Out to lunch in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

It’s hard to believe that after a winter that extended long into spring, bringing with it unwelcome snow and sleet and ice, that our world was thirsty for more moisture just a month after the last blizzard.

But the dry crusty earth and the dust in the air in the middle of May was telling us that we were in dire need of some moisture. The earth had some growing to do and the warm sunshine alone wasn’t cutting it.

So, after a Saturday drizzle that turned into a Sunday morning haze, the sky opened up and it poured.

It rained like the dickens, as the old folks around here would say.

And just like that the world turned from brown

to green.

I guess I don’t have to tell you how anxious I was about the types of pretty things that might be sprouting out there. I had been cooped up in the house for the weekend watching it green up from the other side of the windows and Monday found me between the walls of an office. By the time I was set loose from my work on Tuesday, it was still raining, but it didn’t matter.

I had to get out.

Because when the weather changes so drastically, I feel like I’m missing something if I’m not in it, like I’m not in on the secret.

So I closed the computer, left the to-do list on my desk and took my lunch break 15 miles south of Boomtown, to see how Theodore Roosevelt National Park looks in the rain.

I wish I could have taken you with me on that drive.

I wish you could have smelled the cedars waking up, heard the mud slosh under your feet as you climbed the trails and felt the warm rain on your bare skin.

I wish you could have seen this bison scratch his side on a trail marker and laughed with me at how a beast could be so majestic and ridiculous at the same time.

I wish you could have sat at the overlook and remembered the times you climbed up here as a kid as you looked out at the river collecting raindrops.

I wish you could have heard the birds calling.

Smelled the sweet peas.

I wish you could have taken the moment to love the rain. To be a part of it.

I wish I could have taken you to lunch.

The world is full…

This world is full of wild and thirsty things

skin and bones and muscles
feathers on black wingssoft petals on pink flowers
and stem and branch and leafwaiting on the cool rain
waiting for the greenThis world is full of a sneaking kind of goldyou can find it on horizons
can’t be bought or held or sold and only in the morning
or at the perfect time of night
welcoming a new day
setting up the lightThis world is filled with the most peculiar sounds croaks and sighs and wails
and squeaks coming from the ground and up above a whistle
and from the hills a lonesome cry and I wonder if the calling
is hellos or sad goodbyes This world is full of wonder and moments to be brave and moments to remember
why we’re here and why we came and moments to be thirsty and moments to beholdand moments just to listen to all the life outside our door

The beautiful things.

I have a good life. Not much to complain about when it comes down to it really, except for a weird tail-less cat trying to climb up my leg, not enough hours in the day, unfinished projects and cold toes.

But some days, during a break in the morning news, I cry at the Walgreens commercial.

And the commercial for a web browser that tells the story about a dad sending his daughter off to college. And then they video chat.

And anything with a cute baby or a puppy or a grampa or a soldier coming home.

And lately I cry at the weather report.

Now, don’t get all worried about me yet. I’m not sure I would be diagnosed with any emotional disorder, although Husband has diagnosed me simply “emotional.”

And he’s right.

I spend quite a bit of my life laughing though, so I figure I’m balanced.

But I admit, some days are worse than others. I admit it because I’m human and I know you’re human (unless you’re a dog and humans haven’t discovered your abilities to access the web without thumbs) and we all have days like these.

Days that send me running for the hills.

I’ve learned over the course of my nearly 30 (gasp!) years alive in this breathtaking and heartbreaking place it’s the only thing to do to recover my senses and gain my balance and center myself once more.

I remove my body from the television screen, the radio, the music, the computer and all of those heartbreaking, heartwarming and heart wrenching stories and just try to live in my own for a moment.

It hasn’t been easy to do this lately, between the life-threatening cold temperatures, scheduled meetings and darkness that falls too early in the winter, I’ve had to make a special space in my day for clarity.

It’s why I keep an extra pair of snow boots and a furry hat in my car just in case. You never know when you might have a chance to escape.

I found one yesterday afternoon. I had a few of those teary moments over coffee and the news while I moved through my morning trying to pull it together, get to the office, make it to the meeting, keep up on emails, plan for an event, meet a deadline and live comfortably in pretty work sweaters between four walls.

4:30 came around and I had a meeting at 6.

An hour and a half hours would do it.

I got in my car and pointed it toward a favorite refuge, the only other place in the world beside the ranch where I can look winter in the face and call it truly beautiful.

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I’ve taken you there before on similar weepy days in the  fall when I’m overwhelmed and worried, on summer days when I’m tan and moving to the next adventure, and winter.

I really love it in the winter.

And it never lets me down.

So in 15 minutes I was there, turning off of the highway and following the snow coated road toward the river and the buttes,

stopping to capture how the sun looks above the frozen water and if I might catch the bison grazing somewhere in the snow.

I drove slowly to admire the lighting. I rolled down my window a bit to feel the fresh, 20 degree air and pulled over where the road ends, next to a trail that can take you to the top of it all.

I checked my watch. I had 20 minutes before I needed to turn my car around and head back to my other world. I was in my town coat and dangly earrings.

I switched out my fancy boots for snow boots, covered my hair with a beanie and trudged on up there, slipping and sliding and panting because, well, I just felt like it.

I felt like climbing.

Because this is what winter looks like in the badlands.

This is what it looks like from the top of it all…

all 360 degrees of it, surrounding me and telling me it’s ok to cry.

Especially for the beautiful things.

My weird and mysterious backyard…

When you live out here it is easy to see the big picture. All you have to do is climb to the nearest hilltop and take in the view.

From way up there you will see the Blue Buttes to the north, the creek bed lined with oak trees below, the rolling grasses and the stock dams under the big blue sky.

I like the view from up there, it puts me in perspective. It takes my breath away when I need something breathtaking and gives me a second wind when I am running low.

But for as much as we can all appreciate a great view from above it all, for me there has always been something magical about life on the ground level of the world.

I’ve written about it before, about taking a step off of the road to cut through the trees. I’ve written about looking down, about honing in on the soft petals of a flower or the way the dry grass glints in the sunlight.

All of those small things that live down there among the pebbles and budding seeds remind me that there is a world still unexplored and mysterious.

And kinda weird and disgusting.  

Fall Spider

I’ll tell you, out here, Husband and I are easily distracted by these sort of things. We spent this weekend cleaning up the construction debris that had accumulated in the yard of our new house. It wasn’t the most thrilling of tasks, throwing weathered pieces of broken siding, particle board and plastic warp into the back of the pickup only to unload it into the dump site and come back for another load, but Husband kept it interesting by hollaring at me to come and look at every creepy, crawly thing he found under the wood pile. He would take my guesses on what we would find as he flipped over big, heavy boards or moved sheeting.

I always guessed worms.

And hoped for something better.

It was like a treasure hunt, especially when we would discover a frog or a salamander.

Not so especially when we tallied up Husband’s spider count.

Husband hates spiders.

But the two of us share an affinity for reptiles and amphibians, both known to have kept lizards, snakes and frogs as pets in our lifetime. So when he yelled out “Jess! Found another salamander over here!” he wasn’t surprised that I was quick to throw down the current piece of junk I was hauling and drop to my knees to inspect the creature.

And then take some pictures.

I can’t imagine what Pops thought when he came into the yard to find me in the middle of our trash piling project pointing my camera into a dirt clump.

He did shake his head a little when I continued to interrupt our conversation with my obnoxious command at the pug to leave the salamanders alone.

My dad was so distracted by my break-up tactic that the man actually relocated the salamander to a safer spot to get me to shut up.

Pops is used to this sort of thing.

Anyway, this is the part where I ponder my fascination with the creatures that lurk and buzz and squirm below our feet. This is the part where I wonder why I’m so enamored with the tiny bodies and skeletal structure of the creatures who share my backyard.

But I don’t have much to say about it except that I know why I look down.

Because when I think all has been discovered, that there is no more adventure in the world, I just have to remind myself to look a little closer, to discover the barn spider and marvel at her web.

When I notice the perfect pattern on the salamander’s slimy back and the way the tiny frog blends in perfectly with the mud I am reminded that there’s always more ways to be in awe.

If I just remember to notice the small things. 

If I could pick a prairie bouquet…

If I could pick for you a bouquet
from the windswept hills of spring,

from under budding oak groves,
and along the babbling creek…

I’d pick you bluebells for your table,

and sweet peas for your mom,

the mist from early mornings,
a meadowlark’s sweet song.

I’d throw in green, green grasses

and the chokecherry’s in bloom
to set upon your nightstand
and bring some springtime to your room.

And to that I’d add some sweet smells
and a horse’s tangled mane,

The dust from tires on gravel,
all the things we cannot tame.

Like the sound of insects buzzing

and a brown dog in the mud,
thorns that poke your fingers,

and dandelion fluff.

Then I’d find you ladyslippers,

a yellow violet hiding out,

prairie smoke and daisies…

all the pretty that’s about.

But I won’t forget the rainstorms
or the rocks that dot the fields,

the wood ticks and the slick mud,
all the things that make this real.

Because if I could pick the prairie,
put this earth into a vase

I’d take the sunshine with the hale storms
but leave the secrets in their place.

Victoria’s Secret models don’t get wood ticks…

Feel it? You do don’t you? That tingling crawling up your bare leg, on the inside of your pants, towards parts of your body you’d rather not mention. You’ve got a creepy feeling, and now that feeling has spread to the back of your neck where you’re sure something is there poking up toward your hair-line. Go ahead, slap it. Scratch it. I’ll wait.

Ok, now it’s moved to your arm where you feel like the hairs are standing on end. There’s something there you’re sure, and it ain’t a mosquito. What is it? Where is it? You crank your elbow around and retch your neck toward your back to reach it.


But something! It has to be something! There it is moving up your leg again.

Oh, oh dear. You’re stripping off your pants? No worries. I understand. I’ll look away while you inspect your pale white stems, leaning over to rub them down, scratching, calling to your husband, your momma, your sister, your preacher to come and look! Come and check! I think I have a tick!

A tick?!


You found it didn’t you.

Invasive little bastards (sorry preacher).

They’re here. It’s official.

He looks innocent, but crawling under that fur and those floppy ears is a nightmare...

Yup. It’s tick season and I’ve rung it in in typical ranch style fashion, celebrating by discovering my first little friend while on a shopping spree to Victoria Secret. I had showered, combed my hair, put on some makeup and made the long trip to the big town for undies. I was feeling good. I was feeling a little less like a grubby ranch girl and nearly presentable, dare I say damn sexy while I thumbed through the racks of impractical underwear. I was wincing at the thought of a permanent lace wedgie when I reached up to scratch my head only to discover one of the many reasons I will never be a Victoria Secret model.

And it's too bad, I mean, I showed so much promise in my early years...

Because I can’t imagine Heidi Klum has ever discovered a wood tick stuck in her hairline while frolicking amongst the ridiculous push-up bras and butt-crack revealing undergarments and smelly lotions and powders and weird music only to wonder just how long the damn thing had been there.

Nope. Victoria Secret models shave their legs…

Victoria Secret models have other people comb their hair for them…

Victoria Secret models live in places with white sand and big sunglasses and gentle winds that blow their hair in just the right direction.

Victoria Secret models don’t have to check for ticks.

But dammit, it’s April in Western North Dakota and I have been reminded, once again,  I am no model. And unless I want to show up to a meeting with one of the world’s most loathed blood sucking insects taking up permanent residence on my body, I have to check for them everywhere and on a regular schedule.

Because out here surrounded by grasses and trees and fallen logs and dogs that never stay home, they are indeed everywhere.

Yesterday I found a really large family of them having a Thanksgiving style meal inside the pug’s left ear.


I  wrestled my pudgy black mutt to the ground while I applied Frontline to his back and wondered if they make something like that for wild humans who live in wild places.

Seriously people, after finding a wood tick in my bed last night I have decided I’m not above wearing a tick collar. I mean, I am sure I wouldn’t be the first human to go to these lengths to avoid the plague of the pests. Maybe I could make some sort of fashion statement.

Ugh, it’s intense people, the hatred I’ve had for them ever since I was a kid who would come home from the trees at night only to strip down to my underwear while my momma pulled up to sixty or more wood ticks from my skinny, pale body.

When I was that age, nothing could keep me from those woods. But the ticks? They tried their damnedest.

And we still hate each other.

Well, I hate them.

They love me.

They love the place behind my ear, the spot where my waistband rests at my back, my arm pits, my thick head of hair and even my damn belly button for the love of Martha.


You feel itchy don’t you. You’re running your hands through your hair, huh? Calling your husband?  It’s that spot on your leg again?

Go ahead, take off your jeans. Inspect for the insect.

I’m doing the same.

A winter breath in Theodore Roosevelt National Park…

I took a moment on a regular weekday morning, a morning when much of the state was preparing for one of our first winter storms of the season, to find some magic in the winter.

I knew just where to go to find it. A place that was set aside just for us when we need magic moments like these.

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

It’s right in my backyard really. I’ve shown you before. It’s just down the road from the office that was waiting for me to take phone calls, finish some reports, and stay caught up. But it was snowing ever so lightly, frost was hugging the branches of the trees and the wind was calm enough to for me to hear something calling me out to explore, to look, to listen.

I needed to see what it looked like out there in its winter outfit.

I needed to listen for silence because in the absolute quite, everything inside of me quiets too.

I needed quiet.

I needed quiet enough to remember that I was in there all along. I needed quiet to tell me I was in there with all of that noise and static and voices drowning out the sound of those young deer on the trail ahead of me, cutting a path with their hooves, leaping over fallen branches and stopping to check out that creature behind them in a puffy coat and mittens. They don’t miss a thing and if I hadn’t stepped off of the road and up that hill, if I wouldn’t have stepped softly, slowly, I certainly would have missed them.

I don’t know what it is about being alone in nature. I write about it often. I dream about places not yet discovered, about trails that have been untouched by human feet. I don’t know anything except for it heals me in some way. I know that being alone under the branches of the oaks or the arms of the big cedars awakens something in me and reminds me that not only am I alive, but completely insignificant in the grand scheme of it all.


But that word doesn’t scare me. It thrills me. It thrills me to know that one charge of the mighty bison, one stomp of his hoof, could send me reeling.

It excites me to know my limits out there and to know to keep to them. To know the dangers of a mis-step could send me into a catastrophic fall.

To know the river flows fast under the ice and I have no matches for a fire and no intention of staying out past my allotted time.

To know that once we belonged here, but not anymore.

Because somewhere along the line we have separated from nature, from the quiet spaces on an earth that was laid out for us. We covered ourselves from the stars to survive, laid floor on the dirt and found new ways of making things that were good and true and simple damn complicated.

We’ve built fences and staked claim to things like rocks and mountains and grass. We have named it all. Dissected it. Studied why anything would turn out the way it has.

We’ve learned how it all could benefit us. How it could help us cure diseases, build more skyscrapers, heat our homes and reach us closer to the satellite we have placed among the stars in a sky we have yet to conquer.

So I go to the park, I take the back roads, I follow the trails on the ranch that holds my family’s name to be reminded of this:

I know not a fraction of what the acorn knows. I will never tame the wind nor will I ever touch all that the breeze has touched. I will never listen close enough to hear what the coyotes hear. I will never be as brave and howl my life into the night.

I count the striations of the exposed earth on a landscape that was formed by tons and tons of moving glacial ice and I know I will never have a story that grand. I will never be as interesting or romantic as those buttes.

I catch a hawk circling above the tree tops and am reminded I will never soar. I will never see our world the way she sees it.

And I won’t possess the strength of the bison, the authority of the season, the power of the sun and the clouds. I will never stand as tall, or know the patience of the old birch trees. And I will never own the delicate strength of the wildflower.

No, I come to the park as a spectator. I come to the park as a girl. A girl who has hands that need gloves made of leather and boots made with fur. I girl with thoughts and ideas and dreams about how to capture this place, how to share it by telling the story of the bison, singing the music of the hawk, and whispering just as softly as the doe caught on my trail.

But they are stories I am not worthy to tell.

So I stay quiet and listen.


To be alive…

So here I am in Red Lodge, MT getting ready to climb into husband’s new pickup with him and my built-in-best friend and take the trek with a camper up Beartooth Pass and on into Yellowstone Park for our family reunion last week.

I was excited to set my eyes on the magnificent views of this intensely steep, stunning, rustic and dangerous highway, so although I may come across as graceful while captured in the air, I will tell you I stayed true to form and landed awkwardly on the ground only to limp my way across the parking lot as husband shook his head and told me to get in the pickup already, geesh.

So we got on with it, happy we finally made it this far after spending fourteen hours on what was scheduled to be a six hour route.

But before we go much further I have to say that the open road, big sky, crisp air,  home in my rearview mirror, family next to me and more waiting ahead made me more grateful than ever to be alive.

That and the fact that sometimes in the middle of your grand plans interrupted by flat tires and small deer that fly out of the ditch to dent your new ride, life hands you a deep breath, a close call, a reality check to make you say a silent prayer to whatever you believe in for perfect timing, that damn flat tire and another day to live in this magnificent world.

Because as we climbed up the pass that day, our eyes focused on the snow capped mountains and the cold blue lakes pooled at their feet…

as we stopped to pick up an ambitious young man who was attempting to roller-ski up the pass and talked to him about his life full of adventure and challenge, as we counted yellow wildflowers and inched closer to the peak, our thoughts were with the man we found laying on the interstate the night before.

The man who, just moments before we found him, was celebrating a beautiful summer evening on the back of his motorcycle. A man who appeared before us a pile of broken flesh, bone and steel alongside the road as the sun sunk down over the horizon– a perfectly uneventful, every day drive, stopped short by an unexpected twist of fate and timing.

We could have been miles ahead of him, long gone and safe in our campsite by the time the man’s motorcycle made contact with the deer in his path, violently sending his body hurling toward the cool, rough pavement on the shoulder of the interstate.

We could have missed the entire thing and not thought twice as we made our way through winding highways, forest, flowers and mountain streams calling to us quietly.

Or we could have been a moment too soon, laughing as we told stories of good times spent together. We could have glanced over at one another just long enough to miss the headlight blinking in the middle of the interstate, to miss husband’s chance to slow his pickup down enough to maneuver through the lifeless deer, the dented bike and the broken man.

We could have been telling a different story entirely.

But no. We are telling this one. The one of our pickup parked safely along the road, the 911 call, the run to the nearest mile-marker, a cloth held to the man’s wounded head while he sucked in the Montana air and recounted his birthday. The one where kind-hearted and capable travelers stopping to help work through it, to direct traffic, to talk to him and tell him everything was going to be ok.

The one where the man was broken but alive.

The one where we were shaken but alright.

The one where we moved on to stand at the brink of a waterfall,

to sing around a campfire and climb a mountain,

to feel the steam of a geyser on our hot faces, the cool-down of the star-lit night and a prayer for a stranger on our lips.

We awoke the next morning to a stream bubbling by our campsite, little man laughing next to us and the mountains reaching toward a crisp, clear sky.

I couldn’t help but notice my senses were heightened, my heart more present, my body positioned closer to the family beside me.

And so we went into the mountains this way, all of us feeling more alive and grateful.

We laughed louder.

Embraced longer. 

Climbed higher.

Looked closer.

Saw more clearly

Reached a bit further. 

Took more time

Held our breath and found more patience to exist in an another day…

because we were reminded it is nothing but a gift.

Thank you family for bringing us all together here, for letting me hold your babies, for climbing that mountain with me, for cooking me a s’more and some chicken, for making sure we were all together as Old Faithful was erupting…

and holding on tight as I held on tight too.

Thank you for existing, in this masterpiece with me.

Winter Optimist vs. Snowshoes vs. January in ND

January. Oh January. A challenging month for even the most optimistic North Dakotan. One could easily throw in the towel around here, especially with the uncharacteristic snow accumulation we have seen already this winter, but most of us stick around.

Or go to Jamaica for a couple weeks.

Some people do this.


But the glass-half-full individuals, we put on another layer and say things like “Wow, that snow…hard to drive in it, but gorgeous isn’t it?”

or “Whew, it’s cold out there…great day for chicken noodle soup.”

And my favorite

“Halfway through. Once we get through January, it’s all downhill…spring’s just around the corner.”

I imagine these phrases come out of the mouths of the residents of our neighboring states (oh, and Canada) in all directions, in our typically northern accents, patting one another on the back while brushing snow out of our hair and stomping our feet on the rug, cheeks rosy from the bite of the wind.

Yes North Dakota Januarys bring out the true colors of our people:  the Jamaican cruisers, the Arizona dwellers, the optimists and the people who are not phased  who expect it and keep their mouths shut and Carharts on. There are the non-natives that are so damn cold they can’t keep the coffee coming in fast enough. There are the natives that love it because every new inch brings a new story about a neighbor they had to pull out of the ditch or the challenges of getting the cows fed or how the Schwann’s man got stuck in their yard and didn’t even offer a complimentary package of corn dogs for all the trouble you went to in digging the southerner out…twice.

But always, no matter who is residing in this, picking up their children from school, breaking ice, enjoying winter sports, there is astonishment at how it can possibly keep snowing and how it ever was summer.


And then the stories, the comparison from winter to winter come rolling in.

“This is bad, but not as bad as the winter of ’77. Or ’96.”

“Do you remember last Christmas when we couldn’t even get our doors open?”


“I heard (insert name of town forty to fifty miles away) got another 10 inches.  Can you imagine? Boy we were lucky.”

These are conversations you will hear in every diner, in every gas station while you are pumping your gas and shifting your weight back and forth against the cold, in line at the bank, by the cheese section in the grocery store, or at coffee with your neighbors.

Oh, I love it. The drama of this season.

For me, a self proclaimed winter optimist who has uttered the aforementioned phrases, I have to confess at times this season (and this month especially) make me feel a bit like a recluse. Like, all I want to do is wrap myself in a blanket and write songs about how cold I am and how much I love the warm body in bed next to me and chicken noodle soup and coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon and warm baths and my  snow suit and neckerchief.

Yes, winter has typically been my creative time, not sure why, but I think it forces me to get inside my own head and listen…either that or take a nap. Cause it’s so damn quiet out here.

Anyway, I can’t remember if I told you or not, but for Christmas I received a shiny new pair of snowshoes from my in-laws. I have great in-laws.

I got snowshoes and husband got a kayak and now I am torn between wishing the summer to hurry and come back or the winter to stay…because we have toys.

We’ve never really had toys.

Anyway, since no amount of wishing will warm up this world and even though we are tempted to take a run down the nearest snow-covered hill in the new kayak, we know better. So I have so been enjoying exploring our winter wonderland in my snowshoes. Which seems like a safe winter activity. Much safer than thrusting a body attached to skis down a mountain at great speeds…or you know, doing the same in a little canoe type thing…

So the snowshoes are marvelous. I can go places on the ranch that I can’t even go in the summer because of unruly vegetation and mushy creek beds. I put those things on and I feel like Jesus, impossibly walking on the ocean’s water…only my ocean is white and cold and the waves don’t move the same way.

I attached my winter body to the fantastic contraptions for the first time last week and laughed with evil glee as my pups fell through snowbanks and frolicked and fell and tumbled headfirst into drifts while I effortlessly glided on up and over and down and around, like Jesus…wait, I think I used that already…well anyway, you get the point…

And I could go on and on, but I want to tell you a quick story about how snowshoes seem like a great idea, especially when you are on a mission to get in shape and actually be useful on the ranch. They are a wonderful invention that turns an inconvenient pile up of snow into a grand and beautifully daring adventure, and a way to get around the place to check things out, until you forget that the temperature gauge dangling outside your window does not report windchill and halfway through your trip to find the horses, which turned up a lot of footprints and turds, but no actually horses, you discover that the snot that has been plaguing your nostrils the entire trip (as snot does in cold weather) is actually not snot at all.

Because it is blood.

It is blood and it is gushing down your face and onto your scarf and staining the white snow. And just moments before you discovered this new turn of events you felt you were a bit tired, but could make it the mile back to the house with little effort. Because you are an outdoors woman. This winter is no match for you and your snow suit and your muscles.

But now there is blood.

Now there is blood and you quickly become aware that you are indeed alone out there in the wilderness. You think you might freeze to death.


Because there is blood.

And you are cold and cannot possibly go one more step. And your feet are heavy. And you are sinking in the snow. You know you are sinking in the snow. What? Aren’t these snowshoes supposed to keep you up on this stuff? LIKE JESUS?!

Oh Martha Stewart, the house is far.

And there is blood…why…why…why?!!!!

The beautiful, snow-covered trees that you were photographing without a care in the world just moments before suddenly become obstacles  looming just to get in the way of your safety.

Those drifts so deep, your feet so heavy, the dogs no help at all…those dogs just carrying on, sniffing each other chasing birds all happy and free like there is no one bleeding out here!!!

Oh lord there is blood and the house is so far away…

…those damn horses…

…damn exercise…if you ever make it back alive you vow to stay snuggled up on the couch where normal people belong in the winter. Who do you think you are? A mountaineer?

No. You decide you are not a mountaineer. You are a pale, pasty woman with noodle arms who belongs in the house writing songs about warm blankets and soup and love, not out here like some kind of crazy adventurer…

…you put your hand to your face…

…still bleeding…still blood…still the potential to die…or faint and then freeze to death and then die….

…you trudge up the hill, you stop to make sure you’re still alive.

And you are.

You are alive and you eventually make it home, sweaty and bloody and panting with the panic of it all. You make it home and realize, to your relief,  that the funeral plans you made for yourself on the long, bloody trudge home can be written down and saved for the next near death experience…which you are certain you will never have because you are never leaving home again…


Where the horses and one mule are standing right in front of your door licking the salt off your car and laughing at you and your bloody, crusty nose.

You may have even heard one of them call you a weirdo.


Damn horses.

This may or may not have happened to someone, somewhere.

And it may be funny or tragic, depending on the level of your optimism.

Oh January, how you taunt me.

Be careful out there.


A Winter Recluse turned Mountaineer turned Recluse again

Extreme Makeover – Winter Edition

Ok, so winter has settled in, leaving in its trail a thick blanket of sparkly snow that I am pretty sure is going to stay for a while. And now that it is December, this snow is perfectly acceptable to most people around here. So on winter mornings, eyes on the thermostat I mill around the house in my ugly slippers, working on various projects and looking out the window all too frequently to see if I can spot those three blue jays that have been hanging around.

Do you see them? They are in that tree, all three. And they won't let me get any closer than this, no matter how slowly and quietly I sneak.

Oh, this weather makes me feel pretty damn cozy, and apparently turns me into a bird watcher…

Last night and this morning a fog settled in and it has created the most beautiful and interesting glaze on anything it can cling to: tree branches, fences and the backs of beasts milling around the landscape, pawing at the frozen earth looking for another bite. The sneaky frost makes you see things you haven’t seen before, like this horsehair on the barbed wire fence I noticed when I came home from work last night:

Isn’t it spectacular?

Anyway, so here I am, 30 miles from the nearest town, alone with my thoughts in this cozy house with no milk and a freezer full of frozen apple pies (husband got a hold of the Schwan’s man …I guess there was a special).

Yup. And I actually thought I had a chance of getting out of the yard today, until I actually tried. After about five solid straight hours of snowfall I quickly realized that nobody needs milk THIS bad. I’ll drink diet coke thanks very much. That’s just fine with me, really.

A similar thing happened on Tuesday. Tuesday I was stuck here with the apple pies because my car would not make it up the hill and around the curve where the snow had drifted in over a nice layer of ice –precisely the location where I slipped and acquired a big purple bruise on my right knee the other day. And unless I strapped on the snowshoes I do not own (yet) and took the trek on foot, home is where I would remain.

But thank goodness for tractors and people that know how to use them, cause as soon as the sun went down, I was dug out. Free! Just in time to make some soup and go to bed.

And I didn’t mind at all.

Because as much as I could curse the snow and all of the annoying inconveniences it brings with it, like hat head and the necessity of ice scrapers, I love it.

I love it because it looks like this in the  morning…

…and this in the evening…

…and this when the sun shines….

…and this on my snowsuit….

I love it. And I don’t even own a snowmobile. Or skis. Or snowshoes! I do have a sled however, but I think I already told you that…

Yup, I said it. I love it despite my very limited collection of snow toys.

Anyway, maybe you have to have been born where the palm trees don’t grow to understand, but I have always been captivated by winter’s form of precipitation. I have been charmed by the way it falls so gracefully and quietly from the sky and gives the entire world an extreme makeover. It’s really good at makeovers, turning everything a different shade of gray and white and black and creating such drama, casting long shadows that catch us off guard in the middle of the day.

On the ground where cactus and thorns once grew, the topography is now transformed, soft, radiant and inviting, covering up our summer paths so we must begin again creating a landscape where we are never lost and can’t get away with anything because every move leaves a trail, evidence of where we have been.

And I love it when the flakes pile up and, with the help of the wind, they morph themselves  into  sculpted masterpieces, drifts resembling ocean waves…

…or small mountain peaks

…then mini-avalanches…

And when the sun shines, out comes the glitter and our houses look like they’re covered in sugar with frosting settled on our roofs and in our windowsills and the delicious, sugary icicles hanging from the eaves makes us want to stick out our tongues, or flop down on the ground, or jump and scream just to shatter something, to move something, to break the spooky silence the frost creates.

It sends us bright blue hats and fluffy sweaters and turns our skin from pale to bright red and back again.  It makes us hungry for spices and warm liquids and dishes that boil and simmer and slide down our throats.

It makes us turn on the oven and make things from scratch that smell like cinnamon and butter. (Well, maybe some people do this…I think I’ll just take out one of those pies…)

So we move in close and then the season surprises us with its sudden darkness and reminds us that we don’t have control. And if we were thinking we were prepared, we most certainly are not.

Because no winter has been the same.  No winter has created the same drifts, the same shadows, the same snowflakes and banks.

And no winter will be the same again.

So we close our eyes, snuggle down tight and our memories of a landscape so green and bright and baking, when we were rowdy and brown and sweaty and half-naked remind us of a foreign land, so far away.

Then we wake to find, socked in from the storm, our bodies softer, slower, more fair and crisp and realize that we too have been transformed. So we slide on our boots and pull our caps over our ears and go out to discover an entirely different world—showing off in his brand new, fabulous outfit.

And because I, like most girls, am a big fan of makeovers, I present to you North Dakota’s winter makeover–before and after:







Maybe not a Ty Pennington improvement, but beautiful in a completely different way.
Like me in my ski mask.
Enjoy your frost covered weekend!