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COMING HOME: Despite the uncertainty, next step is same

WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- Before you walk into most businesses here in Watford City, you'll be greeted with a sign. It will probably be snowing or raining outside, and if it isn't now, it was yesterday, so you'll be asked to "Kindly Wipe Your Feet."...

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Jessie Veeder
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WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- Before you walk into most businesses here in Watford City, you’ll be greeted with a sign. It will probably be snowing or raining outside, and if it isn’t now, it was yesterday, so you’ll be asked to “Kindly Wipe Your Feet.”

And you’ll understand, because, well, it’s just plain hard to keep a carpet clean around here.

So, if you’re like me and came in from gravel roads and slushy driveways and hopped out of a car coated with every element in between, you’ll look down at your feet and then around the entryway in search of one of those boot-scraper contraptions screwed to the concrete with hard bristled brushes, and you’ll spend a minute or so concentrating on un-caking the mud from your feet.

And if you don’t have time for it all, you will grab a pair of soft, baby-blue, tissue-like booties with elastic tops from the complimentary box next to the boot scraper and slip them on over the mud and the muck.

Because you’ve had a rough day out in the field and you need to run into the pharmacy for a prescription or to the bank to cash a check and these complimentary blue booties will protect you and the carpet from reminding everyone that this place is being built by men and women in work boots moving the earth.

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There are other signs that you’re in oil country of course, the long lines of men in coveralls standing single file at the gas station holding their boxed lunches and Gatorades in a mixed-up buzz of countrywide accents and a sea of baseball caps and hard hats and company patches sewn over their hearts.

And then there’s that familiar snake of traffic, trucks and semis, moms in SUVs, starting and stopping at lights and signs, waving each other by when all the signals and rules fail to move us from Point A to Point B efficiently, reminding us again that there are minds behind the madness and souls behind the wheel of these big machines.

The way our world functions out here has become familiar. The tight quarters and the constant plans to make more room for more people to fill more jobs has become a consistent mantra and an unrelenting conversation.

And although the buzz of traffic along the edge of town seems to have remained the same, the headlines, as you’ve noticed, have changed. The opinions are flying. There’s much speculation.

Because oil prices have dropped and, well, what does that mean for us?

I’ve been asked many questions about my life here. What is it like to be a local in a small-town-turned-boomtown? What is it like to be a woman here? What is it like to be on a ranch with a husband working in the oil industry?

I’ve been asked if I’m nervous about it all. Do I hate it? Do I love it? Because surely it’s one or the other.

But the biggest question is one I believe we’re all wondering: What might become of this place?

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The answer? Well, I don’t believe there is one.

Because the only thing predictable in any market, in any community, in any life, is that everything is sure to stay the same … until it changes.

I don’t believe the leaders and the builders and the employees out here entered into this scenario without understanding this.

It’s how many of those men and women got this mud on their boots in the first place.

But I do know that we all want to believe that the dirt caked to our feet is for something.

It’s something different to everyone. That’s what makes the volatility of this industry, or any industry for that matter, so nerve-wracking. Because each truck, each pumping unit, each field full of wheat or pasture full of cattle, each storefront asking you to “wipe your feet” is attached livelihoods. And we want to believe that we have more control of something as important as our livelihoods.

That’s why I believe the next step is the same as the steps we took before: to keep making plans. Because if it’s not raining today, it likely was yesterday, so just kindly wipe your feet and move on.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com .

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