We live on gravel roads that stretch like ribbons along pasture land dotted with black cattle. As we kick up dust beneath our pickup tires heading out to a chore or to meet up with a neighbor, we take for granted how these roads were built and why they're here. Because these days we're in a rush, driving faster than we should past newly made plans and history—some hidden and some still standing, weathered wood on crumbling foundations.
Out here on the ranch there are millions of tasks that require the proper attire. When I was growing up I don't think I ever saw our neighbor out of his Carhart bibs during the winter months. He would come in for a visit and sit at the kitchen table for an hour or so looking prepared to get up and go at any moment. Which he is — prepared, reliable and fearless. We know, because we've tested him.
"Remember when we used to hit up places like this after a long night out?" he said as he held the drooling, wiggly baby in one arm and ate chicken fried steak with the other while I shoveled eggs into my mouth between the toddler's incessant requests for more toast, because she had just discovered jelly, a condiment she is was convinced was sent down from heaven to this café from God himself.
This winter has been long enough. I woke up to another three inches of snow on our doorstep this morning, crushing my hopes of spring finally hanging up her coat here. I tried to complain as I poured the coffee, but I know it will fill the dams and make the grass green.
There are moments in this life that remind you what living is. I can say from experience that it's only a little bit the parts that you plan out that do the trick, like jumping out of an airplane over the Gulf of Mexico. Making it safely to the sandy beach after swallowing the atmosphere in the world's most terrified silent scream does indeed make you thrilled to be alive, but I think it's a lot more the quiet moments after the jump that stick with you in playback.
If you were anywhere in North Dakota last week, the weather was likely on your mind. You were talking about it over coffee, your TV turned to your favorite weather reporter, checking road reports and calling friends to ask what it was like over there in Bismarck, or Keene, or down by Hettinger. And then you brushed off your shovel, or, if you're lucky, got that new fancy snowblower ready. Yup, our quintessential North Dakota March storm landed, just like it does almost every year.
We have an issue here at the ranch. Besides the weird animal that may or may not still be living in our wall, we have another epidemic that's driving me mad. It has five fingers, it comes in all sorts of sizes, colors and textures and you can find one laying on every surface of the house, on every dash and under every seat in every vehicle on the place and scattered along trails, dangling from trees, laying on the bottom of stock dams and mashed into the dirt like artifacts from long, long ago.
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — I leaned in towards the mirror after my shower, hair fixed and on to my makeup, cursing the laugh lines around my eyes and the gray hair that accompanied them as I worked to hide the evidence of the years on my face. My 2-year-old daughter stood next to me, her blond hair wild from the morning. Each time I set something down on the counter — concealer, blush, eyeliner — she reached for it, as if mimicking my every move would help her unlock another door to growing up.
My dad once told me that he didn't believe that there was just one person for everyone. I was sitting shotgun in the pickup as he drove us somewhere. He likely asked me about my boyfriend, and I think I responded with a sort of fed-up answer. I was in that transition from teenager to adult, heading off to college and thinking I might be in love. And I was wondering if I should break it off, because that's what most people do. And at that age, what most people do sort of means something.
"Sorry for the mess," my friend's husband said as he opened the door to the pickup he was letting me borrow during the week I was waiting for my new baby to be born in the big town. I took a look around to find an orange hunting vest lying on the back seat and (GASP!) a stray penny on the floor. And that was it.