As a woman whose heart has been planted solid here in the buttes and prairies of North Dakota, but whose feet and mind have wandered with music and education and the winding road for years, I have often found myself on the other end of the question: Why here?
Before I made the decision to stay here for good, before I became a mother working and raising those children in the middle of my 30s, trying desperately to find a way to do the right thing for the legacy of this ranch, I struggled to find an answer. I used to think I had to be so profound. I used to think I had to convince them...
Because asking me why North Dakota, why the prairies, why Middle America, is like asking what it means to you to hold your last name, or wear your grandmother’s ring, or to lay down next to the man you love every night. How do you answer it?
Who are these people who hold the scent of the dirt, the push of the wind, the endless winters, the wheat fields, the small town in such regard? Who has lived here for years, or arrived fresh and unconvinced? Who comes home again?
We are rural route roads, beat-up mailboxes and dusty school bus seats. We are rides in the combine, summer sausage sandwiches, a thermos of coffee washed down with warm lemonade and faces streaked with dirt after a hot August day in the field. Two miles to a gravel road on the edge of town and we are freedom, our father’s pickup, 12 years old behind the steering wheel.
We are first loves and last loves and forever loves found on those back roads at night, on front porches, in the back seats of cars and under blankets shared in the stands at football games.
We are the stars that light up the endless sky at night, family farms, four generations of the same recipe on Christmas Eve. The barnyard light.
We are white wood prairie churches, our mother’s voice quietly singing the hymns, Jell-O with suspended vegetables and mayonnaise casseroles waiting for us in the basement when the service is through.
We are wet clay caked to cowboy boots, the black soil of the valley, the only stoplight in town.
High heels and business suits, running shoes and hoping things will stay the same and knowing, working, voting, crying out for change.
We’re number crunchers, songs that must be sung, books that must be written. Snake-bitten.
We scream for sun and pray for rain and push the river from our doors. We’ve been here before.
Chokecherry jam, mosquito bites, country fairs, one station on the radio, too young for our first beer, FFA and 4-H steers. Too young to leave here.
We are race car tracks and endless power lines, hockey rinks and barbed wire fences. Drilling rigs and endless fields of wheat. September heat.
We are bicycle tires on quiet streets, fireworks in May, Popsicles and swimming pools and a stop at the Tastee Freez, please. The new kid in town. The doctor who knows you. Rodeos and American Legion, football heroes, lead singers, the Ferris wheel in town for the weekend. The underdog.
Powwows, three-legged races, familiar faces, dances in the street.
Throwing rocks in the creek.
We’re “Pete’s kid,” and “Your mother wants you home right away!”
We are pushed to go and pulled to stay; we are leaving this place as soon as we’re grown.
And we are the sky we can’t explain, unpredictable, colorful and full of rage and gentle hope that it’s all going to be OK.
We are someday.
We’re the wind, relentless. The snow, endless. Sharp and hard, steadfast and certain like the winter and the change in weather.
We are the dirt under our nails, tangled hair, the cattails and bluebells and big white-tailed deer. We are new Main Street signs, and small high school hallways, and hope, even though...
We are all of these things that make up a home, but home is not ours to take. Somehow, we’ve been claimed.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at email@example.com.