A walk.


In honor of spring and the wind and the sun and the green grass poking up around us, I would like to take you along on my favorite trail, the one that leads to the east pasture from our house, up along the buffalo fence, to the top of a rocky cliff and then down again to the stock dam and back toward home.

Next week this walk will be a little bit greener, a little bit warmer and, hopefully, I’ll find some crocuses.

Next week maybe I’ll leave the damn dogs at home so they don’t scare away the wildlife with their slobbering, panting, running, and puking.

I guess that’s what happens when you run at full speed after a duck, ignoring the screams from your owner to come back.

That’s what you get when you try out your instincts after seven months of lounging.

It’s been a long winter.

I would have puked too.

Anyway, I hope the sun is shining wherever you are and you have the chance to explore your favorite spot this weekend.

Now, off we go…

Sorry weird cat, you gotta stay home…

























Take a breath. Take a walk. Take a break. Take some time.

Happy, happy weekend.

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.

To be a human in winter.


Mid January in Western North Dakota doesn’t have the best reputation. It’s indecisive. One day it’s a kind, 20 some degrees,


the next a bitter, chilling 20 below.


Then, just when you find peace with your wedgie-inducing long underwear, it decides to warm up  enough to melt the snow. “How nice!” you think to yourself as you get in your car to drive to town. “I think I could get used to this winter thing if it stayed like this…”

But you know better and you should have never taken off those long underwear, because as soon as you get far enough away from home that turning back wouldn’t make much of a difference, the wind picks up and drops the temperature enough to turn that once slushy highway into a long and lethal ice-skating rink where a constant stream of semis and oil tankers are your competition.

And you’re no Nancy Kerrigan.

Ah, shit. I admit, January and I are enemies. I try to stay positive, keep my guitar out and my snow-shoes and neck-warmer handy. I try to do some sledding or walking or make a snow angel or something…


but mostly I wind up in my sweatpants under the John Wayne blanket reading a book about someone near the ocean before I turn out the light for the night and prepare to tackle mid-winter in the morning.

White knuckle driving, the “arms-out, it’s icy out,” sidewalk shuffle, an intimate relationship with Henry, the morning weather man, phone calls to Pops and Momma and Husband and Little Sister and my friend down the road about whether or not to believe the storm report, feet shoved in slippers and then in boots and then in slippers and then under the covers, soup and coffee and tea and some sort of disgusting warmed up cold medicine because everyone’s sick around here….and a constant craving for pastries.

Yup, that’s January.

And although it comes every year, I’m always surprised how this month seems to suck the creative light right out of me and makes me question the practicality of packing up the pug and heading south.

But I’m not leaving.

Well, there’s the Vegas thing in February, but as of today, I’m planning on coming back. Because I’m here for the long haul, and the longest haul of them all just happens to be winter.

I was thinking this last night as I sat behind the wheel of my four-wheel-drive and turned up the volume on some melancholy music, singing along soulfully and feeling frigid and uninspired and hungry for carbohydrates. I put my foot lightly on the brake to navigate a snowy curve, when up ahead, about five mils from home along the side of the road I noticed a large, tall, dark figure moving slowly toward the white ditch.

I slowed down as a few hundred scenarios whipped through my mind as they do when you see something unexpected on a very familiar path…to big to be a deer…

A grizzly bear?

A tall, scary, insane hitchhiker?

Bigfoot?

An alien? Probably an alien.

No.

No.

No.

I pulled a little closer until the length of my headlights revealed the figure: two massive and stunning bull elk moving with ease and confidence across the road toward an oak filled coulee on the edge of the badlands.

I stopped in the middle of the road and looked around. Not much traffic meant I could relax and bask in this mysterious moment for a beat. And apparently those elk felt the same way, not the least bit intimidated by the flare of an oil well behind them casting light on their bodies and transforming them into beautiful silhouettes.

They stood still in that warm glow on a flat, snowy patch of ground and stared at the metal contraption lit up in front of them.

An alien.

I rolled down my window to hear them breathing, to hear their hooves squeak in the crust of the snow. As they moved along the highway I lightly pressed the gas pedal and moved with them, imagining I was on my way to the oak grove on the edge of the badlands, imagining my body was held up by a set of massive, hoof-clad legs.

Imagining my coat was thick and my head was held high and I could run like that.

Imagining I was one of them.

But people were made for houses I suppose. Houses and words and questions and the wisdom and thumbs to make wool caps to protect us from the cold.

And of all the qualities a glorious North Dakota elk possesses, I don’t imagine he can be inspired.

Although perhaps he is the definition of the word standing magnificently on a snowy flat, staring into my soul.

So I’ll take it. I’ll take the ice and the fur lined boots and the hot cup of coffee because being human on a cold January evening means the ability to become breathless and warmed clear through and falling in love, over and over again with our big, wide, white, frozen, wonderful world.

Summer: A photo recap.

September is creeping in on us as summer draws to a close.

Summer.

It’s my favorite season, but this year it has definitely been a challenging one. So I’m sad to see it go. I haven’t enjoyed it the way I should have. I haven’t ridden enough horses, I haven’t taken enough walks. I haven’t basked long enough in the sun or written enough songs about  the way the light floods through these windows in the morning.

So tonight I want to celebrate the moments of summer I was able to catch. We may not have had the chance to spend the time together, but the time she gave me was breathtaking and heartbreaking and awe-inspiring and peaceful and colorful and all the things summer is in my heart.

March 10. First ride of the new spring season.

March 21, my first crocus siting of the season…

April 17: My world starts to blossom

April 22: A spring joy ride…

with my favorite cowboy

April 25: Celebrating the green grass.

May 1: And the sky is a perfect blend of blue and white and fuzzy horse face.

May 6: Paddlefishing season!

May 10: The wildflowers bloom.

May 14: And the ranch comes to life.

June 2: The river calls again and it’s my turn to catch something.

June 5: The babies arrive!

June 7: The rain soaked the leaves…

and the badlands…

and the horses…

and the pug.

June 12: A country church along a back road…

June 17: And then there was the back road itself…

July 2: Summer settles in and we pick our favorite horses

July 7: We turn our faces up toward the hot sun.

July 10: We welcome the friendly bugs and watch our garden grow

July 21: The hot sun sets on us.

July 21: Checking the cows.

August 7: We’re home!

August 16: Bullberries in the morning.

August 18: Husband got himself another big catch!

August 26: And then there’s the dogs again…

Ah, summer, if I could put you in a jar beside my bed you know I would.

Enjoy the dog days everyone!

If you need me, I’ll be out catching salamanders…

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. 

When it pours…

We got drenched here yesterday. The morning brought us thunder against the glow of a sunrise trying to peek through the clouds and, well, it just escalated from there.

Around here we don’t get too many downpours like this. Typically we get our moisture in the spring and then watch the sky for a chance of showers to help soften the hard clay throughout the summer, so this day of gully-washing rain was a welcomed site for us.

And when I say gully-washing, I mean it. The coulees were flowing with raging river rapids, the corrals below the house turned into swimming pools, a new ravine was cut along the edge of my driveway and, well, I got myself a free pug wash. It’s days like these that make me feel like I’m in a different world altogether. The ten-year-old in me itches to run around in it, to let the rainwater soak in my hair and squish between the mud in my toes. But the logical grown-up in me decides it’s best not to get pneumonia, even though I’m fully convinced the pneumonia scare was a ploy by  mothers and grandmothers everywhere in an effort to avoid soggy kids running into the house with a pile full of muddy laundry waiting to be stripped from their pruny bodies. But whether it was the threat of a sniffle or the scarier threat of more laundry that willed me to stay inside until the monsoon-like rains subsided, it doesn’t really matter. I was out in it at the first sign of let-up.
Because I love the way rain makes my world look. I love how it changes things, how it drenches the wildflowers causing their petals to recoil.

I love the sparkle of the rain drops waiting to be evaporated back into the sky on the soft surface of the leaves.

I want to lick the drips from the un-ripened berries.

I like to visit the horses, to see how they fared as they stood still against the opened sky, their butts turned against the wind, soaking the heavens into their skin. It always seems a storm makes them ravenous, starving for the lush green grass that seems to turn neon at the first drop of moisture.

 But after the storm they won’t have me poking my nose in their business. They are not about to come in.
 They braved the storm, now they’re going to feast.

 I always walk to a hilltop then. I scrape and scramble my way up the face of the clay buttes, my boots, suffering from a severe case of mud-pack, weighing an extra 10-20 pounds. I scour the bushes for flowers, check out the sky for more rain, listen for the birds coming back to life and breathe in the fresh, new air.

Funny how a good rain can cleanse us, even when we watch it from the other side of the windows or come to know it after the calm has set in.

I love this land.

I love what exists here.

The changing and unexpected beauty cannot be recreated, not matter the repetition of the seasons.

I find I’m manic about being a witness to its changes, running out to be a part of it…

to be a part of the down pour…

Because when it rains I feel there’s something up there responsible for this…

When it rains, when it pours…I believe.

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.

Insignificant.

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.

 

The behavior of men and elk…

Out here on these acres of ranch land there are things I know are there and places I roam everyday. I know there are cattle somewhere between the east and west pastures, if the sneaky animals haven’t found a hole in the fence. I know that if I let the pug out too early in the morning without a bowl of food he will high tail it off down the red road to my parent’s garage where his girlfriend lives with one of those automatic dog feeders.

I know how to catch a horse and where the creek winds. I know where my favorite birch tree lives….and my favorite oak. I know there is a pair of geese that live in the dam in front of where we will put our new house. I know that they mate for life. When it comes to chokecherry picking, I know where to look. The same goes with plums, raspberries, tiger lilies and Christmas trees. I know who rides what saddle and to expect my pops, if he’s home on the weekend, down in the horse pens as soon as the light and weather will allow.

These things I know, these places I have shown you. I have taken you picking those berries, cutting that Christmas tree, down through that winding creek. I have introduced you to my favorite tree and shown you a photo of those geese. I have complained about the pug. These are things I can speak to, I can describe adequately and take you along through words and photos and feelings.

But on Friday evening as I saddled my horse and followed husband out of the barnyard and down the road to meet pops, I realized I haven’t successfully explained or portrayed to you my role out here on these rolling, rugged acres among the men of the Veeder Ranch.  Especially during a season that calls to their inner mountain men, that keeps their eyes wide open, their ears perked, their binoculars close to their sides and rifles tuned.

Yes, it’s nearing hunting season, and if I was ever a tag along, a nod and a “uh, huh” or “yeah, sure,” in their lives during the rest of the year as they explained to me where the fence was down and where the cattle were out, how to manage the water tank situation, how not to run over the biggest rock in the yard with the lawn mower, or where to stand and how to wave my hands when helping one of them back a pickup up to a trailer, ’tis truly the month for observation now, for quiet cheering, for watching these two men finally get a chance to play, to breathe, to flex their man muscles after a year filled with work and stresses.

So on Friday that’s what they did, we saddled up our horses and went scouting for elk–the elk that have been roaming in and out of our lives mysteriously all year, the elk that were behind our little brown house, across our road, by the cattle guard between the two places and then magically appear by my parents’ mailbox.

Because pops has his license this year, a kind of “once in a lifetime” chance at this majestic creature who he can hear bugling in his pastures in the evenings. But here’s the thing that I have learned about pops in my years of sitting next to him in the pickup as he leans his head out the window, his binoculars to his face…as much as the man is looking forward to the season and to the prospect of elk meat in his fridge for the winter,  what means more to him is the observation of this creature. He thrives on learning about their patterns of movement, where they water, where they bed down for the night, where they can be expected…or how they can be so unexpected.

And he wants to share in the experience, tell his story, see if he can show you the same thing. Which is precisely what we were doing on Friday as pops lead the way to the west pasture, talking quietly about how he came right up on these elk on Tuesday evening and got to watch them graze and hear them bugle from nearly 250 yards away. It made his month, that encounter, and he intended to find them again.

To watch.

To learn.

To listen.

And so I followed as the two men lead me down through the creek bottoms, up a rocky pass  across a grassy pasture and through a draw to the top of the hill where pops expected he might find the herd again. I followed as they whispered about guns and bows and where husband shot his whitetail deer a few seasons back. I watched them as they watched the hills, pulled binoculars to their faces, stopped short at the cracking of a tree branch or rustle of the leaves. They pointed things out to one another or stopped in a draw to whisper a few stories, pointers, to say what they expect or hope to see.

It as inspiring really as I moseyed behind, snapping photos and breathing in the fall air. These two men–one who raised me, one who I grew up with–have taught me things I may have never learned without them. Here they were, friends. Best friends out here under the sun that was setting fast and turning golden trees to dark shadows…best friends on an age-old mission, a ritual.

As we pushed our horses up to the top of the butte and dismounted, I watched as the two of them snuck to the edge of the hill, dark silhouettes of men out in an element that was made for them, silent and peering out into the big oak draws below.

My heart pumped hard as husband spun around with that expression I know means business and the two men nearly jogged back to the horses to get a closer look…they had heard the bulging and we were going to get a closer look.

Now here I would like to explain to you what that was like, sitting at the top of that hill with a herd of elk grazing and moving along the trees below us. I want to tell you what these men were saying and describe how the breeze was heavy, the light was low, how I was holding my breath nearly the entire time as the horses grazed behind us, listening for that unmistakable, mysterious bugle. I would have loved for you to be there, really, to learn a little about the behavior of elk in the men’s sporadic and enthused but quiet conversation about what they were seeing.

I could have sat there forever like that surrounded by good things, with the moon above and the grass under my body. I could have listened to these men in their best moments, watched these unsuspecting animals so far away in their habitat, doing what they do to survive out here.


I could have listened to those coyotes howl all night and fallen asleep under the stars at the feet of my horse.

That’s how I felt. 

This is what we saw…

And these are the sounds. They are something you may have never heard before so I wanted to share so badly. It’s nothing thrilling, no fast cars or complicated music, no political banter or celebrity gossip that you might typically find on an internet video. No. This is just the sound of quiet, of calm, of good men in awe of  nature, an elk bugling, coyotes howling and a woman listening…watching…observing the world through their eyes…

The sights and sounds of elk scouting with the men of the Veeder Ranch:

Alone and breathing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Well fall came dancing along in all its glory around here and we sure didn’t need the calendar to tell us so. Just like the uncharacteristically warm weather, the leaves on the trees were not about to take the subtle approach to the season change. Overnight the ash leaves turned from greed to gold, the vines bright red, the grass and flowers exploded seeds and even the slow and steady oaks began letting go their acorns and turning one leaf over to gold at a time.

It has been magnificent. But that’s the way it is around these parts, when it comes to the landscape and the great outdoors, you really can’t accuse it of being understated.

So after a challenging week I was ready to celebrate autumn the way it deserved to be celebrated. I was ready to frolic in it, to let go my agenda and my worries, ignore my pain and troubles and just climb a big damn hill and feel the warm breeze in my hair. So on Friday after a trip to the big town for an appointment, I moseyed on down the busy highway filled with lines of trucks and pickups and SUVs. Vehicles that moved busy humans at full speed along that paved ribbon of road that winds through buttes and half cut wheat fields, across the Little Missouri River that sparkles and meanders under the big blue sky and slowly sinking sun. I wanted to meander too, I wanted to meander among the things out here that are allowed a slow change, a subtle move toward hibernation, a good long preparation for a show like no other, a recital of how to slow down gracefully.

And I couldn’t help but wonder while I tried hard to keep my eyes on the road, despite the neon yellow trees waving at me from the ditches, if these people who were sharing my path were seeing this. Did they notice that the tree was waving to them too? Were they commenting on how the crows have gathered? As we came down through the brakes that move us through the badlands of Western North Dakota, our home, did they notice how the layers of the buttes–the line of  red scoria, the black coal, the clay–did they notice how in the late afternoon light the landscape looked like a giant canvas and the buttes seemed created with wisps of an artist’s brush?

Did they see that river? I mean really see it when they passed over the bridge? Did they take note of how it has receded a bit? Did they feel like stopping beside it to rest for a while? And as they approached the sign that read “Theodore Roosevelt National Park-North Unit,” a sign that indicated they were indeed on the home stretch to their destination perhaps, only 15 miles to the town to stop for gas, to make it home, to take a rest on a long truck route, were they enticed like I was at all on that Friday afternoon to stop for a bit?

Because what could be better than breathing in fall from inside a place that exists raw and pure? A park. A reserve. A spot saved specifically to ensure that nature is allowed to go on doing what it does best while undisturbed by the agenda of the human race, which at that point on Friday afternoon I was firmly convinced didn’t have a grip or a handle or an inkling about how to live gracefully among a world designed for us…let alone accept and live harmoniously among what we can’t control or may not understand–like the change of weather and the seasons and the sun beating down on the hard earth we wish would soften, or a body we wish would heal and function properly.

And I was guilty as well of taking this for granted. I was guilty of driving by this spot time and time again as it called to me to take a rest, to visit, to have a walk or a seat or a climb.

But not Friday. Friday I needed its therapy. I needed to park my car and stretch my limbs and take a look around from the other side of my camera.

From the top of Battle Ship Butte.

From the trail at the river bottom.

From the flat where the bison graze.

So as I pulled my cap down and took to the familiar trail that wound up that big, daunting and famous butte along the road, I took notice of breeze clattering the drying leaves together, the birds frantically preparing for the chill, the grasshoppers flinging their bodies at the dried grass and rocks…

and then I noticed I was alone.

Alone out here in this wild place I’ve visited before as a tourist, as a resident of the area, on dates and outings, family functions and educational tours surrounded by inquiring minds and cameras.

But I’d never been out here alone.

Alone as I scrambled and pulled my tired body up the steep and rocky and slippery trail toward the top of my world  as twobison grazed on the flat below the buttes.

Alone as I reached my destination with no other ears around to hear me catch my breath and then sigh in awe at the colors and solitude.

Alone as I watched those bison move and graze, a spectator in a different world, a spy on a giant rock.

Alone as a ran my hand along the cannonball concretions, scrambled to keep my footing and wipe the sweat from my forehead on the way down.

Alone to take my time as I noticed how the trees sparkled on the river bottom against the sinking sun. No one to tell me that’s enough…enough photos, enough time, enough gazing.

Alone as I walked toward the river, keeping an eye on the time, but wishing there was no such thing. And there was no one there to stop me from following it a little bit further, to see what it looked like on the other side of the bend.

No one there but me and a head full of thoughts and worries that were being pushed out of the way to make room for the scenery, the quiet, the beauty, the wildlife tracks and magnificent colors and trails before me.

And because I was alone, because it was quite, because in here there was no speeding or trucks or access to my phone, because unlike on the ranch, I was unfamiliar with the trails and the directions I was forced to really pay attention, to use my senses, to make new discoveries,  I was able to notice that after a few weeks gone missing I was becoming myself again.

The self that understood this was my habitat, my home and surroundings. The self that knows the weather will be predictably unpredictable, but the seasons will always change, the leaves will dry up, the acorns will fall, the birds will fly away from the cold or prepare for it, the grasshoppers will finish their rituals, the snow will come and coat the hard earth, then melt with the warm sun, changing the landscape, if only a little bit, as the water runs through and cuts the cracks in the earth.

And the bison will roam because we let them and the antelope will too knowing or not knowing that their lives are fragile.

Just like ours.

So we must remember to be present,  live in it…breathe.

Thank God I remembered to breathe.

Please, remember to breathe.

For more photos of my hike around Theodore Roosevelt National Park, click here to visit my Flickr photo album 

Oh, and if you missed it, take a stab at my North Dakota Trivia Game from last week’s post for a chance to win a prize! There haven’t been many brave attempts (I think you’ve all been out enjoying the beautiful weather), so I’m giving you more time!  Get your ND history hat on a play!

Heaven is a wild raspberry…

 

Around here you go to bed at night to a landscape brown and ready to shoot to the sky and wake to fields of flowers big and bright and alive. Around here you savor their aroma, their vibrance, their fleeting existence, because as soon as you close your eyes again they have withered into the earth.

Around here you wait for months for the sun to stay in the sky just a little longer to warm the ground  and make things grow and allow you to stay out in the air until well past 10 pm.

Around here you must get to the corn before the deer, the tomatoes before the bugs, the berries before the birds, because every creature is waiting in the shadows to savor the fruits of summer before the trees start to drop their leaves, the sun casts shadows sooner, the rain turns to snow.

And so on this early August day I am hit with the realization that we are on the back side of summer now. The hot side, yes, but the down hill slope indeed.

The weeds are tall, the late season flowers are in full bloom, the clover has reached its peak, the kids are buying school supplies, the sun is leaving us a little sooner each evening, I am contemplating what types of celebrations I am going to cram into my birthday month and

and

and

the wild raspberries have appeared like tiny drops of heaven, little rewards, consolation prizes for a summer on it’s way out of dodge.

These perfect little morsels are what I spent the late summers of my childhood hunting while sitting bareback on a horse with my best friend and a plastic grocery bag.  These tart wild fruits that grow on vines along the thick brush are what my eyes are searching for this time of year. To hell with the wild sunflower, the coneflowers, the juneberries that the bugs have demolished. If I can bite down on a wild, perfectly red raspberry and savor the juices that hit my tongue if only once in a summer I am satisfied.

Fall can come tap dancing in.

Winter can bring it.

I got my raspberry.

So it was with delight that I hit the trail last Sunday for a leisurely ride with pops, husband and little sister. It was the last day in July and it sure as hell felt like it. The air was muggy, but there was a nice breeze and the sun was hiding behind a skim of clouds for the time being. It was enough relief to keep us from baking, enough to allow us to saddle up and head for our favorite pasture in the east.

We weren’t looking for anything in particular, the four amigos. We just wanted to be in one another’s company as the morning rolled on into the afternoon. See, the other casualty of late summer is this: little sister is leaving. Yup. Back to east side of the state to finish up her schooling and become a grown up already. I haven’t admitted it yet here, but the fact that time is marching on and out too quickly, bringing with it this type of consequence, has been the catalyst to the waves of dread and the reason I have occasionally pulled on my crabby pants during the past five days or so.

I am lashing out at time and wondering why the bluebells can’t stay….

Why the clover must dry up…

Why the sun can’t maintain its heat…

Why my gray hairs multiply with each pluck of a straggler…

Why little sisters don’t stay little forever.

But anyway, there we were last Sunday strolling on the back of good horses through acres of wild sunflowers and grass up to the heels of our boots. There we were riding just a little further, despite the fact that the sun had reappeared and the temperature was rising. There we were, the four of us, bonded by our love for a place, the desire to be part of something a little more untamed, and the need to be together out in it for as long as we could.

We were chatting about the unprecedented rainfall and the lush vegetation when pops, always in the lead, pushed his horse through a barley visible trail like a cow dog going after an unruly bull and squealed like a little boy. The three of us stopped in our tracks. What could it be? A mountain lion? An elk? A big, black hole? Aliens?

As pops flung his body off his horse and dove into the brush one of us dared to ask that question. You know, the one that starts with “What” and ends with “is it?”

“What is it, what’s the deal. Are you ok? It must be an alien this time…pops? Where you going?”

“RASPBERRIES,” he hollered from behind a tangle of green weeds and thorny brush and vines.

“RASPBERRIES” he mumbled as he dropped his horse’s reigns to the ground to reach and bend and lunge around him, his wide fingers carefully plucking the delicate fruit from its vine before popping his mouth full of the wild, red, succulent berries.

Well, that was it. That’s all he needed to say to get the rest of us to follow suit, fling ourselves off of the back of our sweaty beasts and dive into a draw, braving thorns, mosquitos, poison ivy, bees, ants and that dreaded and inevitable alien to get to the prairie rarity before pops and the birds ate them all.

“There’s hundreds of them guys! Look at all of them….munch munch munch…remember this moment…munch munch…because in the winters…munch munch…we will talk about how we found all those raspberries out east that one summer…munch munch…here you go…taste some…”

And so we did. We all picked and tasted and searched the area like scavengers on a hunt for gold. We talked about what it might have been like to be a Native American out in this area and to come upon berries this sweet on a hot summer day.


We talked about the past summers where we wandered into similar patches. We talked about how many there might be here and what we could make with them.

We talked about coming back with a bucket.


But by the time we were done talking our fingers were stained red and so were our tongues and we had cleared the area of all visible signs of the wild fruit. 

Because that’s the thing about wild raspberries, they very rarely hit the bottom of a bucket or make their way into a jam or pie.

No, no, no. They taste the best standing in a pasture, surrounded by sky and bugs and up to your eyeballs in foliage and leaves and vines and pure bliss.

So yes, the summers out here are brief. I don’t know why they have to be that way. I don’t know why the green leaves can’t hold on a little longer or why the wildflowers have to wither at all. I don’t know why 80 degrees only touches our skin for a few short months or where the bumblebees go when the snow comes.

I don’t know why I am beginning to notice lines on my face and a few strands of silver in my hair.

And I certainly don’t know why little sisters grow up and leave home…


or how wild raspberries appear and disappear like magic. 

I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s for the best. See, if we had paradise all year how would heaven measure up?

Because I’m sure there are raspberries in every cool draw in heaven.

Raspberries and clover, blue sky and just the right amount of clouds, good horses and sisters and husbands and fathers and mothers all riding together through lush pastures like the one that exists out east of our home…


the one that exists in my heaven.