I don’t think Montana wants us…

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Ok, so the very first time my boyfriend, now husband, took me on a trip to the wilds of Montana, we borrowed his dad’s Ford and loaded his 1970-something pop-up pickup camper to make the long drive across the big ‘ol state. It was 110 degrees and the air conditioning was out in the pickup and I nearly died of heat stroke by the time we made it to our campsite, where it rained just in time for us to get everything unloaded.

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More recently, a few years back, on another trip west to Montana, our pickup broke down pulling our camper on the way home from a music festival.

The time before that, same pickup issue, same music festival.

The time before that, on a family trip to Yellowstone, we had three flat tires before we even made it to Glendive, not even a quarter of the way into our trip. And that was before we hit a deer in our new-to-us pickup and then, narrowly escaped running over a motorcyclist who had wrecked on the interstate, where we spent the next three hours working as first on the scene responders, calling 911 and working with emergency crews.

Luckily I think the man was ok.

And we haven’t been back to Montana for a while.

But my husband thought he would give it another go last weekend and, well, here’s how it turned out…

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Coming Home: When the best laid plans go awry
Forum Communications

“Well, I’m on my way home now anyway,” he said on the other end of the phone. I called him for something trivial, like why the lawnmower wasn’t starting, just the kind of phone call every husband likes to get when they’re off on a manly weekend getaway. (The same way he likes that I call it a manly weekend getaway).

He’d been preparing for a trip with his dad to scout for elk in Montana for a couple weeks. The plan was to pack up the pickup and pop-up camper with essential supplies like cans of Vienna sausages, a couple sleeping bags and a spotting scope and head a few hours west into the foothills to see if they could find a good place to hunt during the season.

I was excited for him to take the time away to do something he’s passionate about. He doesn’t golf, participate in fantasy football or go to the bar to shoot darts; when you work full-time and try to run a ranch, build a house and maneuver tiny ponytails in your off hours, it doesn’t leave much time for extracurriculars. But he does bow hunt. Bowhunting is his thing.

So off he went for two full days of no grooming, no vegetables, no broken down equipment and no tiny ponytails, kicking up dust, blaring the radio and howling the primal howl of his ancestors out the window of this pickup on his way to the wilderness…

Or at least that’s how I envisioned his departure that Friday evening.

But come Saturday afternoon it was apparent it didn’t end well. Actually, it sounds like it didn’t start well either.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Well, it started with the brakes,” he said, going on to explain that they were miles along a dirt road in a primitive land where cellphones are useless and bigfoot originated, when they heard the grinding noise and consequently spent the next several hours using the resourcefulness the two men honed from years of patching together old broken stuff from parts saved and scrounged off of other old broken stuff to get the brakes fixed enough to limp the pickup back to the paved roads of civilization known as the town of Ekalaka, population 343.

And while I admit I might have spoken too soon about that whole “no broken down equipment” thing, they did fix those brakes in Ekalaka, as they often do in those small town body shops.

Which was a good thing, because it turns out brakes are an imperative part of the recovery equation when you’re driving down the highway at 70 mph and the top of your camper blows completely off, sending those Vienna sausages, sleeping bags and a stray shoe or two bouncing down the highway, busted and bruised just like the broken down dreams of your manly man-cation…

“I’ve always wondered how people lose shoes on the highway,” I remarked. “See you when you get home. I’ll have the TV turned to that channel you like where they’re always fishing…”

 

Sunday Column: Full car, empty tank…

Rear View Road

In my life, by my own unscientific, not so mathematic, sort of a wild and exaggerated calculation, I estimate that I have driven approximately 7,538,390 miles.

But it’s probably more.

I mean, living 30 miles (give or take) from the nearest town and having acquired my drivers license and a 1982 Sorta Pink Ford LTD I liked to call Rosie when I was only 14, I’ve had ample opportunity to put plenty of road behind me in twenty or so years…

killdeer road

Take that and add the five years I spent touring up and down the country singing for my supper and you think you could call me an expert…in maps, in traffic laws, in emergency preparedness, in flat tires and rear-enders, turn signals and every gas station from here to Ada, Oklahoma.

And I am. I am an expert in some of those things. Like emergency preparedness.

Just take a look in my car right now. I have everything you’d ever need if you were ever stranded…at a party…or a bonfire.

road 2A can of Big Sexy Hairspray. Sunflower seeds. A guitar stand. Blankets. Magazines. An extra pair of Toms slip ons. A beach towel. Wrapped Christmas presents I still need to deliver to my best friend and her kids in Bismarck. Thirty-seven half drunk water bottles and one sorta-full Snapple. Can cozies. A partridge in a pear tree.

Oh, and the backpack my mother-in-law packed for me in case of an apocalypse. There’s that to go along with the winter gear.

I’ve got piles of it.

snowy road

Yes, I’m a true North Dakotan, so in case the summer kegger doesn’t spontaneously occur, I’m covered for winter too.

So I should have known better…

Coming Home: Car stocked up for any situation, except running out of gas
1-11-15
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications
http://www.inforum.com

Hears to full tanks and full hearts.

Happy Trails.

car

Sunday Column: The miles together

photo-64We’re leaving Nevada this morning, saying goodbye to our first National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. I’m sitting in my hotel room at the Rodeway Inn listening to sound of my husband’s breath rise and fall as he sleeps, cars swooshing past this door on their way to  church or the grocery store down the road, and my fingers clicking on the keys, procrastinating the task of packing up the clothes draped over chairs and tables, cords and papers, CDs, toothbrushes and shampoo bottles and to-go coffee mugs strewn about before we hit the road again.

In a few minutes Husband will wake up and jump in the shower. If I can get it together, we’ll be out of here in an hour or so, turning up the radio and pointing the car back toward a beautiful part of Idaho we look forward to seeing in the daylight. When we get hungry we’ll pull in the next town, head toward Main Street and hope for one of those really great diners, the ones where the old folks go after church. He’ll order chicken-fried-steak and I’ll have a burger and we’ll sit and chat and notice things about this place that we like.

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When the miles start to drag out before us we might start making plans for the barn or the unfinished house. Or I might wonder out loud what sort of animal I was in a past life. A Canadian goose, I’ll say, like the two who fly away together and return to the stock dam every spring…

In my life I have been given a solid traveling companion (and this week, he’s made a pretty great purse holder, guitar carrier, outfit chooser, audience member, and therapist too). We’ve  put on a lot of miles together, back and forth and up and down and home again.

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We have three more days on the road–a yet to be determined stop tonight when we’re road weary and one in White Sulphur Springs, Montana on Monday before heading back home. These miles could be daunting, but they’ve never been for me as long as we’re taking them together, sitting close, moving forward and wondering about things…

Coming Home: Stretch of road brings back memories
by Jessie Veeder
2-2-14
Fargo Forum
http://www.inforum.com 
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Sunday Column: The Happiest Place on Earth

Well, Christmas is coming and I’m coming down from a fabulous weekend spent performing winter songs across the state.

Turns out I’m also coming down with the Christmas plague and it’s currently compromising the voice I so desperately need to work during this holiday season.

Because asking me not to talk is like asking me not to breathe.

Anyway, that’s a story for tomorrow. Today, I want to catch you up on what I learned on another trip I took with the nieces and the in-laws to a tropical, magical land known as Disney World a few weeks back.

There were princesses and Mickey shaped ice-cream bars,

castles and spinning tea cups, roller coasters and stuffed animals, a big ‘ol tree house,

a few even bigger whales,

giant strollers running into my ankles, It’s a Small World After All and maybe not enough tequila.

And those are just some of the highlights. Because we did it all.

Since these three little princesses came into this world, this auntie has always imagined what it would be like to watch their eyes light up in the Happiest Place on Earth. Judging from the plethora of pink and purple paraphernalia and the never-ending collection of Disney DVDs I had a hunch the place might kinda be their thing.

And anyway, I have memories from a trip my family took to Disney Land in an RV, picking up relatives along the way. I was five years old and the magic of it all had yet to wear thin, and so there is still magic in the memories.

I wanted that magic for my nieces.

So we talked about it last Christmas, my mother and sister-in-law made plans and eleven months later we were all on a plane leaving the great white north for sunny Florida.

And it was fabulous and frantic and exhausting and unexpected and just great fun for lots of reasons.

Turns out though, that the best parts are never expected, and I think that’s the same in Disney as it is in life.

Coming Home:
Happiest Place on Earth doesn’t always mean Disney
by Jessie Veeder
12/15/13
Fargo Forum

Peace, Love and cough syrup.

Jessie

Sunday Column: The road


I’ve had some pretty great adventures in the name of music. This summer almost every weekend has been filled with some sort of gig that takes me away from this place for a bit.

I’ve loaded and unloaded my car and pickup dozens of times.

It’s been months since I’ve completely unpacked my bag.

Please don’t look in my closet.  I don’t even want to look in my closet.

Anyway when you live in the middle of nowhere, pretty much everywhere you need to go involves a road trip.  So it’s a good thing  I’ve had years to master hours of car time. Sunflower seeds. Coffee. An updated play list on my iPod. A mental list of the most convenient places to stop for fuel. Not a bit of hesitation about singing at the top of my lungs, even when pulling up next to you at a stoplight. Windows open when the weather’s nice and the time is right.

The road to and from this place is early mornings, peaceful and dewy, running-late afternoons and evening sunsets where I don’t really feel like it but I’m going.

Some of my most creative times have been behind the wheel of my car, alone out there somewhere on a road in the midwest.

Some of my scariest have been out there too. Blizzard and tornado watches, black ice, flooding and miles and miles of antelope and sagebrush fields with an emptying tank and not a gas station for miles.

In the last few weeks my road trips have involved the men from my hometown band. It’s nice to have a pickup full of voices and stories about the old days playing in bar bands and bowling alleys. I welcome the company in the car and beside me playing guitar.

And it’s nice to have a crew that understands the life of a musician is mostly just an absurd train of events that involves setting up on flatbed trailers as a thunderstorm rolls through town, hauling around and hooking up sound system after sound system, laughing off requests to play “Smoke on the Water, ” to turn it up, to turn it down, to play something faster, or slower or something we don’t know. It’s good to know that this group won’t mind if a gig doesn’t quite turn out the way we planned, or the night drags on into morning, or we have to haul our guitars through a foot of mud to the stage. It’s alright. Because sometimes it’s great, and the harmonies are on and the audience is swaying and singing along and you know that they know that there’s more to music than the miles we’ve put on to get here and home in one piece.




So when you get back to the ranch at 3:30 in the morning only to wake to a call that the cows are in the neighbor’s wheat field, you don’t complain, you just take a swig of coffee, pull on your snap shirt and boots and head out the door to saddle a horse and bring them home.

Because it’s the life I chose. The one I write about and sing about and bring with me when I go.

Coming Home: Freedom sometimes means settling down
By Jessie Veeder
August 4, 2013
Fargo Forum
www.inforum.com 

Music and miles, late nights and cows with terrible timing…

And it’s good.

Momentum

Momentum. Forward motion. Moving.

I have been thinking about the act quite a bit lately as I have been guiding my car through back roads and highways, my feet along cattle trails and off to cut my own path.  The act of moving forward, in any capacity, whether it’s walking, riding or driving, is what I envision the stream of consciousness to look like: sweaty, breathing, flushed, meandering or running in a straight line following a bird, a path, a rainbow or nothing in particular.

Because there is something about covering ground that propels not only your body, but your mind. It frees it up a bit, opens it. And even when there is somewhere else to be, a dot at the end of the map, a destination, there is something about the space between point A and point B that takes on a life of its own entirely–the space where you can’t go anywhere but forward. Where time ticks away with the miles.

I drove across the state on Tuesday. 350 or so miles from the northeast corner to west. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and the wind was blowing across the flat landscape. The road I was following was completely unfamiliar to me as I headed in the direction of home. I had my radio blaring familiar music, music that I could sing along with and softly  I mumbled through words I have forgotten only to crescendo as I was reminded of the ones I always knew. I rolled down the windows. I sipped coffee. I adjusted and readjusted my visor and my sunglasses. I put a stick of gum in my mouth.

My mind wandered and I found myself back on all of the unfamiliar roads I have traveled during the time I was on the road with work and music. In pieces those moments flashed in and out of my memory–the toll booths on my way from Fargo to Chicago in the early daylight hours, my eyes heavy from the unexpected miles.  The long stretches of yellow lines on the interstate in Kansas. The blacktop backroads on my way to a small Wisconsin college town. The bridges that confused me in Green Bay. The antelope infested stretch in South Dakota. The mountains that unexpectedly jutted out as I hit Boise. The white-out road that welcomed me home to North Dakota and forced me to spend one spring night in my car along the interstate.

While I remembered parts of my life that weren’t significant enough to make it out of my mouth and into stories to friends and family, the miles carried me forward and turned me onto a highway I have taken home hundreds of times. And while I sped between its straight lines it was as if someone was playing DJ and handpicking the soundtrack that came through the car speakers and into my conscious to help me replay the events I moved away from and back into during the time I spent on the pavement that stretched out in front of me. Pavement I haven’t been on for years. The songs and the road and the setting sun bounced off of my aviator glasses as I thought of beer, coffeehouse gigs, sidewalks in my college town, movie theatre trips to pass the time, crying from pure loneliness, a future naively hopeful and wanting so bad to be somewhere else.

My tires hummed along as I watched the sun dip down a little further, changing from gold to pink to red and I thought about the idea of wishing to be gone. How I used to exist in that thought, in that wish, so passionately. Driving toward the horizon I suddenly felt a little uneasy, like I needed to begin constructing plans for what was next. That I couldn’t just move through the miles thinking about what could have been, but concentrate on what is now and what could be so great.

I started constructing plans for what was next. Ideas passed through my mind like a slide show, progressing with each mile marker, playing themselves out as the sky turned from red to black and headlights flashed in my eyes. But by the time the landscape started to roll a bit, after I crossed the big lake and the road began to wind the unease calmed and I settled into my thoughts, sorted them out in my head, planted some and let others fly away when I flung open the doors of my car to breathe in the familiar air of the ranch–wet grass and dirt and horse hair.

When my husband and I moved to the ranch when we were first married, we weren’t ready to be here. We weren’t ready to plant our lives. We had more to see, more to do and be. We didn’t understand yet that we did not have to hang up our wings to exist on this landscape.

And the best thing we could do for ourselves make the decision to leave. Because time was always something we understood. Time and the knowledge that only we have the power to change the way we feel, the way we live.

So we left. That dream we had since we were twelve or thirteen was staring us in the face, but our  arms weren’t open, so we left it there, alone.

To know that you can always move, to know that you have an option of a road, an option of your feet to take you where you don’t even know you need to go is one of the greatest freedoms.  That is what my husband taught me.

That is what we taught each other.

That we can always move. That we have hands to hold and feet and roads that are there to lead us anywhere we want to go.

And those hands, those feet, that longing to fly, those same roads brought us back here. When we were ready. When we understood that sometimes freedom isn’t always about leaving…

sometimes freedom is choosing to stay.