocking ice from the branches
and stringing Christmas tree lights
yes the snow has arrived dear

it came in with the night.

So squeeze on your knit cap
over wild wooly hair
watch your breath float and drift
in the crisp morning air

Break the ice for the cattle
put the saddles away
yes the snow has arrived here

and I think it might stay.

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Love and snow fall…

We woke up this Valentines Day to find a nice fresh coat of fluffy snow, a little sun and some sparkle in the air.

I was happy to see it, because for about three months it’s literally been too cold to snow.

Yes.

Too. Cold. To. Snow.

That’s a thing here.

Which means I’ve been cooped up a bit, and so has my camera. Things like cameras and fingers don’t work too well when it’s too cold to snow.

But those clouds and that sun seemed to be working this morning (I mean it was like 10 degrees above zero) so I went out in it.

A gift to myself for a day covered in love.

Love and sparkly snow on the tips of berry covered branches…

On the noses of dogs…

Ok, all over the faces of dogs…

On the tips of the grass…

On the backs of horses…

In barnyards…

and all of the things made more beautiful with a little light…

and a little frosting.

Happy Valentines Day Friends. Spread a little love today.

Sunday Column: Living with the wild things

Well, party people, look what the weekend drug in.

Snow and rain and not a green thing in site. Thanks to everyone who’s been sharing thier spring photos on the Facebook page and email. Every pretty flower cheers me and every snow flurry makes me feel less alone in this arctic tundra!

It’s not too late to get in on the game! Whether the birds are chirping in the warm sunshine or retreating back to the southern climates, abandoning the whole migration idea all together, show us how spring is shaping up in your neck of the woods and I will post them  all on the website Monday. Our favorite photo will win a copy of my new album “Nothing’s Forever” and a print of a warmer and prettier spring day at the Veeder Ranch.

So make (and warm up) my day and post your photos on the Facebook page or send me an email at jessieveeder@gmail.com

In the meantime, read  my Fargo Forum column on the other unpredictable thing around here–wildlife.

Coming Home: Humans, beasts learn to coexist.
Jessie Veeder, Fargo Forum
April, 21, 2013

Because like snow in April, some things just need to keep thier distance.

Peace, Love and Sunday Pancakes,

Jessie

And then came the sun.

This morning I woke up to another dreary, snowy, cold, white, un-springy day, a husband who couldn’t make it to work on account of a night spent puking and a pug literally hiding with his head under the covers and his ass facing the world.

I felt like doing the same thing, not puking, but, you know, just letting my ass face the world. Because, I mean, look at it…not a crocus in sight…

I was going to tell you all about it, after I took a few photos of the icicles hanging off the eaves,

the gray, dreary sky, the white flakes fluttering across bare and brown branches,

cold, leftover leaves,

big brown dog’s big brown cold nose,

and  ground just begging to warm up…

I was prepared to feel like the pug who doesn’t wake up to face the dog dish until well after the noon hour, going to absorb the sad, gray, so unspringlike day into my veins and mope a bit over peanut butter toast and coffee that just couldn’t be black enough, ignore the dishes in the sink and just say well shit, it’s snowing. It’s snowing again.

But then the sun came out.

and the gray turned to sparkle,

the bland to beautiful,

the gray to blue,

and the leftovers looked a little less lonely.

Ah, the sun.

The sun!

Look at that, the sun.

What a difference you made.



I hope you found your sun today.

Restless waiting.

This is what March looks like from the inside of my house with the door open as I watch nature do her thing.

In ten to fifteen minutes the wind will really pick up, whistling through the branches of the trees and blowing that fluffy snow in white, blinding swirls.

I will think about Husband out there on the roads that were coated in rain yesterday afternoon and likely frozen solid today and I will worry until I hear the sound of his boots clump up the steps and the creak of the door as it swings open.

Home, safe and sound in the middle of a full-blown March blizzard.

Oh, we get one or two in this month that promises spring pretty soon, but not quite yet.

Kids all across the state are celebrating the first snow day of the winter by bundling up to head outside and build forts and fling snowballs or snuggling in their jammies under a blanket with popcorn and a movie.

Teachers are taking this free day to catch up on paperwork, housework or finish that book they haven’t had time to start, dads and moms are shoveling sidewalks and driveways, college students are drinking beer or playing video games, grampas are watching the radar, ranchers with cattle under their care are worrying about calving and throwing an extra straw bale out on the snowy ground and the southerners up here for work are wondering what the hell they’ve gotten themselves into.

Me? Well, I’m in my long underwear staring out the window at the way the snow swirls and drifts and makes the walls of this house moan a bit. The snow is melting from my boots and making puddles on the warm floor in the entryway and the dogs are snoring on their spots, a result of our morning trek outside to admire the way the snow had settled on the trees overnight.

That was before the wind picked up and shook it off.

That was before Husband was home safe and sound.

That was before I ate a sandwich and wrote a song I think I might have written before and thanked the heavens from where this snow was falling that I didn’t have to be anywhere but home.

Because an hour ago I was making my way to the top of the hill to see what the overnight snow had done to yesterday’s brown landscape. The dogs reached the summit before me, their ears blowing in the wind and their eyes squinting against the snowflakes landing on their eyelashes with growing force.

I knelt down to snap a photo of a frozen, sleepy flower and headed for the shelter of the oaks.

No matter the wind and the weather those trees are a haven and a sort of quiet mystery to me. I know that’s where the horses are, somewhere in this pasture huddled together in the oak groves. I know that’s where the deer bed and the elk hide and the squirrels and grouse and maybe even the mountain lions go to wait out the weather.

To wait  for spring.

And I know I won’t see them today, the blizzard growing more severe and the dogs more obnoxious and curious as they snort and roll and climb in and out of the banks.

This time of year I get restless. This time of year I get worried that I won’t have another great idea, that my skin will never be brown again, that I won’t ever warm up.

Last night I declared these worries out loud to Husband who lay next to me in bed, relaxed and assured and breathing softly in the dark.

In the quiet calm of a Sunday night, a night working on brewing a storm that would keep us tucked in our houses the next day, I said, “What if I never write another song? What if all of my ideas are used up? What if I’m not good enough to keep up with the plans I have? What if I get sad and stay sad? I can’t be sad. I don’t have time to be sad.”

He was silent for the moment after the words I chose, the ones that went… “I wish you understood…” and then he said, “You can be sad. And you can do nothing. Sometimes you need to do nothing. And then, you need to get up, go outside and live a life that gives you something to write about.”

So I went out in the storm today, not because I don’t know what it feels like, but because I wanted to feel it again. Because I wanted to be reminded.

And I wanted to be cold and out of breath and far away from the house and the work and the worry and sheltered by nothing but the heavy branches of the oaks.

I wanted to be quiet and let nature–uncontrollable, unpredictable, fascinatingly, frustratingly, beautifully unyielding nature–do her thing while the rest of the world made snowmen and banana bread, mopped floors and read newspapers, navigated snowy roads, called friends, made plans and wrote novels.

And I, like the deer bedded down and undetectable, did nothing but wait.

Snow on the backs of horses.

This is what it looks like when you put a house cat out in the snow for the first time in its life.

Coincidently this is also the face that was staring back at her after I peeled her out of my arms like a piece of velcro with really strong legs ..and then again off my head…and then again off of my boots.

We’re in a fight, but don’t feel bad for her, the weather is warming up and I think it’s time she gets acclimated to this wild place.

Yes, tomorrow it will be March and my longing for green grass, crocuses and creek beds overflowing with melted snow will summon me to pull on my muck boots and go exploring for the slightest change in scenery.

It will be March tomorrow, and I feel the chilled surrender that January brings start to break up and separate inside of me, even as I stand under a gray sky that blends into the horizon as if it weren’t a sky at all but a continuation of the snowy landscape…below us, above us…surrounding us.

Flakes fell from that sky yesterday afternoon, big and soft and gentle they drifted down to the icy earth and summoned me from behind my windows to come outside and stick out my tongue.

When the snow falls like this, not sideways or blowing or whipping at our faces, but peaceful and steady and quiet, it’s a small gift. I feel like I’m tucked into the mountains instead of exposed and vulnerable on the prairie. I feel like, even in the final days before March, that someone has shaken the snow globe just the right amount to calm me down and get me out of my head.

When the snow falls like this I go look for the horses. I want to see what those flakes look like as they settle on their warm backs, on their soft muzzles and furry ears. I trudge to the barnyard or to the fields and wait for them to spot me, watching as they move toward that figure in a knit cap and boots to her knees, an irregular dot on a landscape they know by heart.

I know what they want as they stick their noses in my pockets, sniff at my camera and fight for the first spot in line next to me. I know they want a scratch between their ears.

I know they want a bite of grain.

They know I can get it for them.

Our horses in the winter take on a completely different persona. The extra layer of fur they grow to protect them from the weather makes them appear less regal and more approachable.

Softer.

I like to take off my mitten and run my fingers through that wool, rubbing them down to the skin underneath where they keep the smell of clover and the warmth of the afternoon sun. I like to put my face up to their velvet noses and look into those eyes and wonder if they miss the green grass as much as I do.

On this snowy, gray, almost March afternoon the horses are my closest link to an inevitable summer that doesn’t seem so inevitable under this knit hat, under this colorless sky.

I lead them to the grain bin and open the door, shoveling out scoops of grain onto the frozen ground. They argue over whose pile is whose, nipping a bit and moving from spot to spot like a living carrousel. I talk to the them, “whoah boys, easy” and walk away from the herd with an extra scoop for the new bay, his head bobbing and snorting behind me.

In a month or so the ground will thaw and the fur on the back of these animals will let loose and shake off, revealing the slick and silky coat of chestnut, white, deep brown, gold and black underneath. We will brush them off, untangle their manes, check their feet and climb on their backs and those four legs will carry us over the hills and down in the draws and to the fields where we will watch for elk or deer or stray cattle as the sun sinks below the horizon.

I move my hand across the bay’s back, clearing away the snowflakes that have settled in his long hair and I rest my cheek there, breathing in the scent of hay and dust and warmer days.

He’s settled into chewing now, his head low and hovering above the pile of grain I placed before him. He’s calm and steady so I can linger there for a moment and wonder if he tastes summer in the grain the same way I smell it in his skin.

My farewell to winter is long, lingering and ceremonious.

But it has begun. At last, it has begun.