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Jessie Veeder Scofield, Published June 08 2012

Scofield: Coming home to a new western North Dakota

I hear people say you can’t go home again.

I’ve always wondered about the idea that winds its way through movie storylines, music and literature. I thought I was missing something as my car wheels spun on the red scoria road taking me to the highway and toward a city somewhere beyond the badlands – a city that was supposed to help me find out who I was.

As a 17-year-old ranch girl on a mission for an education and a music career, finding the fastest route out of the isolated buttes of western North Dakota appeared the most logical step, so it’s the one I took. But I always tilted my head over my shoulder a bit, like I wasn’t convinced this place didn’t want me back.

It turns out that road had lessons for me, but it seemed I never learned the one about staying away. Because as I was traveling the Midwest singing for my supper, the voice preaching that line was overtaken by the one calling me home.

Home. It’s a cattle ranch on the edge of the badlands where I got bucked off my first horse, made forts out of fallen logs and never, despite the circumstances, learned to properly drive a stick shift.

And it’s where I met up with a teenage boy who would drive his Thunderbird 30 miles and too fast to the ranch to ride horses, hunt for whitetail deer and to talk guns with my dad. As he fell in love with the creek beds and oak groves, we fell in love with each other.

I think of us standing there, nearly six years ago, under the branches of my favorite oak tree where he asked me to marry him. We were at the beginning of adulthood, at the end of our education and on the cusp of our lives together. I said yes with the understanding that the life we really wanted was here, on the ranch.

Nearly two years ago my husband and I finally made good on that agreement. We packed up the lives that sent us to three different towns in three years and settled into my grandparents’ house where my father was raised near Watford City, N.D.

On winter nights, I close my eyes and think I can smell my grandmother’s homemade bread. I wake to the sunrise over the red barn where my cousins and I used to search for kittens. I follow the creek and I am at my parents’ house for coffee and Sunday dinners.

And every day I wonder what it is about this place that pulled me back for good.

What is it about this prairie that sticks to the hearts of those who inhabit it?

Is it the idea that as long as it exists we can forever be the 10-year-old singing at the top of her lungs in the trees? That if I stay here with my husband, will we forever be falling in love?

But nothing’s forever. My great-grandparents knew this as they tended to cattle and watched families uproot around them. My father knew this as he worked a job in town and came home to ranch work in the evening in order to keep this place for the next generation. And I understand this more each day as I help fix broken fences, make plans to build a new house and watch oil trucks kick up dust on our once quiet scoria road.

No, the idea of forever is a bit romantic for a woman who would not be here without some sort of change. Ten years ago nobody was making plans to build big houses, expand our schools or install a stoplight in my hometown.

Now the town where I won my first 4-H trophy is bursting at the seams. Pickups with license plates from all over the country fill the parking lots, our diners have waiting lists and 10,000 feet below my boots lies the reason for it all.

And I don’t know everything about anything, just a little about horses and how to play guitar, but I’m here working to write our story, and I can’t wait to tell you what it’s like to come home to western North Dakota.

Jessie Veeder Scofield is a 28-year-old musician and writer. She lives near Watford City, N.D., with her husband, on the ranch where she grew up.