As simple as a plum.

Western North Dakota grows wild plums. In the patches of brush where the poison ivy sneaks and the cows go to get away from the flies, they start as blossoms on the thorny branches and, under the hot sun, turn from green in early July to red to a dark purple bite-sized berry just waiting to be picked in the beginning of autumn.

Wild plums mean summer is almost over. They mean roundup is on its way. They mean sucking on pits and spitting them at your little sister. They mean scratches from branches on a detour for a snack on the way to get the bull out of the trees.

They mean Pops’ stories of grampa sitting at the table in the winter dipping into a jar of canned wild plums , drenching them in cream and stacking the pits neatly on the table.

They mean memories of grandma’s jelly on peanut butter toast.

They mean reassurance that sweet things can grow in brutal places.

They mean a passing surprize on our way through a pasture and coming back later with the farm pickup to fill up a bucket, me squished in the middle seat between my husband and my dad, the Twins playing on the radio as we bump along on prairie trails that haven’t been under a tire in months looking for that magical patch of fruit, wondering out loud if we could of dreamed it.

Laughing at the thought.

Wild plums mean listening to the two men banter as they pick and reach and gather like little boys, making plans for the best way to fill our bucket.

“Shake the tree, we can get the ones on top.”

“Keep ’em out of the cow poop…poop plums are no good.”

“Are you eating them Jess. Hey, no eating!”

“I’ve never seen a patch like this. Jessie, you can make so much jelly!”

Yes. I could. With the 6 gallons of plums we picked last night standing in the bed of the pickup, ducked down in the clearing where the cows lay, scaling along the edges of the trees, I could make jars of jelly, pies, pastries and syrups to last until next plum picking season.

But even if I didn’t. Even if we did nothing more than feed those wild plums to the birds, it wouldn’t matter. The magic of wild and pure things is in their discovery and the sweet reminder that happiness can be as simple as a wild plum patch.

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.