Diary of a Christmas Blizzard: A comparison

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Diary of a Christmas Blizzard: A Comparison
by Jessie Veeder
1-1-17
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

My gramma Edie used to keep a diary of her life here at the Veeder Ranch. They weren’t particularly thorough, and most were written in tiny scrawl on pocket calendars with most every entry detailing accounts of the weather, work, cattle and who stopped by the place for a cup of coffee or to borrow something.

It makes me wonder today, as I sit staring at the chest-deep snow drift that has piled up against my glass living room doors, how she might have documented the snow-pocalypse Christmas blizzard of 2016 if she were still alive today.

I imagine it like this:

December 25, 2016. Christmas. It snowed all day today, about 16 inches with big drifts in places. Wind was strong.

The kids got home in time to beat the storm but will have to stay an extra day to dig out. The boys pushed enough snow to get the cows fed. Gene cooked a nice prime rib meal. Had a good time with the family.

As a writer I appreciate my grandmother’s diligence in keeping her journals, but while I share her sentiment for recording history, I hold quite a bit more flair for the dramatic details.

My diary looks a little more like this:

December 25, 2016. CHRISTMAS! Well, the plague might have kept me from participating in our traditional Christmas Eve pancake supper and seeing my baby in her Christmas dress try to eat the Silent Night candle at church, but it looks like I lived. Oh, and despite the howling and whipping wind, they got power back to mom and dad’s house last night before 10 p.m., making the local linemen the real heroes of the holiday.

This morning we woke up to a fun Christmas surprise! Our baby decided she can full-on walk, so we dressed her in her red tutu, chased her up and down the hallway and helped her open her presents at home before gathering up the caramel rolls, presents, diaper bag, snowsuits, boots and a partridge in a pear tree to head down the road to spend the day at Mom and Dad’s.

We were just about to walk out the door when we got a phone call. Gramma and Grampa stayed at the cabin last night and on their way out of the barnyard they made a detour for the ditch.

At that time only a few of the bazillion predicted snowflakes had fallen, but it wasn’t long before the wind started howling, the sky opened up and we were unwrapping presents, eating prime rib and playing dominoes in a regular shaken-up snow globe.

Speaking of shaking, turns out you shouldn’t bounce a baby who has consumed two pounds of blueberries, turkey, prime rib, 27 crackers and a bite of every dessert on the table.

While an epic blizzard raged outside, inside Edie brewed up and delivered a Christmas bedtime projectile vomit that’s sure to go down in infamy.

It snowed about a good foot or so by the time we loaded up to head home. Dad followed us in his pickup in case we got stuck along the way. I think he likes plowing through the drifts more than a grown man should…

December 26, 2016. Well, the weatherman wasn’t joking.

I woke up to a chest-deep snowdrift on my deck, more snow falling from the sky and a wind that was intent on making it impossible to clear the roads.

Mom called and said their heat wasn’t working, sending Dad up to the roof to clear the chimney, successfully rubbing the shine off the Christmas snow globe analogy.

The guys spent six hours in tractors trying to get my grandparents dug out of the 12-foot snowdrift that piled up on the cabin overnight.

In the meantime, my little sister and I were snowed in at the house without any leftovers. Seriously. I should have grabbed the cheese ball on my way out the door on Christmas night. What was I thinking?

We spent the afternoon eating chili and keeping the baby from crashing on the mini-4-wheeler she got from my in-laws. I haven’t seen this much snow out here in my lifetime. I see an epic sledding party in our future, guests arriving by sled and tractor…

Had a good time with family.

 

 

Time, memories and the magic of Christmas

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Well, it was a Christmas to remember for so many reasons.

The first was waking up on Christmas Day to a baby who decided that she’s ready to full-fledge walk.

And so we spent the weekend watching her wobble and bobble and dance and clap and experience her world on two feet.

Tomorrow she’ll be running.

Next week she’ll tell me she’s training for a marathon.

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And in between all of the present wrapping and unwrapping, eating, drinking and being merry, an epic winter blizzard of North Dakota proportions raged outside our doors, making us grateful to be together warm and cozy inside…

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only to send the boys out the spend the entire next day behind tractors and skid steers and shovels trying to open the roads and feed the cows and whittle away at the ten foot drifts that had piled against our houses, doors and pathways.

And then there was a Christmas ditch situation and a memorable the-baby-ate-too-many-blueberries-and-other-Christmas-treats bedtime projectile vomit episode that will go down in infamy.

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And now that the company has gone and the wind has died down and the sun is out, making the chest-deep snowdrift on my deck sparkle and shine, I have a moment while the baby snacks on Cheerios (and blueberries…what’s wrong with me?) to share last week’s column about the magic of Christmas, which, I’ve decided, lies in the simple and crazy precious memories we create without even realizing it.

Even when nothing goes as planned.

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Christmas reminds us of the magic of time
12-25-16
Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

I was too old to believe in Santa Clause when reality finally started tugging at my sleeves.

I tried to shoo the truth away as long as I could, not so eager to grow up and exist in a world surrounded by it because the truth never seemed quite as thrilling as the dreamed up.

I suppose I’ve always been one to hang on to the coattails of magic as long as it lets me, as long as it doesn’t grow too wild and reckless, sending me spinning and whipping off its haunches.

I think that’s what keeps me telling and retelling the best parts then, the ones from a childhood spent believing that maybe my horse could understand the words I spoke, my “secret spot” 12 feet off the road was actually secret and Santa Clause would exist as long as I found a way to never grow up.

I never wanted to grow up.

Of all of the memories I’ve collected as a kid in these hills, I remember that most clearly.

I was sensitive enough to the trials of adulthood to know that children had it best. I knew because I was listening from the other side of my closed bedroom door — hushed conversations in the kitchen while we were supposed to be sleeping, the stories of lost love coming from dad’s record player, the hugs from strangers at my grandparents’ funerals.

I knew what time did to people, and I wondered how I might make it miss me.

My grandpa died when I was six years old. His death brought our family back to the ranch for good, and it gave me another five years or so living down the road from my grandmother.

Actually, it gave us all that time with her, but I don’t own my family’s memories. I only have mine.

And I remember one summer evening lying in the patch of sun that lit up the carpet through the open window in my grandmother’s living room.

The TV was on, but it wasn’t as interesting to me as watching the way the dust caught the stream of light, turning it from invisible to visible.

My grandma had fallen asleep in her easy chair with a newspaper on her lap, her head tilted back, sort of snoring. She had a habit of holding a toothpick in the corner of her mouth, and I noticed as she took those deep, noisy breaths that her toothpick was still there, in danger, I was certain, of being sucked down her throat as she slept, unaware.

That’s the kind of kid I was, so comfortable and in love with the familiarity of my good and safe life, and a little too aware of its volatility, a little worried I was too lucky.

I sat up, eyes fixated on that toothpick, watching my grandmother’s lips purse and pop with each breath in and out, suddenly becoming distinctly aware of time.

I didn’t want to live in a world without her.

And I didn’t want to live in a world where time made me think it too cold for sledding or allowed me to walk by a swimming pool or a lake or the perfect puddle and not want to, (have to) jump in.

And so Christmas has come again, and the new year is right behind, bringing with it the recognition of time passed, new promises and reminders to miss the people who’ve left us here to admire the twinkling lights without them.

Now that I’ve succumbed to adulthood, I wish I could remember what it was like to truly believe in such an impossible thing like Santa Clause. My six-year-old self would be so disappointed in me.

But if I could, I would tell her a secret I’ve learned in the growing up we were so afraid of: I would say she was doing the right thing in holding on tight to her gratitude. Then I would tell her not to worry so much about time, because time gives us memories, memories we get to go back to whenever we want, but also, memories just waiting to be made.

And that, child, is the most magic you’ll find in this life.

Hold on tight to its tails.

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Stuck in Winter

Every since the sky dumped a couple feet of snow on our ranch after Thanksgiving, bringing with it days on end of sub-zero temperatures, all we’ve done is get stuck and pull each other out.

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up, except yesterday I got puked on all down my shirt and into the crevasses of the recliner in the living room by baby Edie who apparently doesn’t chew her strawberry pieces, if you know what I mean.

So here’s how it’s been going so far this winter…not great really.

Not that great.

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Winter has arrived at the ranch
by Jessie Veeder
12-11-16
http://www.inforum.com

So … winter has arrived. Look out your window.

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I know you see it in the giant drift you had to dig through to get out your front door making a perfect pile for the kids to build tunnels in after school. Some of you might even have a snowman or two looking back at you.

And some of you have cleared your driveways and sidewalks down to the dry concrete already. I know because I went to the big town and saw for myself a winter phenomenon so far removed from the drifty, snow-packed, ice-crusted gravel road that is my life. I made my husband slow down so he could take a good long look.

“What, did they take a hair dryer to it or something?” he exclaimed, horrified at the site of such domestication and clearly not getting the hint.

That’s OK. He didn’t get my first hint either, the one where I tried to move the four-wheeler from our driveway up the road and to the shop where it belongs at least five times, spinning my wheels, using my best cuss words and nearly squashing the old lab in the process before declaring the hill un-climbable and returning to the un-shoveled driveway.

“You should have put it in four-wheel drive,” said my husband when he got in from finishing the job.

I thought it was in four-wheel drive.

And so that’s how we do winter here at the ranch. We (literally) rev the engine and plow through.

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But that cowboy-in-coveralls mentality didn’t quite pan out on our way to feed the cows a couple bales the other day. I had been whining to my husband, telling him that since the baby came I haven’t been able to go outside as much, that I miss going along and being useful and getting my hands dirty. I said I’m not cut out for the constant inside chores like laundry and dishes and figuring out what to make for supper.

That I’d much prefer to be doing chores outside.

So the next evening he got home before dark, I bundled up the baby and we went along in the feed pickup. It was decent weather, enough to melt the top of those big snowdrifts — the ones that make us forget where the big rocks and deep ravines hide. Not that a big rock or deep ravine has ever stopped the men on this place from hitting the gas harder in an attempt to get the job done.

But do you know what almost always stops them? Three feet of heavy wet snow strung out over a quarter of a mile on the trail.

I know because these are always the times I get to go along.

And so there we were, sunk to the floorboards with a bale on the loader, a baby in a snowsuit, a sun dipping below the horizon and a good half-mile walk to the shop for the tractor I suggested we take instead.

I know those words came out of my mouth.

“You stay here, I’ll be right back,” were the words that came out of his mouth.

Ten minutes into trying to keep the baby from licking the dirty window I started my own half-mile trek to the house, not thinking he’d actually need my help, forgetting that someone needs to be behind the wheel of the pickup when the tractor pulls you out.

I made it 100 yards from the house, trudging through knee-deep snow in my winter gear with a squealing one-year old dangling off my hip only to be loaded up and taken back to the scene of the crime.

I was charged with keeping the pickup in gear, my foot on the gas and the baby content while my husband yanked us out of the hole he dug us in, only to watch him get us stuck again and then listen as he directed me to drive it back home on our tracks while he followed.

“If you get stuck, I’ll just nudge you with the tractor,” he said.

Which he only had to do once on the steep hill coming out of the driveway where I got the four-wheeler stuck.

Because this is winter at the ranch, and there aren’t enough snowplows (or hairdryers) in the world.

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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