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Jessie Veeder, Published November 17 2012

Coming Home: Landlocked but living close to the sea

We’re thawing out after the first major snowstorm of the season that sent us digging out our parkas, mittens and wool socks before the rain turned to ice and the promised 12 inches of snow.

Out here, we keep an eye on the weather like our lives depend on it, watching as the colorful radar swirls on our morning TV screens push their way down from Canada, as if knowing what’s coming somehow means we might control it.

I come in from the cold, stomp the snow off my boots and think about the families on the East Coast who are braving similar weather after enduring such a devastating storm.

Sometimes I feel so safe here in the middle of the world, landlocked and grounded under familiar skies that promise nothing less than snow, lightning, rain and winds that we lean into.

Winds that hold us up some days.

And sometimes that sky swirls and rages and touches the ground, scaring us but not surprising us.

Because out here that sky is predictably unpredictable, but never has an ocean wave washed over my home.

Never have I been forced to run from a storm.

And I can’t imagine it. I cannot imagine the ocean, a world so mysterious to this prairie girl, deep, powerful, dangerous and magical, splashing over my neighborhood, remodeling city streets, breaking down buildings, rearranging houses and changing my world.

When I was young, I used to sit on the granite rocks on the hilltop beside my grandmother’s house and pretend I was a mermaid swimming in the sea. I imagined those rocks were coves at the bottom of the ocean, the biggest stretching so high that the tip jutted out of the water, allowing my mermaid self to sit at the surface and look out at the mysterious landscape of my imagined shore.

I don’t know why I wanted to be a mermaid. At that point in my life, I had never touched the ocean, felt the sand under my toes or tasted the salt of the water. In my mind, the ocean was warm and clear and as fresh as the lake I swam in on hot summer days. I imagined the waves gentle and calm. I imagined whales making grand appearances on the surface. I imagined big ships and sailboats gently rocking between waves. I imagined myself with long flowing hair and a sparkling tail, breathing under water in a world so colorful and clear and different from my own.

It never occurred to me that I could become seasick on my first boat ride across an ocean bay when I was 17.

I never dreamed the power of the waves could knock me down and roll me across the sandy ocean floor. I didn’t understand the sting of the salt on my skin or the bitter taste it could leave on my tongue.

I never thought my first encounter with a dolphin in the wild would find me as a grown woman on my hands and knees under the breakfast table of the cruise ship, nose pressed to the porthole glass, crying with excitement and wonder as the creature jumped and splashed and swam alongside our giant boat.

Our world is so big.

I see it on television, snippets of elation and suffering, misunderstanding and hopefulness on the faces of people on top of mountains, inside skyscrapers, along suburban streets and, yes, next to the ocean.

And I am landlocked and tied to a place that’s tied to me, under a sky that blankets us in white for days on end. But I’m not scared of the snow. The snow is my ocean, and I’m sitting on a rock far away from the rest of the world that seems so small and mysterious from a distance.

And as I say a quiet prayer of thanks to the prairie, I add a reminder to not hide so safely in the familiarity of this place that I dismiss the power of the ocean and the people who love the shore.

Because once I was a mermaid.

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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.