The perspective from a distance

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We’re spending the week in vacation mode.

Vacation mode meaning heading east to the lake in Minnesota to spend time with family at my grandparent’s lake cabin, per tradition.

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And then coming home to cut some hay and meet some deadlines before heading back out the big lake tomorrow to spend time on the pontoon or roasting s’mores with the other side of the family.

When we’re at the lake in Minnesota we do this thing where we load up the crew on the pontoon, drinks and snacks and towels and caps and everything else we could have forgotten, and we drive that boat around the shore, slowly, so we can take a look at the beautiful houses that have been built in place of the small cabins that once stood there back when my grandparents first bought their place.

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We comment on the lawns and the landscaping, the docks and the red shutters. We like the cedar siding on that one, and the cottage feeling of the other. We wonder where the NFL football player’s house is. We wonder how much the inflatable trampoline costs. We like that patio set and the adorable kids playing catch in the front yard.

We wonder who lives there. And secretly, I think we all wonder, what that would be like.

It sounds sort of strange, a literal boatload of family tooling by people’s houses on the lake. But we’re not the only ones who do it. It’s like a parade of homes, only we’re the parade.

We wave.

They wave back.

We’re at a safe distance that way. We can imagine and talk and wonder while we make our rounds and come up, always sooner than expected, as the sun starts to sink, on the blue house with the sailboat in the water out front, the familiar trees where the hammock used to swing, grandma’s flowers, the American flags stuck in the grass by the rocky shore, and feel the warm flood of familiarity fill us up with the good memories we’ve had there year after year together.

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It happens to me every time we leave on that pontoon, sitting shoulder to shoulder, talking and laughing with my aunts and uncles, sisters, parents, grandparents, looking briefly into other people’s lives, wondering, wishing perhaps that we could afford that big boat or that beautiful deck, contemplating who we would be there before pulling slowly into the dock on that one house out of a hundred that we know so well.

The one that holds so much.

The best one on the lake for people like us.

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Coming Home: Searching for perspective on life from a distance
by Jessie Veeder
Forum Communications


When I lived between the sidewalks of town, one of my favorite things to do was go out for a walk in the evening as the sun was going down on the neighborhood. It didn’t matter what time of year—the crisp, still air of winter or the thick heat of the summer—I liked to follow the path of the sidewalks that stretched past the neat rows of houses, the warm glow of the kitchen lights shining brighter than the setting sun outside, projecting a slice of each family’s life out onto the street.

For a few short years of my young life, when times were tough and my parents had to move to eastern North Dakota for work, I was one of those sidewalk kids, riding my bike a few houses down the block to the neighbor girl’s house so we could pretend we were riding horses in her front yard.

But mostly I was a kid who played in the coulees in the evenings after school, one who got to ride horses in real life, who never learned to rollerblade for severe lack of pavement, whose new neighbor girl was a mile away up the hill and who pushed a lawnmower over cocklebur plants and Canadian thistle that couldn’t be tamed no matter how my mother willed it.

Those were my memories.


So it was surprising to me how much console I found in walking those neighborhood streets in my adult years spent away from the ranch.

I was thinking about this last night as I walked out in the pasture as the sun dipped below the horizon, turning the grassy pastures and the sky behind me dark green and navy blue. I climbed the hill where the two teepee rings still sit and I looked back at our house, noticing how it somehow looks nestled and perched at the same time in that small opening of oak trees.

The lights were glowing small squares of gold to the outside, while inside the baby slept in her crib, holding the satin edges of her blanket, breathing in and out behind drawn curtains.

I couldn’t see her, of course, but I knew she was there, just as I knew my husband was in the new easy chair, reclined with his arms above his head and his stocking feet kicked back, a small glass of whiskey beside him.

This has always been my favorite way to look at our house. From this distance it seems like it doesn’t contain my life at all, but a life of another woman entirely, and I’m just a passerby who can make up her story.


Because I can’t see the things undone from here—the fence that needs stain, the pile of unsorted laundry, the conversations we need to have about selling the car or cleaning the garage or juggling the bills.

From this distance I can imagine our life instead of live it, and it’s a strange but wonderful thing.

And I think that’s what I was doing all those years walking those sidewalks in my 20s, trying to imagine my life and how I was going to get to whatever came next.

I would put myself in those houses with the manicured lawns, the dad on the grill out back, the kids jumping on the trampoline. I could put myself in the kitchen that opened up to the deck and invite my neighbors over for burgers.

I could fall in love with the little boy fishing in the gutter of the street, I could name him and his siblings and make up what kind of mother I might be to him.

Because I wasn’t prepared for any of it, even when I found myself living in it, in a real job, renovating a real house, working on my own manicured lawn along those sidewalks. So I walked. For perspective.

And I still do.

Because everything’s a little easier, a little more perfect, at a safe distance.


“Where the deer and the mis-guided pug with an identity crises play…”

If I had to estimate the miles I have trudged around the hills of this ranch since moving back a year and a half ago I will go out on a limb and shout out loud with my hands in the air (because I talk with my hands) “Hundreds!”

I know this is probably not accurate. I know it’s likely exaggerated a bit, but it sounds good. It sounds like a number I am content with considering that whenever I have a moment to spare to clear my head, find my breath, get my blood pumping or look for inspiration, I find myself bundling up, grabbing my camera and climbing to the top of the nearest butte, crouching down in the creek beds, or trudging in the fields above our house searching for the horses.

It’s a ritual that can’t be beat. One that never fails to put me right with the world actually.

Have you ever finished a giant meal full of more carbohydrates than a woman should consume in a week while watching the latest episode of “The Biggest Loser?”


Me neither.

But if I were to engage in such unhealthy behavior that left me with a feeling that resembles a mix of “no self-control” and a very present tinge of “self loathing”, a walk in those hills with the wind blowing through my hair and flushing my cheeks would clean the ick right out of me. Not to mention put a very necessary dent in the calories consumed and a much-needed burn in my calf muscles.

And all of the huffing and puffing in the prairie wind also happens to be a nice quick fix for writer’s block as well as those unavoidable gloomy moods where you are certain the universe planted that slipper in the middle of the floor just to trip you.

The universe or your husband.

And if I were ever to have a fight with said husband over said slipper that starts with a joke only one of us thinks is funny and ends with none of us laughing, I am comforted knowing that the cure lies in the entryway where at least one-pair of boots is waiting for me to save them from the depressing depths of the closet and get them out into a world full of dirt and sunshine and cool breezes and snow and maybe an adventure…

And you know who else is waiting out there for me to overdose on carbs, get stuck on the last line of a new song, pick a fight with the hubby, or, you know, avoid the laundry?

Yup, you guessed it.

My P.ICs, my M.V.Ps…

My D.O.G.s

Yup. They never miss a chance to escort me on old cow trails, rocky hilltops and slushy creek beds. Because they too think slushy creek beds are the best. And it doesn’t much matter if they are a few miles over the hill visiting their girlfriends at mom and pop’s, or rolling in poop below the barn, or catching a really good nap in a sunny spot by the garage, as soon as they hear the door knob turn they are at the door wagging their butts at the idea that we are going somewhere.

In rain, or snow, or, well, you know, a blinding blizzard, my loyal companions are ready for me to go anywhere…at anytime.

Oh, to have that much trust mixed in with an even greater amount of passion for things like sniffing and running and munching on dead things. What a life!

And I love it. I do. They are my constant, fluffy, four-legged, slobbery, poop sniffing, leg lifting, floppy eared, droopy faced, smooshy faced, out-of-place companions.

But let us take a moment to note that nowhere in my description of my furry friends is there an adjective that is synonymous with the following terms: regal, photogenic, award-winning, gorgeous, nobel, handsome, agile, graceful, rustic, poetic, inspiring or the quality some living things posses that make those witnessing them actually slow the object’s motion down in their imaginations in order to fully absorb the grandeur of their presence…you know, like when the hot chick enters the library and lets her hair down in your favorite tween movie.

No, my pups have never been anyone’s love interest, nor will they be appearing in any major motion pictures anytime soon.

Unless there is a sequel to “Homeward Bound.” If they make that I’ll be putting together some audition tapes of my cats following the dogs following the horses following the cows in the home pasture.

Now that’s a sight for the big screen.

A comical sight, but this is my life. 

And a comedy is the only category these hounds fit into really. Which, in turn, makes it challenging to really focus on the contemplative, inspiring, whimsical, natural, meditative, stunning and magical photographs I am shooting to capture on these jaunts out on the countryside when Tweedle Dee and his BFF Tweedle Dumb are high tailing it for the nearest stock dam…

Or, you know, doing things like this…

Dog in the stock tank

Needless to say I spend a majority of my time on these walks shouting at the dogs to get the hell out of the frame and a few extra editing moments at the computer weeding out the unwanted dog tail, snout, foot and always present butt that might have snuck its way into one of my beloved sunset/landscape/horse/babbling creek/rainbow/wildflower photos.

Case in point:

Without dogs:

With dogs:

Without dog:

With dog:

Without dog:

With dog:

Without dog:

With dog:

Without dog:

With dog:

Somehow a photograph of a North Dakota sunset says something a bit different with a profile of a flat nosed pug and a droopy faced lab silhouetted in the forefront.

But what, exactly, does it say?

“Home, home on the range, where the deer, the mis-guided pug with an identity crises and a prematurely aging labrador play …”

And as much as I’ve tried to make the lab look nobel and stoic sitting strong against the backdrop of the rolling prairie, the orders aren’t rushing in for a 20X30 framed and matted photograph of a 105 pound chocolate hunting dog with drool flinging off of his droopy lips due to the relentless wind of the day…no matter how big his heart

For some reason nobody is in desperate need of that work of art to hang over their fireplaces to complete the warm and sexy look of their home.

It’s the same reason that this shot here:

is just a bit more appealing than, say, this shot:

No, we’re just not ready to appreciate and celebrate the spirit that these types of life-loving creatures can bring to a beautiful landscape.

Take a look at this shot for instance. Here we have a handsome group of long horn steers, a symbol of the rugged west, a story waiting to be told of cowboys and wide open range and a lifestyle that is adventurous and brave.

Now throw a pug in the mix and, well, that beautiful poem is instantly replaced with that childhood song “one of these things is not like the other/one of these things just doesn’t belong…”

Now that’s what I call contemplative.

Ah, yes. There are a hundred pictures like this. Hundreds of photos of the hundreds of miles these to yahoos have spent running the trails in front of me, sniffing in the brush, licking my face when I lean in close to the ground to get a close shot of a flower, or coming to my rescue when I lay down in the grass to look up.

And I am aware that when I crop out the wandering tail, the meandering paw and the occasional out of control floppy ear, this landscape looks the way it was meant…authentic, natural and pure…

But sometimes I like to keep in a squishy nose or a blur in the grass to remind me that , well, sometimes when you’re looking for inspiration, relaxation, and escape from the stresses of the world, the best medicine is to remember your sense of humor…

And that life is nothing without good company. And  I would walk a million miles in those hills with these two clowns.


and ever…