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Jessie Veeder, Published September 29 2012

Coming Home: A sense of contentment at season’s change

Fall is in all its glory around here, and we don’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 limbs of the ash turned from green to gold, the grass and flowers exploded seeds, and the slow and steady oaks began letting go of their acorns.

It has been magnificent. But that’s the way it is in the badlands of western North Dakota; when it comes to the rugged landscape you can’t accuse it of being understated.

After a challenging summer season, I was ready to celebrate autumn the way it deserves to be celebrated. I was ready to frolic in it, to let go of my agenda and my worries and just climb a big hill to feel the warm breeze in my hair.

So last week I pointed my car south from Watford City on Highway 85 to follow the steady line of big rigs, pickups and SUVs carrying busy humans at full speed along that paved ribbon of road that winds through buttes and half-cut wheat fields and across the Little Missouri River, meandering under the big blue sky toward the slowly sinking sun.

Because I wanted to meander, too. I wanted to roam among the things out here that are allowed an unhurried change, a subtle move toward hibernation and a good long preparation for a show like no other. I wanted a lesson on how to slow down gracefully.

And as I drove I couldn’t help but wonder if these people sharing my path noticed the neon yellow trees waving at me from the ditches.

Were they commenting on how the crows have gathered? Were they taking note of how the river had receded as they passed over the bridge? Did they feel like stopping beside it to rest for a while?

I continued in that train of vehicles down and wondered if the other drivers noticed how the late afternoon light makes the landscape look like a giant canvas and the buttes wisps of an artist’s brush.

And as we approached the sign that read “Theodore Roosevelt National Park-North Unit,” were they enticed like I was on that 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 – a species that all too often proves it doesn’t have a handle on how to live gracefully among a world designed for us.

Oh, we’ve all been guilty of it – taking our surroundings for granted while cursing a windy day or untimely rain that ruined our plans.

And I’ve been guilty of driving past the national park in my backyard time and time again, ignoring its calls to visit.

But not last week. Last week I needed its therapy. I needed to park my car, stretch my limbs and take a look at our world from the top of Battleship Butte, from the river bottom trail and the flat where the wild bison graze.

I needed to be reminded that I was one of those wild things.

A wild thing taking a walk to nowhere to notice how the sun shines through the changing autumn leaves and instead of how the end tables in my house need dusting.

I was happy that a place has been set aside for us to get away from all of the things that seem to matter so little when it comes to a choice between watching the leaves change or watching a television screen.

I was grateful to be standing along the Little Missouri River as a jet left a white streak across the heavens.

I was thankful to understand that jet could take me anywhere, but at the beginning of this new season I’m content.

And I was content to stay grounded in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Jessie Veeder 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. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.