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Jessie Veeder, Published October 20 2012

Coming Home: Traditions are what I missed about home

Like many rural North Dakotans the reality of our “neighborhood” looks a bit different than the classic Norman Rockwell painting.

Out here, 30 miles from the nearest grocery store, we don’t have sidewalks or streetlights, white picket fences or well-groomed lawns, a paperboy or an ice-cream truck.

My neighborhood doesn’t kids riding bikes up and down paved streets, block parties on Saturday and garage sales on Sunday.

Our lemonade stands have never been very successful.

My neighborhood is made up of people who don’t live next door as much as they live down the road on several miles of gravel. I live in a township, a community, a spread-out cluster of farmhouses, old barns and yard lights connected by patches of fields, lines of fences and a creek that winds through it all.

When I was growing up out here my sense of community was grounded in several traditional events that helped me feel rooted in a place that often felt lonely for a girl with too much imagination and even more wild places to hide.

It was the gathering of neighbors for a winter sledding party, a spring branding, summer catfishing and a fall roundup that made me feel like I belonged, not only to the creek and trees that surrounded me, but to the people who pushed me down the hill, helped me put a worm on my hook and rode beside me in my family’s pasture.

When I left home it was the traditions I missed the most.

Traditions like the annual Blue Buttes Trail Ride, an event that has continued off and on in our community since I was a little girl wearing a ridiculous Garth Brooks shirt riding beside my best friend on the back of my old mare.

When I was growing up this trail ride felt like Christmas Day. The opportunity to ride my horse across endless pastures for hours made me feel grown up and capable, wild and free and a million things a little girl wants to be when she’s 8 or 9.

I don’t remember much about the trail or the route we took when I was young, except that sometimes it snowed, sometimes it rained, sometimes the wind blew and sometimes we got all three. But what I do remember is that regardless of the weather or the work that needed to be done, the neighborhood showed up with horses, wagons, drinks, snacks and kids, and we all rode together on a mapped out trail that stretched for miles through those fields, along fence lines and across that creek that connected us.

And I remember kicking my feet out of the stirrups during the third or fourth mile, swinging my leg over the top of my horse’s neck and thinking I was the luckiest kid in the world.

So understandably I was a bit nostalgic last weekend when I saddled up to hit the trail with my neighbors once again – almost 20 years later. For 12 miles my friend and I rode side by side as we observed our neighborhood – young fathers hoisting their kids up on the back of tall horses, an extended family bundled up in a wagon, sisters laughing and a husband and wife riding quietly side-by-side.

Riding quietly in the back of the crowd my friend and I got to know the landscape that stretched for miles as my father pointed out where his mother was born, where he used to swim and the route we took when I was 8 or 9 and knew nothing but those miles and the back of my favorite horse.

And along with the overwhelming familiarity of it all came an equally overwhelming feeling of pride.

Pride in my community and how they’ve kept their kids on the backs of horses and the wagon train moving despite a changing world.

And I may as well have forgotten everything I’ve come to know in those years I spent missing this place.

I may as well have forgotten I’d ever wanted to be anywhere else.

This is my neighborhood.

And I’m the luckiest kid in the world.

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.