The sun sets on the end of July.
The sun sets on the end of July.
“I wonder how many sunrise and sunset photos I’ve taken since we moved back to the ranch?” I asked my husband as I threw on my robe this morning and rushed downstairs for my camera.
The first thing I do when I open my eyes in the morning is to turn around and look out the window at the horizon, hoping for a show, hoping for a nice day or rain or snow or whatever it is I want from the sky, as if the sky ever cared about our personal wishes.
“Thousands,” Husband replied as he poured a cup of coffee.
“I wonder if any of them look the same,” I asked out loud, knowing the answer. Knowing that sunrises and sunsets are like snowflakes.
It’s the time of year when everything is starting to lose its color. Most of the leaves on the trees have dried up and turned brown, the other half, the oaks, for some reason this year are hanging on to a dull green, dropping their acorns and refusing to turn.
I can relate…
For the next seven months, a glowing sunrise and a pink sunset will be a welcome pop of color on a barren white landscape and I will find myself pulling on my big boots and rushing out to the tops of hills to stand under it, willing the color, the warmth, to absorb into my skin and warm me up.
Yes, it’s that time of year where we panic a bit, rushing to get the things done that we promised ourselves we would tackle in July, but then there was that concert and then the lake and then the party on the deck with the margaritas…
Now we have fences to build, garages to clean, boats and campers that didn’t really get used as much as intended to pack up and winterize. Soon the calves will be weaned and the horses will put on their long, scruffy coats.
Which reminds me, I have to find my hats and gloves. Dig out my sweaters.
Because the snow could come any day now. The sky could cloud up, the wind could blow just right, and then it will be too late for things like grilling burgers drilling holes into the ground for fence posts. Because the ground will be frozen solid, shut down and dormant with the frogs and the flies and snakes and the squirmy things that only come out with the sun.
Some days I feel that way. Like I should hole up under the earth like a frog, find a spot in a tree somewhere like those frantic squirrels hoarding all those acorns and squawking in the trees outside my window in the morning when I wake up to look at the sky and will the sun to shine….
There has been a haze in the air for the last couple days. Fires in Canada couldn’t hold their breath any longer and so some puffs escaped our way, lingering in the calm, hot air and reminding me of living in Montana in August.
When the wind doesn’t blow here in North Dakota it’s sort of eerie, like there’s some secret we’re not being told.
This place is full of them, untold secrets. I’ve always thought that.
How the snow ever fell on all this green and gold I never understand come mid-July. How it could look anything like this, my skin anything but brown and warm, my hair fuzzed just a bit from the heat.
How pink flowers spring from the same earth that was frozen seven feet under just months ago…
and the once wooly horses shed their coats and transform into sleek, high-spirited creatures I can’t comprehend because I have decided it’s magic.
And so I can hardly stand to be inside.
There’s plenty to do out there in terms of work, so I wander around a bit, grab a broom and sweep the garage, pick a weed or two and then sort of wander off to a couple hilltops to see how the flowers look from up there. The purple coneflowers out in full force, sprung up overnight among the grass and clover stirrup high.
I was away less than a week and look at all I missed.
How can I be lonesome for a season I’m standing in the middle of? How can I be scared that I might not catch it all? It’s ridiculous to be so anxious about the flowers. It’s ridiculous to be so worried that I might blink and miss the best part of a summer sunset.
When I was a little girl I was convinced there were parts of this ranch that were yet to be discovered and so I was determined to explore every inch. I walked the trail beside the creek bed in the spring, throwing in sticks to see where the cold rushing water would take them. In the summer I took off my boots and walked directly in that water, my bare feet navigating trails to the big beaver dams.
In the fall I would crawl to the tops of the banks and count the colors. In the winter I would bundle up and trudge, trudge, trudge…not to be kept away no matter the weather.
It wasn’t until I grew up and came home, camera pointed out of every window, dangling off my neck on every ride, every walk, that I discovered the gift of this place is the very thing that makes me crazy and sends me walking, searching for the undiscovered places. The most beautiful things.
This place never looks the same. Every day, every shift of light, every turn of season, every passing cloud, every breeze, every snowflake and raindrop changes it completely.
Gray sky, gray grass. Gold sun, gold flowers. White snow, white trees. Rain clouds, sparkling leaves.
It’s nature, but isn’t it interesting? Isn’t it magic how something so many miles up in the universe can change things for us, our mood, or intrigue, or plans for the day.
May the fires in Canada soon become a memory and the ashes turn to the greenest grass.
Because up here, the wind, the wind changes everything.
It’s Friday and it seems I have run out of words for the week, but that’s ok. I want to show you something that I don’t think I need many words for.
Because I was in the badlands this week, in the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora. After my work was done, I went out looking for landscape, for beauty and life in those rustic buttes, and found that above the vibrant green of the grass there were these colors in the sky, constantly changing, casting shadows and light that changed the way the world looked every minute.
I couldn’t take my eyes away.
Peace, Love, Sunrise to Sunset,
Husband’s gramma is in the hospital a few towns away. Yesterday we went to visit her.
I don’t normally talk about things like this, but I think I should because there are people in our life that we just adore and maybe we don’t tell them as much as we should.
And there are things in this life that just hurt too bad and maybe we don’t just let them hurt like we should.
And there are times you just need to sit with somebody when they are probably going to be ok, I mean, you’re optomistic, but nobody can make any promises and all you can say is, “Oh, good to see you. You are strong. We love you. Everything’s going to be alright.”
So that’s what Husband and I did yesterday. We went to say “Hello, good to see you, we love you,” to Gramma L., a spunky, straight-up lady who has a life story I always promised myself I’d get out of her one day.
She’s in the hospital. She’s going to be ok. There’s never a guarantee, but I believe it.
I adore her. I adore how she gets right to it. I adore how she can always find the best bargain. I adore her beautiful collection of vintage pins and the cap she always wears camping with us in the summer. I like how she writes thank-you and birthday notes and makes sure to mention she got the card on sale.
I adore her spirit.
I’ve probably never told her.
So we sat with her and talked to her about the weather and the chokecherries coming.
We talked about wood ticks and Juneberry pie. We talked about how technology is moving too fast and how she used to ride a sleigh to school with her feet on the hot coals. We talked about the house and how she’ll come and see it when she feels better.
We ordered her lunch and helped her eat it and worried when she only had a few bites.
We visited with family and caught up and got in the car and drove the three hours back to the ranch the two of us sort of quiet about it all.
And when we got home it was raining a little, but the sun was shining and so there was a faint rainbow over the hill outside the house, sneaking up on us while we were warming up some soup for a late supper.
The rainbow turned to clouds and the clouds to the most beautiful pink sunset. Everything was fresh and washed from the rain. I pulled on my boots and climbed the hill to watch the sun go down.
And while I walked I remembered what Gramma L., said about family.
Thank God for family. Thank God they love me. Thank God they come to visit. I have a lot of prayers.
I got to the top of the hill and felt a little tug of loneliness that sort of bloomed into that feeling you get when something exciting is about to happen. I imagined myself taking this walk with my child one day. A walk to go watch the sunset.
I think that would be a nice thing to do with a daughter or son.
I sat up there and watched then, I watched the sun turn the clouds orange and pink and blue and then disappear below the horizon to turn things gray.
All days end. But I loved this one and how it reminded me to slow down as it went out in a beautiful show.
To just love someone.
Then I remembered what Gramma L. said as we were leaving.
She told us to go and have fun. That’s what makes life great.
So I lifted my head and howled at the sky, knowing that the dogs would join in and that would make me laugh.
And it did.
The windows were open at the house below. I knew Husband could hear us.
I knew he would be laughing too.
Then I sent a little prayer up for Gramma L. and made my way inside before dark.
I don’t think we’re meant to sit on chairs all day.
I don’t think we’re meant for these screens and these lights and the noise that comes from all of it. Sometimes it’s so much, we’re told too much. We know too much. We see it all, but we don’t see what’s right in front of us.
I’ve been working a lot lately. It’s a busy time for me and I feel incredibly blessed or lucky or whatever it is that helps get us to the places we’re going. My head is spinning with to-do lists that get me through the day and a few steps closer to some of my goals. My house is a mess, my desk unrecognizable as a piece of furniture and most days I add more to that list than I check off.
I’m happy and exhausted and it’s December and I haven’t even thought about Christmas.
I love Christmas.
But I’m a human. And as a human I want things. I don’t know where it started or how to stop it, but don’t try to argue with me, I know it’s true for you too. If it’s not a physical luxury, it is the luxury of time. If it’s not time, we want more love or more quiet, more food to put on the table, more money to buy us nice things, more children to teach, more land to cultivate, more music to hear and mores space for dancing.
I try not to think about the things I want. I try to focus on what I have while I run frantically from one appointment I set up for myself to the next.
And then I wonder what the hell I’m doing when the only thing I really want is to sit under the tree by the dam and watch the water freeze over.
I was tired today and disappointed in myself because I have let slip the one thing I promised I wouldn’t let slip when I moved back here–my connection to the sky.
So I stood up from my twelve-hour computer perch this afternoon, oblivious to the fact that I’d had enough until I looked out the window at the sun turning the sky pink and realized I hadn’t looked outside since it made its first appearance this morning.
Suddenly I was struck with the urge to go chase that sunset down, to catch it and hold it and marvel at it before it sunk below the horizon, as if it were the last sunset on earth.
I don’t know what got into me. For two weeks I’ve been on an agenda that had nothing to do with the sun.
Perhaps I was lonesome for it.
So I pulled on my muck boots and my winter coat, grabbed my camera and raced down the steps and up to the hill.
The sunset out here can be breathtaking when it feels like it. And the beauty is that it doesn’t last long. If you watch closely, turning your head to take it all in, you will see it move and swell and change like a painting, colors splashed across the sky in hues that don’t exist anywhere else in the world but up above.
Sometimes I try to be so many things that I feel like I can’t do my best at anything.
Sometimes I think I might do it on purpose.
But the sun is the sun and it was made to move across the sky.
And I don’t know much about much tonight, but I know I was not made to sit in chairs all day.
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 ocean, 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.
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 our Christmas party on time.
The storms are unpredictable, but the sun is always there.
And it will always set and rise again.
And sometimes as we put the burgers on the grill, close the gates for the cattle or put the lawn mower in the shed we will find ourselves bathed in yellow, gold, purple, orange, pink and blue and hues we cannot find in our crayon box. We will look above the oak groves or down to the end of the pink road and we will find that sun playing and bouncing against the clouds that roll over the prairie and buttes that we know so well.
I tilt my head up and run to find the nearest hill so that I may 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 so vast and forgiving.
We are honing in pretty close to a new year and ringing it in by, you know, bringing in a new house. It seems to be a pattern for us, making big changes at the end of the year. Three years ago we closed on our first home and spent the next two years renovating it during any spare time we were granted. Last year, on December 30th to be exact, we signed it away, every brick, board and painstakingly varnished door and have spent the next three hundred and fifty-some days between then and now planning how we might look in our new house.
It’s funny how quickly three hundred and fifty-some days go by when you spend it with your eye on the future while still trying to be all the things you need and want to be in the present.
And in those days, in those moments, we have been many things: cooks, cowboys, fly-swatters, lawn-mowers, photographers, poets, travelers, an uncle and an aunt, friends and big mistake-makers.
We have been dreamers and planners, singers and wanderers, sun bathers and bundled up for the cold.
On the weekends we were lazy, party-goers or two people making pancakes together in the kitchen as the light streamed through the window. And sometimes we were on a mission, to tear something old down, to clean something up, to pull weeds or cut the grass…living and busting our asses in the present for a more cleaned up tomorrow.
And sometimes our only mission was one another.
The hair on our head grew, some turned gray. Our favorite jeans turned into work pants, things were lost and never found and then, to our surprise, things that we thought were gone for good were recovered.
We’ve had conversations, countless conversations, about family and life and where we might be two years, ten years, fifty years from now. We have remembered together where we once were and laughed at how different things can be in just a short three hundred and fifty some days.
We have counted our blessings.
Yes, we have had some time to prepare for this change that is right around the corner, for a move, for the plan we had all along. Three hundred and fifty-some days to build new walls and roads and move some dirt and snow and rocks and trees and old equipment out-of-the-way, fitting a little work, a little planning into the spaces of time between breakfast and dinner at night… and still we’re not quite ready. The day doesn’t hang on long enough for us to find the right place for every nail, just as it doesn’t quite hold onto the light long enough to allow us to be all of the things we want to be, all the things we can be, in a day.
In a year.
In a lifetime.
There’s never enough time, the work is never done, all the lessons will never quite be learned. And there were days in there that I didn’t want to move away from the little stream of light that peeked through the curtains of my tiny room. There were days my head was spinning with the to-d0 list and the realization that there may be dreams of ours that just won’t come true.
I keep a few of those days in my pocket to take out when I need them. Just a few.
Because I have never been one to focus on the things I cannot change, at least not for very long. Because some of those things we cannot control have been the best things…the most certain things of all.
Like how the sun always rises over the barn
and falls on the other side of the earth behind my parents house.
Reminding us that we can build houses, and fences and plant potatoes in the earth and drive down roads we’ve built to take us to places we’ve never been and places we need to go to survive, but in the whole wide world there is nothing more important than that big wide sky and the fact that, for another day, we get to live under it as it moves and changes and puts on a show.
And as we have been counting each time it rises, marking our calendars and making plans that are bound to fail at some point, it comforts me, it lifts a little bit of weight off of my shoulders to know that the sun only has one mission, day after day…
to rise and shine and make its way across the sky…
Because, you know, we’re not that different from the sun really.
At least three hundred and fifty-some days a year…
Slowly it sweeps over us, peeking out from behind the horizon, warning that another day will soon be gone–that time has passed us once again.
That it always wins.
We scramble to get the chores done, our dinners served and dishes cleaned.
Our babies bathed and tucked in tight.
And as we sing the first few lines of a familiar lullaby, the black cloak is draped and the moon rises outside our windows so humble, so unassuming that we often miss it as our eyes grow heavy and our breath evens out and the weight of the darkness creeps over our roofs.
And when the moon makes its way up to center sky, the wind grows calm under its rays, the grass stoops low and the night creatures with eyes that flash from the hillsides and from deep in the brush make plans for an unnoticed life.
So the civilized turn in, shut doors, move locks and draw curtains, hoping this time, tonight, to keep the quiet out.
But out here the quiet is loud…
Because once the last of the coyotes finish their star serenade, they laugh as they leave us with nothing.
Nothing but the silence that envelops us and screams the things we cannot be, the places we will never go, the people we will never hold, the words we should have never said…
..the words we should have delivered instead.
So we reach for our loves, pull covers up tight, curse at the clocks and turn on our TVs to drown out the calm…the silence.
Our words prick the air.
We squeeze our eyes tight against it.
And under this blanket of black we lay on our backs and fight the dark with thoughs of the morning…
…and dream of the things we could be…
…if only the night would wait.
Let’s talk about the sky. Really. Let’s take a look at the one thing we all have in common and embrace it and love it with all that it deserves. Because frankly, I think it’s getting tired of being overlooked, acting out like it has been the last couple days.
So alright, alright I see you. And I apologize for ignoring your these last few months, eyes on the trees as they change clothes, eyes on the dirt, eyes on the road, eyes on this guy…
eyes on my work, eyes on the future and eyes on the back of my lids when I’m trying to sleep.
But really, I have been amazed at the show it has put on for us the last couple days. I mean Crayola doesn’t even make colors this spectacular, not even in the jumbo pack. Yes, in some sort of grand finale to this harvest season the sky chose to feature a light show to spruce up the mundane landscape that has shed its leaves and has been feeling rather chilly lately, thank you very much.
How generous of the sky to strike a match to start a fire of fires–nice and toasty, no need for a sweater thanks, a light jacket will do. The sky has warmed us all up.
And made us look damn good.
Because, as my dear momma tells me, it’s all about the lighting.
And she’s right.
She’s usually right about most everything, especially when it comes to looking your best.
And it turns out, this landscape looks damn good naked as the sky casts a golden light upon its flesh and then softens it up with a bath of pink before pulling the silk sheets up over us and turning off the lights for the evening.
Sexy, sexy sky.
So strike a pose people (and pug), take off that wool scarf, let it all hang out and look up for crying out loud. The sky’s got your back, and you’re gorgeous, absolutely stunning.
And so is this guy, don’t you think?
Sometimes I think life is one damn masterpiece after another.
See ya out there!