How it goes with trees

IMG_7603 There’s miles and miles of trees out here behind our houses. Just trees, yes, but trees in these parts are hard to come by.

This season is about all run out as we find ourselves at the end of October. The leaves are brown, the wind has taken most of them, swirled them around, tossed them up and let them fall.

But yesterday there were a few stragglers, a few trees that held out to stand out above the crowd. So I went out looking for them.

IMG_7604IMG_7608 IMG_7610 IMG_7612 IMG_7615 IMG_7619 IMG_7621 IMG_7624 IMG_7628 IMG_7634 IMG_7639 IMG_7642 IMG_7645 IMG_7647 IMG_7649 IMG_7654 IMG_7656It’s funny how the colors seem brighter when we know they’re fleeting. In these same spaces today, with the wind and the gray skies, most of these leaves I admired yesterday have now hit the ground.

IMG_7665I knew it would happen. That’s the thing about this place. The trees, they are the reason it looks different here every day. 
IMG_7675 IMG_7677The trees and that sky.
IMG_7680So except for that sky, it will be brown now, until it turns white.

And it will be white until it turns brown again.

Then it will be brown until it turns green.

Green until gold…and so on and so on because that’s how it goes with trees…


The greening up…

 When it decides to green up around here, it sure does a good job.

This time of year is my favorite. I love it so much I don’t mind the ticks.

(Like, I mean, lots of ticks.

Like, I had so many I had to strip off my clothes and put them outside. Like, I won’t tell you how many because you would never sleep again and also, I had one stuck on my butt and that was one of those conversations you don’t really want to have with your husband, but, well, let’s forget I ever mentioned it.

And while we’re at it let’s also forget that I found a tick in my bed last night…)

Annnyywaaayyy… ticks or no ticks, there’s something to be said about being the first one out there to find a patch of sweet peas.

There’s something so new and refreshing about it all, the green grass poking up out of the ground before the weeds and brush take over.

The fresh air before all the bugs wake up.

The smell of rain coming in.

The damp dirt and the birds and all of the sounds and smells of things coming back to life.

I feel like I’m coming back to life.

So I make it a point to go out in it. In the middle of the long, cold winters those are the promises we make to ourselves: If it ever gets above freezing we will not complain about the weather.

We live here and we endure this because this is what we’re promised. We’re promised the greening up. And the process couldn’t possibly be as beautiful, as spiritual and soul reviving if we didn’t fully understand what cold feels like.

Yes. We know cold.

And endless white.

And to know the white is to truly know the green.

And all the life that comes with it…

The Sun–Vegas Style.

I am obsessed with the evenings, especially in the summer. After a long, hot day working or playing in the sun (or just watching it bake the landscape out your open office window), the sun that you thought might hang happily in the sky forever has been slowly creeping down the other side of the world while you talked on the phone, shoveled dirt, sped happily along the highway or slept the day away.

I imagine the sun feels under appreciated during this time of year, especially in North Dakota. So when it’s finally time to hit the horizon, it goes down with drama and flair, accessories shining, hair coifed for a night on the town saying: “Hey, don’t take this for granted people…I’m going on vacation in a month and you will miss this hot mess then!”

But I don’t take it for granted. In fact, I am filled with guilt on a beautiful night in the summer if I am not out there in it, soaking it up, breathing in the calm air in the cool valleys if the ranch, and climbing to the top of the hills to watch the sun put on his Vegas style show. And each time the summer sun sets out here I quickly re-hash my day, counting all of the ways I really lived it…all of the ways I frolicked and smiled and sweat and basked in the rays. It’s almost as if I am collecting these perfect summer days in order to seal them tight in a jar on my desk so I can use them later, you know, like on one of the cold days we have around here.

So I am thinking about these days of summer, and all of the sunsets I have witnessed from the top of the buttes. Especially today. Because today is August 25th, the first day of school and my birthday (in case anyone was waiting for it), which always signals for me, really, the last day of summer. The days are getting shorter, the nights cooler, the clover and the wildflowers that were so lush are drying out, the wild berries dropping from their stems.

North Dakotans everywhere have made and lived their final vacation plans and filed away their summer photos. The kids of summer traded swimsuits and jeans with worn out knees for fresh school clothes and were forced by their loving parents at 7 am this morning to stand up against the front door (eye crusties, freshly washed hair and clean, new backpacks in tow) for a final farewell-to-summer photo that will be used against poor child in every slideshow of their life to come. The first of many organized mortifying moments to occur this year.

So since I am not of school age anymore (my 27th birthday reminding me of this today as I got out of bed, looked in the mirror and my hair still looked like a lion’s mane, but with a few grays poking through) I decided, last night, to make my own farewell-to-summer slideshow.

And the sun must have noticed my camera, because what a show it was. He pulled out all the stops as his light reflected off prairie grasses, creating a sparkle, a shine, on each stem. He cast long, dramatic, shadows along the hillsides and off the bodies of beasts. He turned the trees black, gave the clover one last shot at bright yellow and painted the sky orange, then pink, then a dark, dark, blue, then all of those colors combined.  He was in such form even the coyotes stood on the hills and the deer came out of the brush to lend their applause.

And even with all of the frills, the sun is generous at the end of the day, especially when the moon has gone to the trouble of putting on his party pants. So after the fireworks and the spectacle he created,  the sun turned the lights down low, calmed the wind, made everything dead quiet, and left with a whisper.

And all eyes were on the moon.

Happy end of summer kids and parents and people like me. Hope it has gone out with the style and fashion of the sun.

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Cheers to a new season and a new outfit!

The extraordinary ones…

The coulees that dot the landscape on the ranch are mystical places that I spent my entire childhood exploring. Each season they changed, and each year when I returned after a long winter, I found something new.

I walked them today again for the first time in several years and I was taken right back to the magic I feel they possess. I believe that the curious, the brave and special people that take the time to pick apart this prairie and get to the roots of the rough places give themselves a gift of beauty and life and discovery, losing themselves in a mystery like nothing else.

And so when I returned, I wrote….

There are secrets out here at the ranch that not many have explored. These secrets are quiet and hidden and full of magical life that only a watchful, imaginative eye can detect. This magic is not that far off the beaten path and most people, the ordinary people, never even turn a head or give this world a glance as they kick up dust from the tires of their SUVs.

But the special ones, they are curious. The special ones listen. They stand deathly still at the side of the road and hold their breath to hear through the wind and the traffic and the barking dogs. They lift a hand to shield their eyes and carefully take a step off the gravel—one step into the world. And then the brave ones take another and another…

Because they think they can hear something faintly calling to them saying, “hello up there” from way down below, under the tangle of grasses and cactus, along the base of trees, where the roots peek out from under the damp earth. So the curious ones, the ones who listen, move their eyes from the horizon and follow the call from the ground. Their feet bravely urge them to move from the top of the hills among the safety of the open prairie to the mysterious, damp, dark and prickly gullies of the surrounding coulees and creek beds.

They take in the panoramic view of cattails springing up like furry corn-dogs bouncing and bending on frail sticks in the breeze, congregating together under the care of the world’s largest street fair vendor. So the special ones are called to take a step a little closer and the smell of the marsh fills their nostrils as the once solid ground gives way to the dark mud under the reeds. And the water seeps into the brave one’s shoes.

A little startled, they look down and decide that soggy feet may be a small price to pay, because they’re on to something here. They need to get to the other side, to the trail that cuts along the creek that runs, uncommonly, up the banks of the ravine on a hot August day.

They wobble and slosh their way, deeper in, and with each step the voices get a bit louder, coaxing them to look down to the mushrooms and moss multiplying and spreading on the bark of the bur oak. The brave ones bend down to run their fingers along it, to feel the sponge of the mushroom’s fragile skin. Some might take a look underneath the caps of the fungus, not feeling at all silly at this point about making sure the stories of the fairies and the elves aren’t true. And they will be a little disappointed, really, to find, when they look, there is nothing there but a couple gnats…

And the curious ones have their eyes open enough to sense a soft rippling on the surface of the creek as the water bugs zip and glide and row and skim across the water. The brave ones feel the urge to jump in and splash with them, but don’t want to disturb the frail bugs.

Because, if not the fairies or the elves, maybe they are the ones who have called them here…

And when the voices (whoever they are) are drowned out by the buzzing of the mosquitoes and the air gets cooler and damper as the brush thickens up again along the path, even the brave ones can’t take it —they want to see the sky again, to see how the time has passed and how far they have gone. So they claw their way up the steep banks the creek has cut. They want to run to the top of the hill, but their legs are not meant to go so fast at times like these. Something slows them and they crouch to see how the tall grass looks against the overcast sky. They stand up and stretch their limbs to taste the ripe plumbs at the very tips of the thorny branches. The sweet juice pops in their mouths.

The curious ones bend down low to skim the vines for the rare red raspberries and wild strawberries underneath the mangle of green and they tiptoe along the juniper spreading up through the rocks and watch for the poison ivy that has, until the voices, deterred them from coming here.

And in their drunken wonderment, mouths puckered from sucking on the pits of wild berries and foreheads wrinkled from really seeing the small things, they are all surprised that the road has found them again, somehow.

Turning their heads back over their shoulder, they are bewildered by the look of it all from far away.

The trees put their arms around each other, moving so close together they all become one, the wind blows through the reeds, the grass stands up straight, the wild sunflowers spread open their smiles and everything (except the water who hides itself away, not so good at goodbyes) seems to wave at the brave and curious and special ones as they make their way home.

And the extraordinary people say a quiet word of thanks to the voices whispering their secrets, because the small world they thought they knew, the one they thought had belonged only to them, had become quite large indeed.

And after all that magic, it never looked the same again.